Love means having to say you’re sorry

‘Rabbi Eliezer said… ‘Repent one day before you die.’” (Talmud Avot 2:15)

It is the season for repentance. While this month of Elul contains no actual holidays within it, it nevertheless is a crucial period of the year, as we prepare for the New Year and the Day of Judgment, which gives it its extraordinary power. Judaism is unique in its belief that there is no permanent “stain” of sin that haunts us until we die, weighing us down with guilt and depression.

Be the first to know –

Each year – each day, in fact, although Yom Kippur is the most potent example – presents a blessed opportunity to shed the stigma of sin and walk upright into a new day.

But to do that, one must engage in sincere, often painful introspection, what we call in Hebrew heshbon hanefesh. The repentance process, by tradition, includes remorse for our actions and the resolve not to repeat our mistakes. But it begins, first and foremost, with Vidui, an admission of guilt and an acceptance of responsibility for the moments when we fell short of our moral and spiritual imperatives. To admit – verbally as well as mentally – that we have failed to live up to the proper standards of behavior is to acknowledge our fallibility. That is no easy task for he who is convinced that he can do no wrong.

As I look out over the landscape of Israeli and Jewish society, it seems clear that there is no lack of people who are in dire need of repentance. I will avoid the obvious nod towards our political leaders, who are usually the first to elicit the public’s blame. Depending on where you stand politically, you will no doubt have your own favorite candidates for atonement. My own particular frustration is with those elected officials who are soft on terrorism, who routinely agree to free murderers, who supply our enemies with truckloads of goods and permit large funerals for terrorists, yet refuse to punish, once and for all, those who drive our children into bomb shelters.

But many other segments of society seem to cross political lines and deserve to be called out as well.

These include drivers on our ever more crowded roads who show absolutely no courtesy toward other drivers, who honk incessantly, who stubbornly refuse to yield the right of way, who drive too fast, who refuse to signal their turns, who stop in the middle of the street – or even highway! – to drop off their passengers. Drivers who endanger everyone else’s life by texting, or looking at their passengers instead of the road, or who even eat a sandwich or salad while driving!

(function(w,d,s,i){w.ldAdInit=w.ldAdInit||[];w.ldAdInit.push({slot:6086,size:[0, 0],id:”ld-9628-9059″});if(!d.getElementById(i)){var j=d.createElement(s),p=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];j.async=true;j.src=”//cdn2.lockerdomecdn/_js/ajs.js”;;p.parentNode.insertBefore(j,p);}})(window,document,”script”,”ld-ajs”);

Then there are the public places, restaurants and shops that make no effort whatsoever to accommodate the handicapped – even when the law requires it. This includes museums, cafés where the bathrooms are up or down numerous stairs, or parks where there is no easy access for wheelchairs. Having recently spent some time on crutches, I have become acutely aware of how those with limited mobility are so casually and cruelly excluded from so much of everyday activity, even by the nicest and most well-meaning of people.

And what about stores that refuse to refund money for items quickly returned, as legislated by law? Or, conversely, customers who “rent” items like air-conditioners or clothes, use them for a short while, then cleverly bring them back to the store and ask for their money back?

Or unscrupulous companies that not only charge outrageous prices for their products, but send unsolicited items to unsuspecting seniors who are then saddled with enormous bills? Or so-called “charitable” institutions that continually bombard us with unceasing requests for donations, preying upon our sense of goodwill and kindness, yet keeping most of the funds for themselves?

I think we can all agree that those who abuse Jewish law in order to keep a spouse hostage, or those religious authorities who impose their will on others, or who shamelessly shield abusers within their community – all in the name of a “shashtill” mentality – need to mend their ways and ask for forgiveness.

And I, too, dear reader, must humbly ask each of you to pardon me for the times when I crossed the line, when I wrote something that offended or insulted you, when, in a clumsy attempt to be clever or cute, I overstepped the boundaries of good taste or civility.

Back in the 1970s, the tear-jerking Erich Segal novel and Ali McGraw-Ryan O’Neal movie Love Story popularized the saying, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But Judaism espouses a very different philosophy: Love means being able – even required – to say “I’m sorry” when the situation calls for it.

Rabbi Eliezer’s advice to repent one day before we die reminds us that none of us is immortal; we never know what tomorrow will bring. So the best day to repent is, clearly, today.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content.