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.