Friday, September 17, 2010

Err Like a Human

In preparation for Yom Kippur, we search our souls and see where we have sinned against G-d and against other people. Then we apologize for these sins, and resolve to do better in the future. You have to own up and then do something about it.

On these last few days before the big ol' Day of Atonement, we try to seek forgiveness from our friends and family that we have wronged. I thought about this a lot this year, but did not actually get a chance to do it. I thought it would be a copout to go online, say, to Facebook, and post a general "please forgive me" shoutout. That would certainly not cover it, and would be too easy. (This ain't supposed to be easy.)

But, as I said, I didn't get to it, at least not yet. Then yesterday morning I got a mailing-list e-mail from writer Naomi Ragen, whom I greatly admire. Ragen wrote:


A day before Yom Kippur is a day of deep soul-searching. I have searched my soul, and would like to publicly ask forgiveness for mistakes I have made, and actions I regret:

1) I ask forgiveness from all my readers for not having the time to answer all their many comments to me. If you wrote me, and I didn't answer, please forgive me. In the year to come, I will try harder, although I ask forgiveness in advance if I don't get back to you. But please know I read every, single e-mail sent to me.

2) I regret harsh answers and columns that were written in a moment of anger and frustration. I will try harder to be more tolerant.

3) I regret mistaken information I forwarded. I will research more diligently before posting.

4) I regret the 2003 article I wrote in which I said very harsh things about Richard Joel, who had just been appointed president of Yeshiva University. It was a time when the Intifada was very strong in Israel and certain branches of Hillel on college campuses were courting the anti-Israel "peace" junkies. YU was reportedly going to hold a dialogue with such a group. I saw red (always a sign I shouldn't be writing a column.) and since Richard Joel had just come on board, mistakenly targeted him. In 2007, YU established the Center for Israel Studies. Richard Joel said the following:
"The Land of Israel and the State of Israel are central to the future vision of the Jewish people and have always been central to the reality of Yeshiva University."
My deepest regrets, President Joel, and a public apology for ever thinking otherwise.

I thought that what Ragen did there was pretty classy, and then I thought, hey! I got me a public forum right here.

My biggest sin, I think, is not anticipating others' needs and trying to help them out. For example, I have a friend whose husband has been in the hospital off and on all year. I sent her notes wishing them both well, and I told her that I would be happy to help in any way that I could. However, I failed to actually do anything. When we say we are willing to help, we always mean it, but the person needing the help should not have to ask. I'm sorry for not getting in there and figuring out how I might be able to make things better.

I'm also sorry for not trying harder to make things better for my mother. She has some physical issues due to horrible arthritis and to a neurological condition that affects her balance. This is my mother, my oldest friend (she knew me before I was born) and someone who has done innumerable things to help me out and to get me through life, and I don't know how to help her.

I apologize for not keeping in touch with my friends the way I should. I think they understand, fortunately. (Call me! We'll get together and do something even if it's just coffee and conversation!)

Now I have to ask for forgiveness for a wrong against my 4-year-old son, Pumpkin. He has already forgiven me for this. I mean, he likes me a whole lot, no matter how many desserts I deprive him of. In fact, he gave me the Biggest Hug in the Whole World recently, which was a multi-part hug that took several days to complete. And I make really yummy chocolate milk, so why should he have a reason to be angry with me? Well, I'll tell you.

I took Pumpkin to a "Holiday Boutique" sponsored by our congregation's Sisterhood, back in November. I'd wanted to stop by there and look at what they were selling. They were also going to have tables where kids could do Chanukah-themed crafts, and Pumpkin's a big craft person so I knew he'd like that.

After a while of doing crafts I got impatient with Pumpkin. We didn't have much more time, because we needed to be at a party later, so I expressed annoyance over not having had a chance to look around. I don't remember my words, but they were needlessly accusatory. I started to feel bad immediately. The lady running the crafts offered to watch him while I checked out the wares. It turned out there was nothing I wanted to get. The gift I was thinking about getting was Not Important. But Pumpkin making crafts was Important, and always will be.

As I was winding up my browsing, Pumpkin came running up to me, saying "look what I made for you!" (see, he had already forgiven me). It was a snowflake stuck with some dreidels, some stars of David, and a couple of other things. I had raised my voice to him, and he still made this, with me in mind. I felt worse, and worse still as the day progressed, even though he wasn't upset with me at all. I keep the snowflake on my bulletin board at work, so I can look at it all the time and remember what really is Important. I'm sorry, Pumpkin, and I will try never to do anything like this again.

G'mar chatima tova (may you be sealed in the book of life), and an easy fast. G-d willing there will be a next year to try to improve our repentance skills. May this be a year of Important Things, like Really Big Hugs. And ice cream with chocolate sauce. Why not?