| Musings |

Face the Music 

In a machlokes such as this, everyone is wrong

It’s that time of year when, suddenly, everyone is scrambling to ask mechilah. Or, at the very least, wondering when the other guy will be phoning them to make amends.

Personally, I’m just trying not to get bulldozed by the disastrous machlokes plaguing our apartment building for the past few years. Roth* from the third floor, Gross from the ground floor, and a sprinkling of others who somehow got stuck in the mix are at the forefront of the drama.

Who asked the downstairs father to be mechanech someone else’s child? Who asked the upstairs’ brother to be overprotective of his little sister? Words exchanged, in the heat of the moment, that dredged up past misdemeanors… and maybe a few perceived crimes. Words clogging the building’s lobby, then floating away, never to be retracted.

Who asked Gross to drag neighbors, some who had little to no connection, to beis din, and line up a few other neighbors to help in the effort? Lashon hara, a blizzard of phone calls, a few unsuccessful attempts from a neighboring askan, and the thickness of the quagmire doubles, triples, sucks us all down.

Neighborly schmoozes at open doors with borrowed flour in hand stop dead, mid-sentence, as Mrs. Roth comes through with her groceries. How it came to this painful point remains a mystery to those directly involved (to the onlookers, not so much), with each party having clear proofs that the other is at fault. Of course! In a machlokes such as this, everyone is wrong.

The first year, the ones involved — directly and by association — went into the Yamim Noraim confused, in pain, and maybe a bit apprehensive. The second year, they were already so steeped and mired in the hateful mud, the fighting so vicious, that one need not wonder (for they told us all) what was going through their heads as they ascribed bushah and chlimah to the other. Each felt he was suffering, each felt oppressed, as he came before G-d with his clean slate.

By the third Elul, Roth decided to be big. To rise above. To reach out and begin to rectify. Was it a coincidence that it was Elul? Maybe, maybe not. Was it the looming court deadlines, or maybe, just maybe — I’d love to believe — it was the King in the field that prompted it?

Problem was, he reached out to begin not the process of amity, but reached out… to accept apologies.

“Look,” he said earnestly, hopefully, “we know this is terrible, you probably regret it, and I don’t want to hold a grudge forever. We’re neighbors! I’m ready to overlook your terrible misdeeds and move on. What do you say?”

Oh. Ouch.

But he wanted peace. He needed peace… His family needed yeshuos (and the Gross family did too, he noted). He cried. His friends begged. His wife pleaded. They asked some friends and neighbors to help in the efforts for peace.

And the fight only snowballed from there. Because taking stock, facing the music, and accepting responsibility takes courage, takes humility, takes standing before another person who has hurt you, and saying, “I was wrong.”

That’s all. Three words. I was wrong.

The hardest words in the human language.

Old Mr. Weiss from Apartment 7, practically a shut-in these days, opened his door to a screaming match one afternoon. We’d all been sure that he was hard of hearing and knew nothing of the whole situation, yet he called plaintively into the echoing stairwell, “Aharon, Aharon! Where are you when we need you?!”

Aharon haKohein didn’t respond, but Rav Leventhal, the most respected member in our building, muttered a little bit too loudly, “Aharon couldn’t have helped this chevreh; he only helped when the people felt bad about what they did.”

And so, the yemei hadin came and went again, and there was no sweet ending to a terrible story. At least, not yet. And the neighbor from upstairs, who tried to bring peace, was left in even more confusion than before… After all, he’d tried to make amends — why and how did it backfire? (See? said his wife, clearly it was the other guy’s fault all along!)

If there’s one thing that’s been bitterly driven home to all the battle-weary building occupants, it’s that it’s hard to ask mechilah. We yearn to hear the blissful notes of peace, but someone needs to change the tune — and the first step is facing the music we ourselves have created.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 759)

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