Erev Yom Kippur Apologies

For years, I was bothered by the insincerity of Erev Yom Kippur apologies – people go over to their friends who they likely did not egregiously offend, and ask them for mechila.  If they are really frum, they wait for a formal “I am mochel you,” and don’t suffice with a “don’t worry about it” or a nod of the head and waiving of the hand.  What’s the point?  Shouldn’t Erev Yom Kippur be about approaching those who it is hard to apologize to, those who you really hurt, and those who you are ashamed to face?

While I still think this is true at some level, a perspective from the German Baalei Tosafot put a spin on Erev Yom Kippur that makes these seemingly flippant apologies meaningful.  This position was first pointed out to me by Itamar Rosensweig in the Or Zarua, but I have since seen that it is found in many German Tosafot, such as the Mordechai and Rosh at the end of Yoma.

These Rishonim argue that one of the central motifs of Yom Kippur (based on Pirkei D’Rebbe Elazar) is that we try to be like angels.  For this reason we don’t eat, drink, we stand, etc.  What is unexpected is the claim that angels have peace among them, so to be angelic we need to have peace among us.  From this perspective, it is undeniable that the half-hearted/well-meaning apologies do create a sense of good will.  Even with our friends, we have minor disagreements, tensions, and grudges.  When Erev Yom Kippur comes, we are ready to forgive and forget.  Together we seek forgiveness and a relationship with Hashem, as individuals and as a community.  R. Rosensweig notes that Yom Kippur is not a yearly experience, but each Yom Kippur is a once in a lifetime opportunity – hence the Kohen Gadol cannot reuse the clothes he wears on Yom Kippur.  To experience that fully, as humans and as angels, we need to get along.

One of the hardest parts of this past year and making aliyah, is that so many friends are no longer around, at least not on a daily basis.  Yom Kippur in YU was always moving, so much because of the people I knew were around me, even if for most of Yom Kippur my Tallis blocked them from sight.  As it is now Erev Yom Kippur in Eretz Yisrael, and will be in America in a few short hours, I ask mechila from all my friends, whether I did anything or not.  In that spirit, despite the thousands of miles that separate us, we will all enter Yom Kippur together.  Gemar Chatimah Tova.

ספר אור זרוע ח”ב – הלכות יום הכיפורים סימן רעז

[א] ערב יום הכפורי’ מנהג לטבול ולבקש מחילה כל מי שחטא לחבירו כדאשכחן ברב דאזל לגבי ההוא טבחא במעלי יומא דכפורי וגבי ר’ חנינא תריסר מעלי יומא דכיפורי והראיה שטובלין מדאמר במדרש ר’ תנחומא סוף פרשת ואתחנן שמע ישראל וגו’ רבנין אמרי אבל ביוה”כ שהן נקיים כמלאכים אומרים אותו בפרהסיא ואמרי’ בפדר”א בפרק מ”ו ראה סמאל שלא מצא חטא בישראל ביוה”כ ואמר לפני הקב”ה רבש”ע יש לך עם אחד בארץ כמלאכי השרת מה מלאכי השרת יחופי רגל אף ישראל כן ביוה”כ מה מלאכי השרת אין להם קפצין אף ישראל כן עומדים על רגליהם ביוה”כ מה מה”ש אינם אוכלים ושותים אף ישראל כן ביוה”כ מה מה”ש נקיים כך ישראל נקיים מכל חטא ביוה”כ מה מה”ש שלום ביניהם כך ישראל שלום ביניה’ ביוה”כ והקב”ה שומע עדות מפי קטיגור שלהם ומכפר על המזבח ועל המקדש ועל הכהנים ועל כל הקהל מקטן ועד גדול. ומדקאמר שישראל נקיים דהיינו שטבלו [ש”מ] שכן מנהג בישראל לטבול בעיוה”כ ומיכן כמו כן סמך לאותן שעומדים ביוה”כ כל היום ומדקאמר שיש לישראל שלום ביניהם ביוה”כ ש”מ שכך הוא רגילות ומנהג ביוה”כ לכל מי שחטא לחבירו שמבקש ממנו מחילה בעיוה”כ ויהיה כל יוה”כ שלום ביניהם דומיא דמלאכי השרת.

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3 thoughts on “Erev Yom Kippur Apologies

  1. Rabbi David Fohrman has a pretty good piece about this. He argues that instead of going around asking people to mochel us, we should be candidly and genuinely apologizing to people for hurting them. Goodwill is created by humbling ourselves and acknowledging what we have done, not with asking for vague forgiveness. (If anything, asking forgiveness without acknowledging the pain you caused can just hurt the other person more!)

    That seems to be much more in the spirit of YK…but it maybe fits a little less well with this gemara. Hmm.

    Anyway, g’mar chasima tova!

    1. That is obviously the ideal, but this is just another perspective. On that note – thanks for posting the R. Forman series on YK! Very enjoyable, as always.

  2. It’s interesting you bring this up. I remember sitting in R’ Daniel Feldman’s shiur many years ago and he talked about this. He said that one should really apologize and enumerate the things that he/she did wrong. I’m sorry for this, this, this……….and this. The only possible exception would be Loshon hara which is a machlokes between R’Yisrael Salanter and the Chafetz Chaim. (According to R’ Yisrael Salanter, chas v’shalom, you should tell the person you spoke Loshon hara about him/her because now that person is going to feel bad when previously they didn’t) R Feldman even went so far to say that even if the person FORGAVE you already, you still have a chiyuv to apologize! It seems to me there is more than good will. I originally thought this notion as well. It seems that it’s not just about the person forgiving you (which is important), but more about owning up to what you did wrong. You’re almost confronting yourself more than the other person to get you to realize the gravity of what you did wrong. The fact of the matter is though, it takes a lot of courage to say I did this wrong to you. I think people just assume in the spirit of yom kippur, people will be quick to forgive. After all, who has the audacity to refuse forgiveness on erev yom kippur? This is compounded by the fact that hopefully, most violations towards our fellow man aren’t so egregious that we have to sit and have a long talk, especially shortly before yom kippur. Still, I’m with you. I wish people took it more seriously. A gut yahr!

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