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“Sorry, Sorry, Sorry” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

August 25, 2023 | 8 Elul 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

How many times in our lives have we heard these phrases offered to us?

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
“I already said I’m sorry!”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Mistakes were made but not by me.”

It turns out that forgiveness and apology are not the same action. And the idea of t’shuvah, returning to our best selves, does not always involve only forgiveness or apology. It is actually much more.

Over the course of the next weeks at Qabbalat Shabbat and during the program part of S’lichot, we are learning a deeper message of repentance and repair through our congregational read of the book with this exact title by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg.  Repentance and Repair mines the work of the 12th century philosopher and commentator, Moses Maimonides.  In his code of Jewish law called the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides analyzed the meaning of t’shuvah in the section entitled, “Repentance.”  Rabbi Ruttenberg draws on Maimonides’s understanding to lay out a five step pathway toward t’shuvah.

Step One: Confession: Recognize and describe the harm we inflicted through heshbon hanefesh, through a self interrogation of our own actions. This necessitates taking responsibility and acknowledging the vulnerability to do so. It is a way to connect the gap between being a good person and knowing we have caused harm.

It is through the internal work that leads to self worth and accountability.

Step Two: Change our Conduct: The work of step one allows us to know that we need to change our behavior, to remake, remodel, and reorganize how we see ourselves so that we resolve in our hearts not to commit this act again.

Notice that seeking forgiveness has not yet occurred because our internal work will open the possibility for apology. But, not yet.

Step Three:  Restitution and Accept Consequences: We learn that every action has a reaction.  We need to ask ourselves in the act of repair what has resulted from the wrongdoing or harm.

Now we are ready.

Step Four: Apology:  Maimonides taught that in order receive forgiveness, one must ask for it.  “Will you forgive me?” “How have I harmed or wronged you?”  We learn we must be willing to appease them in a way that shows we have done the work. They may not grant forgiveness, but if we have engaged in the effort outlined in the previous steps, Maimonides recognized that we may have to let them be. And yet, he also outlined that if someone has done the work, then we do have an obligation to grant forgiveness.

Sometimes the consequence is that a relationship cannot be repaired even with an apology.

The last step demands from us: Make Different Choices

Moses Maimonides asked: [Who has reached] complete t’shuvah? A person who confronts the same situation in which they harmed or did wrong. When that person has the potential to transgress again, and, nevertheless, abstains and does not commit it because of their t’shuvah alone and not because of fear or a lack of strength. (2:1)

Rabbi Ruttenberg summarized these five steps in this way.  “We can never undo what we have done. We can never go back in time. We write history with our decisions and our actions. But we also write history with our response to those actions. We can leave the pain and the damage in our wake, unattended, or we can do the work of acknowledging and fixing, to whatever extent possible, the harm we have caused…but with the sincere and deep work of transformation, acts of repair have the potential [to renew and to heal].” (p. 45-46)

As we approach the High Holy Days, may we find through these steps a pathway to engage in the sacred work of repair in our interpersonal connections and relationships and to shape our lives through the lens of t’shuvah, returning to the goodness that is within each of us.

Shabbat Shalom!

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!

  • We gather at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat inside or on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our websiteWe continue our review and study of our Congregational Read, On Repentance and Repair by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. You don’t need to have read it yet.
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or online at 9:00 a.m.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher