Friendships are fickle. They come with restrictions, expectations, and fine lines. Even the closest of friends know that in order to maintain the friendship, there are some things you just don’t do or say. Family relationships are different. For better or worse, we don’t usually approach family relationships with the same sensitivity that is sometimes needed to walk the friendship tightrope. Because of that, family will not always get along, but the familial bond is hard to break. My mom used to tell me, “I may not always like the decisions you make, but I will always love you.” It was her way of saying nothing would change our relationship or how she felt about me, even when I made mistakes or let situations get the best of me.
The ten days between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur are called the ten days of repentance, or aseret yemei teshuvah. In these ten days we are required to take stock of the year and clearly acknowledge what we have done to others that may have hurt them, what we have done that has negatively affected ourselves, and how we have handled our relationship with God. We are asked to take the necessary steps towards mending these three relationships and to work harder in the coming year to be honest and open in each of them. But how are we supposed to tackle this lofty task of making 5774 better than 5773?
Maimonides, the Medieval teacher and textual commentator, suggests the following steps:
Maimonides: Mishneh Torah: Hilchot Teshuvah 2:2
ב ומה היא התשובה הוא שיעזוב החוטא חטאו ויסירו ממחשבתו ויגמור בלבו שלא יעשהו עוד שנאמר יעזוב רשע דרכו וגו’, וכן יתנחם על שעבר שנאמר כי אחרי שובי נחמתי, ויעיד עליו יודע תעלומות שלא ישוב לזה החטא לעולם שנאמר ולא נאמר עוד אלהינו למעשה ידינו וגו’, וצריך להתודות בשפתיו ולומר עניינות אלו שגמר בלבו
What constitutes teshuva? That a sinner should abandon his or her sins and remove them from his or her thoughts, resolving in that person’s heart never to commit them again…Similarly, that person must regret the past…That person must verbally confess and state these matters which he or she resolved to his or her heart.
The Rambam approaches this season of repentance with a four-step process for repairing relationships. First comes removing the evil act or memory from our own thoughts. Dwelling on the past is never productive in an attempt to move forward. Second is committing not to repeat the behavior. Part of maintaining healthy relationships means not developing a bad reputation, and by resolving to never act in this way again, we can move forward with positivity. Third, Rambam teaches that there must be regret. Simply saying you’re sorry without regretting the action is hollow and void of meaning. Instead, we must ask ourselves if we regret our actions, feeling in our core that what we’ve done is wrong. Finally, we must state these matters both to the person we’ve harmed and to ourselves.
Forgiveness is about ownership. It means loving yourself enough to admit when you’ve been wrong and loving others enough to know that as human beings we are innately imperfect. As we enter into these final hours of the season of repentance, the ultimate goal is to examine our flaws not to achieve flawlessness, but to remind ourselves that the love is always stronger than the like.