What If You Make A Mistake You Can't Apologize For?

What If You Make A Mistake You Can’t Apologize For?


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I did something really horrible a few years ago. Although it was completely unintentional, as far as I can see, it remains completely irreparable. It happened on Purim, when the custom is to wear a costume in order to remind us that God’s hand remains hidden in life unless we make the effort to find it.

People dress up in all sorts of ways on this day. A rabbi I saw, whose long beard usually looks oh so rabbinic, was transformed into a very believable Dead Head. A stranger on the street wore a costume that made it look like he was getting a piggy back ride from a doll. And then there was this teenage guy I saw on my way to hear the Megillah (the story of Purim which is publicly recited twice during the holiday). His getup had somehow created the illusion of one of his legs looking much shorter than the other. I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how it was all rigged (since everything was covered by clothing) but once I did, with a big smile on my face, I complimented him, “That’s so freaky!”

But when he muttered something about “it’s ok” and walked away, I realized that he wasn’t wearing a costume at all. Rather, I had just unintentionally called a total stranger’s birth defect “freaky.” How stupid can you be? What on earth is wrong with you? I kept thinking to myself. My first reaction was to run after him and beg for forgiveness, but then I realized that there was no apology in the world that could make this better. Even if I explained how sorry I was to have hurt his feelings, I confused his disability with a gag.

So I left the building and found another Megillah reading instead. The least I could do was to not make him have to see me again. Now, the first part of doing teshuvah (repenting) is to apologize to the person you wronged, but what if that’s not possible? Even if you move on to the next step and commit to never making the same mistake again (which I have CERTAINLY done) what about step number one? How can an apology just be skipped? What about the feelings of the person who has been hurt?

Guilt might seem like a good option, but it’s not the Jewish way. To wallow in one’s guilt is self-serving and unproductive. I believe, however, that the answer to this dilemma lies within the hidden hand of God that I mentioned earlier. Although the story of Purim celebrates the goodness that befell the Jewish people through a series of events which ultimately spared us from Haman’s murderous plot, God’s plan does not always reveal itself in ways that we can understand.

For whatever reason, our world is one in which people are meant to suffer at different times, in different way. And although the cruelness of what I said was unintentional, I realize now that from God’s perspective, it was not accidental. If we have any way to undo or make better on our mistakes, it is our duty to correct them. But if we’re left in a situation that is out of our hands, then all we can do is trust that what ever happened was meant to be. We are here to uncover God’s concealment in the world and must put out every effort to do so, even if it takes us to the darkest of places.

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  1. This is something I’d consider one of my biggest struggles.
    How to live with the consequences of never seeking out an apology for something that happened that you know you are wrong for, but which it is not really possible to seek forgiveness for.
    There are a few things that are on my list, things that I have worked hard to repent for, faults within myself that I realized I need to improve after I had hurt others, and I think I have come a long way in improving on these.
    But the fact remains that for the initial mistakes, I didn’t get the forgiveness I know I should have gotten, because for various reasons I didn’t deem it possible to ask for it.
    I have struggled with this idea of if it really was possible and I just avoided it, or if there could be a way to truly repent for an action but which you can’t get forgiveness and which it’s ok to not ask for it.
    I am glad to see that I am not the only one who has this dilemma, and I can see the point you are making and will try to remind myself of it if I find myself in a similar situation again, that sometimes these things are meant to happen, and that I just need to do my own part in learning from it, and finding G-d’s hand within it.

  2. A few years ago I made a similar mistake. A person in my shul would loudly and repeatedly clear their throat, constantly distracting my davening. This went on for months until one Shabbos, fed up, I went over and “politely” informed them that they were distracting my davening and could they please clear their throat outside. When they turned red, I realized that my anger overcame my logic. It suddenly hit me that, duh, they have Tourette’s.
    For the next few days I was devastated. I had apologized after davening, but I knew it didn’t fix anything. I couldn’t stop crying how in my willful blindness, I had hurt someone so badly.
    There are two schools of thought in Judaism. According to the Rambam, whatever pain one experiences is from Hashem. However, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh and others hold that one can use their bechira to hurt another, even if they don’t have it coming (they wouldn’t let me off the hook).
    I happen to hold with the Rambam more often than not, but there is another thing he says as well: Yes, that person was supposed to experience that pain. BUT I DID NOT HAVE TO VOLUNTEER. The job had to be done. But it didn’t have to be done by me.
    But it was done. And all I can do now is learn from my mistake. I do not wish to, ever again, be a volunteer. I now try to be more tolerant, to force myself to see more explainable circumstances instead of rushing to a judgemental mindset, to think my words over and over before speaking. Keeping one’s mouth shut rarely causes problems.

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