Sisterhood Blog

Asking Fewer People for Forgiveness

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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For many years now, since I learned about the practice of mechila, or asking for forgiveness, I’ve taken it seriously, using the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days to reflect on the ways in which I know I’ve fallen short. My personal al chet, or confession, is a long one — as I think about a comment that inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, about things I’ve said in heated moments at home, and about my enduring quest to develop more patience.

My practice has been to ask those to whom I’m closest what I may have done in the past year that hurt them, and then, whether they enumerate some of those things or not, to ask them to forgive me. It’s been a healing ritual and I am grateful for this interlude in the Jewish calendar, which calls for reflection and repentance, as a chance to be more conscious about my behavior.

But this year, somehow, I’m just not feeling it. I don’t feel like being “the good girl,” and asking for forgiveness from some of the people in my life.

These are people who have always thrown out a generic “I hope you’ll forgive me if I did anything to hurt your feelings” statement when I have asked mechila of them in the past. It’s like one of those half-baked non-apologies after a disagreement, when one person asks to be forgiven without acknowledging what they had done that needs forgiveness.

It invariably leaves me feeling a bit emotionally short-changed. Petty, even spiritually immature perhaps, but I don’t feel like putting myself out there for people who don’t extend themselves in response.

I will ask sincere mechila of my immediate family, because it’s good for us as individuals and as a family organism, and a healthy practice I hope that my children take with them into adulthood.

Of course, nobody has come close to how my then-boss reacted, the first year I decided to take on this ritual. His response to my request for forgiveness was to laugh in my face and walk away.

It bugged me for a long time, until I set aside my feeling of humiliation to ask him why he’d responded that way. He said he had been taken by surprise because no one had ever asked him for pre-Yom Kippur forgiveness before. It reframed the exchange from one in which I was being mocked to one in which the boss was as emotionally limited and imperfect as most of us are most of the time.

So this year, with him in mind, rather than put out a request for mechila as widely as I have in some earlier years, I’m focusing on cultivating compassion — especially for those too emotionally stunted to be aware that they’re being jerks.

See? I told you. I have lots of work to do on this cultivating compassion thing.

May we all have a year filled with compassion for each other.


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