RabbiOver 25 years had passed. A very prominent rabbi, with one of the largest congregations in Florida, told my wife. “I am still deeply hurt by what your husband said.” Decades earlier there had been an internal disagreement about the operation of one of the Chabad Schools in Florida. He was the director and was leaving. I was tasked with the responsibility of making the public statement announcing that he was no longer considered a Chabad Shliach-emissary. For years, whenever we met, he had always seemed quite distant to me. I wondered why, but never really understood the reasons for the emotional distance he maintained. Suddenly, it all became clear; he was deeply pained by the public announcement that intimated a change in his status.
This admission to my wife occurred in the month before the High Holidays, it’s called Elul. Traditionally, it is a time for self-reflection, like getting ready to meet your accountant at tax time. But instead of reviewing your financial affairs, you are supposed to appraise your life. It’s a time of spiritual preparation, a month to review the year that passed, reflect on areas that need improvement, and make resolutions before the High Holidays.
Judaism teaches that there are two areas of Teshuva, repentance, or a better translation return. There are the matters between man and G-d. Did I fulfill the commandments properly? Those can be rectified with true remorse, and the commitment to modify behavior. Once that commitment is made, the sanctity of Yom Kippur wipes the slate clean. We can have a relationship with G-d without the stain of the previous conduct interfering. When it comes to offenses against another person, Yom Kippur does not help. Unless we approach the person, and ask for forgiveness, the spiritual blemish still remains.
I recently called my old friend in Florida and told him that I fully understood his internal hurt, and asked for his forgiveness for the insensitive way I handled this delicate matter decades ago. Clearly the call surprised him and he was deeply touched. Months later, we spent a Shabbat together at a conference. This time instead of avoiding me as he had done for the last quarter of a century, we sat together during meals and sessions. All it had taken was a simple apology to restart the connection, to acknowledge the pain caused, and to take responsibility for it.
This year September 4th coincides with the first day of Elul. In a few weeks we will celebrate the High Holidays. In the town of Lubavitch, the spiritual oasis in Russia where the Rebbe’s, leaders of the Chabad community lived for over a century there was a saying. “The winds of Elul are blowing.” The Tsaddikim-holy Rabbis-Rebbes, could sense the spirituality in the air as the High Holidays neared. They would encourage their followers to open their hearts and souls, to seize the unique spiritual opportunity that G-d was providing and to use the valuable time before the High Holidays to reflect inward on the areas of improvement that were needed. Be it in the sphere of their relationship with the Divine or with families and friends. And most importantly, to make an effort to repair the hurt in anticipation of a new year.
Rabbi Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.