While it seems like summer just started, the High Holidays fall early this year and are fast approaching (and if you really want to induce panic in a clergy member just say that phrase to them.) Erev Rosh Hashanah, which always is on the first of Tishri (the Head of the Year), falls in our Gregorian calendar in the first week of September. If we rewind to the first of Elul, the month in which we begin our spiritual preparations for the High Holidays, we begin preparing ourselves on August 9th. During Elul, we recite penitential liturgy and poems that help us ask for forgiveness from God and help us get into the needed frame of mind to have our slates wiped clean and to begin anew.
Among the tasks required to receive God’s forgiveness are confessing our sins but also apologizing to those people we have harmed either through action or deed. Because it requires facing another person, this can be a challenge for people. I am reminded of a children’s book by Jacqueline Jules titled The Hardest Word. In it, a bird keeps making mistakes and asks God for help to try to fix things. God asks the bird to bring God the hardest word. The bird brings back many words to God, but none of them are the hardest. At the end of the book, it is revealed that the hardest word is indeed “sorry.”
What makes “sorry” the most difficult word to say? There are several reasons that I can think of; we are scared to admit to our mistakes and then have to own up to them, to drudge up things that may have been forgotten, are embarrassed of our past behavior and are nervous or even scared to confront someone we hurt.
In my family, we call one another and make a blanket apology for anything we’ve done in the past year and know the person on the other side of the phone will quickly absolve us. I wonder what it would look like if we actually accounted for each offense we could remember and sincerely apologized for those individual and specific deeds. Would it help deepen our relationship with one another? Maybe actually wipe away some built up resentment? Isn’t that the point? Has my family been doing it wrong all of these years?
I wonder, is “sorry” actually the hardest word to say or does it just represent the hardest process? Even though it scares me, I am going to take baby steps this year towards making the kind of apologies I believe God really wants. I send you strength and courage to do the same.
Cantor Mariel Ashkenazy