Mechilah can make a tzibbur feel whole
IT is the season of mechilah, when Yidden ask forgiveness of one another.
As kids in school, we would wish each other ah gut yohr and then someone would start the mechilah chain, and then someone else would self-importantly say, “mechilah is for Erev Yom Kippur, not Rosh Hashanah,” and then a third person would say, “Well guess what? You just embarrassed Moishy so now you have to ask him for mechilah.”
In the early years of high school, the mechilah festival got more exciting with public bulletin board signs: I (name) want to ask everyone I might have hurt or spoken lashon hara about to forgive me.” The writer doubtlessly felt proud of his creativity and initiative — and remained blissfully oblivious to the fact that at the other side of every request for forgiveness is a real human being with real hurt.
We grew older, and the understanding of what takes place grew a bit deeper, but the process never got less awkward. It’s hard to really apologize.
In the early days of text messaging, I was still in kollel, and one day, a small discussion took place between a few of the yungeleit.
Someone hypothesized that text messaging had changed the realities of shalom bayis, making it so much easier to maintain harmony in the home, and he explained how.
Everyone has bad moments, sometimes. Maybe they are overtired, or hungry, or overwhelmed, or have bad middos, whatever, and their voice comes out sharper than they expected it to.
It can happen, conceivably, that one of the spouses is rushing out of the house for an appointment in the middle of a mild disagreement about something small. Then, the way they leave — walking out in a rush, closing the door louder than necessary (the spring is still broken, you really have to take care of fixing it) — and the unfinished conversation, spell needless tension.
With the easy self-awareness and forthrightness of a yungerman in a coffee room, my friend said, “You know, it’s the type of thing that could have been called a fight, but it’s also awkward to call home and apologize, because then it’s like a whole situation, so you just push it out of your head and move on, right?”
Right. The oilem was still holding with him.
“But now, because of this text zach, you don’t have to call and make an issue, you just send a message — Sorry I had to run out so suddenly, catch you later — and it’s all good.”
Made sense. An older, wiser rav walked in at the end of the chaburah, and intuitively, the chevreh turned to him for his take.
“I wonder,” he mused, “if a digital apology really accomplishes or softens hurt that was created between human beings. It might feel like it does, or even put the issue to rest, but could it be that to fix human hurt you need to express human remorse?”
To do mechilah right, it has to be direct, and real. It’s not hard to send a text, and it also isn’t very hard to say, “In case I ever hurt you….” What is hard is to look someone in the eyes and say, “I know that I hurt you and I apologize.”
Not just “you were right,” but, “I was wrong.”
So even if the proper time for asking mechilah is not until Yom Kippur, those who start the season early might be on to something. Asking mechilah before Rosh Hashanah is a very good exercise in preparation for the avodah of the day during which, the Gemara says, “the more bent a person, the better” (Rosh Hashanah 26b).
There is nothing quite as humbling as genuinely expressing contrition. When a person sincerely apologizes for pain caused to another, they are breaking themselves, to a degree — swallowing their pride and natural desire to be right. To be mamlich Him, to be a subject of a King, means being able to become a bit smaller, so naturally, the process should make the people around you a bit bigger.
It’s also a nice reminder that only He is perfect, and that each and every one of us makes mistakes.
When working on books or articles about those no longer with us, I occasionally have the opportunity to interview friends of the subject. In trying to express the depth of the relationship, I’ve heard people say, “We sat next to each other in shul!”
There is a bond — not as well-defined as that between spouses, between chavrusas or between business partners, but a relationship that is real and alive — between shul neighbors.
During the year it is casual, but during this season, it becomes intense. Not only do you know which seforim and books they pull out to help them connect to the avodah of the days, what nosh their kids like to eat during the long hours in shul (and with which they assault your sense of smell when you’re fasting), but you’ve also heard soft sobbing or deep sighs from under their tallis.
Shul, always meant to be a beis knesses — a meeting point defined not just by the tefillos that come forth, but by the gatherings that take place within it — becomes more like a family, a network of interconnected needs and solutions. People who daven together need each other, and if they don’t feel that bond, now is the time of year to remove whatever barriers exist.
Mechilah can make a tzibbur feel whole.
The end of Ne’ilah is marked with a dance. Along with expressing joy and confidence in our teshuvah, it tells this story as well: the word for dance is machol, connected to mechilah.
To dance in a circle means that there are no barriers, so the dance — the machol — is a celebration of the mechilah that flows between the people.
Let us see an end to the old year and its curses, and let us usher in the new year and its brachos, seeing others favorably and seeing ourselves favorably.
Ah gut gebentsht yohr.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 978)
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