Each time the possible reconciliatory opportunity arose, he seemed to telepath me the emphatic message: Stay away from me!
This had been going on for ten years.
No matter how hard I thought I tried, he would never make eye contact. Even during Covid, when I approached him in what I hoped would perhaps pave the way to reconciliation, things did not work out as planned.
I had long forgotten the reason for our pained and palpable silence.
Perhaps we exchanged a few emails, or perhaps not.
Maybe I improperly answered his polite question?
Maybe I was curt in my answer?
Whatever the reason, the cold chilly silence, the animosity and hostility radiating from his entire being, was eating me alive. I planned to stop him in the street and say, “I know I have offended you somehow. Please be mochel me.”
However, each time the possible reconciliatory opportunity arose, he seemed to telepath me the emphatic message: Stay away from me!
Was I being honest with myself? Was I really attempting to reach out to him? Perhaps my perceived impression of his desire for me to keep my distance was distorted and even fabricated by my own hubris?
In the interim, I lived in pain and emotional distress. It’s not pleasant to know someone is harboring hostility and resentment. In fact, it’s distressing and excruciating.
Outwardly, I portrayed myself with an air of indifference and not caring, while inwardly, I struggled with the pain alone and was bereft of any emotional support. I maintained my composed veneer on the outside, never letting on how I was suffering in silence on the inside.
After all, who can a rabbi tell?
Rabbis don’t have feelings.
They don’t get hurt.
They are robotic and programmed to continually smile and maintain a professional impassivity to the vicissitudes of life. Rabbis are stoic and detached, imperturbable and disimpassioned. They don’t go to people for support and encouragement; people come to them.
And so life continued, year after year, until finally, after a decade of disquieting ache, the pain had mushroomed into a mountain of hurt and distrust.
It was after Rosh Chodesh Elul when I heard the words being said. I hadn’t heard the footsteps; only the words were audible.
“Excuse me, can I speak to the Rav for a minute?”
I turned and stood face-to-face, toe-to-toe, with my emotional antagonist.
I was frightened and startled. What would he say? Would he finally get it off his chest and list a litany of my mistakes and misspokes?
I took a breath and looked him in the eye.
The words were golden, and the look in his eyes was priceless. “Rav, I want to ask mechilah from you. We’re approaching Rosh Hashanah. And I know, and you know, there are things we have very different views about. However, I’ve learned that disagreeing with someone’s views doesn’t give you the right to hate them. And I realize I’ve been holding a personal grudge against you and not just disagreeing with your opinions. Before Rosh Hashanah, I want to ask mechilah.”
I have been a rav for over a quarter of a century, yet never in all those years has someone said to me with complete sincerity, “I have to ask mechilah from you.”
I could have hugged my former antagonist. I could have cried on his shoulder.
I did neither; I was too stunned to react.
A weight was finally lifted from my shoulders after ten long years. The wall of silence had been torn down. The place in my heart that formerly housed animosity was now occupied by love. And where resentment and pain had reigned, compassion, understanding, and authentic ahavas Yisrael filled the newly created void.
All it took was seven magical words: “I have to ask mechilah from you.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 977)
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