Saying “I’m sorry” is meaningless unless we can truly feel regret
"Sorry” sounds like an apology, but often isn’t one. Take, for example, the case of Dafna’s complaint to her husband Mendy:
Dafna, in a tearful voice: “...and I specifically told you how important it was that you be on time for this. We kept everyone waiting, and my parents were so upset. I knew this would happen because you just never listen and you never care. I was so humiliated...”
Mendy, mumbling, sounding irritated: “I said ‘sorry’ already. What do you want from me?”
Mendy is confused. What else can he do after he messed up? What’s done is done. He has an issue with time, and Dafna knows it. His lateness isn’t personal; he was late for his own flight just last week. Time management is something his brain doesn’t comprehend. What’s he supposed to do — get a brain transplant?
Dafna has some thoughts about all this. She figured that if she could impress upon her husband just how important this one occasion was then maybe, just this once, he could have got his act together.
“He knows I do everything for him and I ask so little back. He should have found a way. He wasn’t sorry. It’s just his routine answer for everything he does wrong. He thinks that word is a ticket out of every situation. Rip someone’s heart open, say ‘sorry’ and move on. That’s Mendy.”
Mom caught six-year-old Levi munching away on a chocolate bar she definitely didn’t buy for him.
“Where did you get that from?” she asked her son.
The truth came out after some prodding; he’d taken it from the grocery store they’d just shopped at. Mom explained the seriousness of his crime and took Levi back to the store to apologize to the owner.
“Say ‘sorry,’ Levi,” she instructed him.
He did, and the owner graciously forgave him.
Dovid Gold had a heart to match his surname. He wanted to help people. So when Eliezer Fischer needed a job, Dovid hired him, even though he didn’t need an employee. He knew Eliezer had faced a lot of hardship in his young life, and he felt compelled to help him out.
This was Eliezer’s first job, and Dovid wanted to make sure he learned skills that would set him on a path for future success. Dovid not only trained him in all aspects of the business, but he frequently took him home after work and picked him up in the mornings, saving Eliezer the cost and trouble of a long bus ride. He often bought him lunch or supper.
Unfortunately, Eliezer’s difficult life journey had left significant scars. Even so, Dovid found it beyond comprehension when he discovered that over a period of four years, the young man had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the business.
There came a time several years later when Eliezer wanted to apologize to Mr. Gold. But how? “I’m sorry” wouldn’t do. This level of injury required a demonstration of regret that paralleled the intensity of the betrayal. It would take intense effort and many years of hard work to begin to heal this rupture.
At this time of year, we’re contemplating our own misdeeds and preparing to apologize to our Creator for committing them. As we do so, we can remember how Dafna and Dovid were injured, how they had been betrayed by the one they’d given so much to, how that person had trampled on their good will and loving heart.
The perpetrators weren’t evil people — they were simply flawed, like we all are. Their apologies aren’t for being defective. They’re for failing to appreciate the love they were given.
We’re each showered with gifts from Hashem all through the day. Inherent in each transgression is a failure to appreciate everything we’ve been given.
Contemplating this — and sitting with the pain the realization generates — can move our apologies from formulaic to heartfelt.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 758)
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