Yom Kippur

The 10 Commandments of Asking Forgiveness

We are busy with our spiritual accounting before Yom Kippur and we must ask forgiveness from our friends as well as from G-d. It’s not easy; it means swallowing our pride and we’re worried if our asking forgiveness will be rejected. But on the other hand nothing can compare to starting the New Year with a clean slate. But how do we do it?

Here are 10 steps:

1. Getting emotionally prepared: Before approaching your friend to ask his forgiveness you should try to remember exactly what happened when you wronged him. What was his situation? From knowing your friend try to imagine how much you hurt him. What was your situation? How do you think your friend will react?   This preparation will help you ask forgiveness in the best manner possible and will help you succeed.

2. Humility and empathy: When asking him for forgiveness you should go through the same 3 things you do when asking forgiveness from G-d; regret, confession and resolving not to do it in the future. When you ask your friend forgiveness do it with humility, make yourself small if necessary and say you did something wrong clearly though it’s difficult. Such a statement of regret will make it easier for your friend to forgive you even if he has an angry disposition. Almost no one will refuse a sincere wholehearted apology from someone who admits his wrongdoing with contrite. But remember the pain you caused your friend and empathize with it.

3. Give him the benefit of the doubt: Whether you’re the victim or perpetrator of wrongdoing to a friend before you try making amends sit down with yourself and try to cleanse yourself of any anger you may have and give your friend the benefit of the doubt. Try to remember the good things he did whether a small gesture or even a smile that once gladdened you. Remember the one you’re upset at is a Jew, a child of G-d and every time you above the letter of the law for his benefit and give him the benefit of the doubt you rise above yourself and G-d will give you the benefit of the doubt above the letter of the law. At this time of year, who wouldn’t want G-d to look at him favorably giving him the benefit of the doubt?

4. Face to face is better: In most cases if you need to iron things out, face to face is always better. You come across more genuine, will engender closeness and be able to detect his eyes, gestures and body language to see what he’s thinking. Face to face means you took the effort to come to him to placate him. If this fresh anger or a deep hurt and you feel face to face would be detrimental or that he won’t be ready to hear about it a mediator might be better, someone you both know and like can call or write to bridge the gaps between you.

5. Honesty: When apologizing, don’t try to minimize or justify your wrongdoing. Don’t lie or whitewash it just say it the way it was in a gentle manner that won’t be blunt and hurting. Speak with sensitivity and empathy and then when your friend sees your sincerity it’ll be easier for him to forgive you.

6. Don’t attack: Even if you feel you also were hurt as well as hurting your friend and you decided to ask forgiveness even though you were also hurt, keep your grievances and emotions out of the picture at this point. When you apologize listen carefully to your friend and don’t open your apology with “I’m asking forgiveness but you should know you hurt me more” or “don’t think you were the only one hurt”. Such words will only slam the doors shut between both of you and you will walk away angry without resolving your conflict. But if you come with empathy for your friend’s pain, not only will he be ready to forgive you, he may open his heart and feel your pain too and maybe even apologize to you. Just don’t be upset if he doesn’t.

7. Accept it with love if he’s still angry at you and don’t mirror the anger back and fight with him. It’s important to be prepared for this possibility. Many people won’t be able to forgive until they get all the bad feelings you caused them ‘out of their system’. Listening to him air out may not be pleasant for you but if you’re prepared for it and give him the space to do it accepting it with love you will hear him say he forgives you soon after.

8.  Close it with a hug: you made amends and your friend forgave you close the conversation with a hug which helps bring feelings of closeness and opens your hearts helping to wash away any residual bad feelings. If he is not comfortable with a hug or it’s not in accordance with Halacha of course you need to skip this step.

9.  Give a gift: Sometimes the situation is complex and your attempts to ask for forgiveness may be rebuffed. Your friend may not have the strength to forgive you as of yet. In such a case, investing in a gift with a letter in which you express regret should help. Make sure the one who delivers the gift and the letter is someone he likes.

10. Forgive if you were wronged. It’s possible your friend hurt you unintentionally even if he did a major blunder. Most of the time people don’t really want to harm others.  You may find yourself on the other side of the fence asking for forgiveness. So if you want people to forgive you, you should readily forgive those who wronged you. Remember if you were wronged and yet forgave though it was difficult, G-d does the same in heaven and will forgive you though it may be difficult. We’re not so righteous that we don’t need to come on to G-d’s kindness.  Most of us cause G-d pain with our sins and yet we hope to be forgiven. So if G-d forgives us, who are we to refuse someone else?


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