Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!
A couple of years ago an article came out “How to Be a Better Human.” It concluded that we say “sorry” way too often. It reasoned that apologies make us appear smaller and timider than we really are and can undercut our confidence.” And in our a society where everything revolves around how the “I” feels, why should one walk around feeling like a small “i” and let you can feel like a big YOU? The only problem with that way of living life is that it is G-dless. In the preservation of the “I” and in our mania to foster it, everything and everyone becomes a casualty. That same article posited that even apologizing for bumping into someone is one sorry too many. However, that entire philosophy most certainly steps on G-d’s “foot,” which leads to this week’s Parasha, Vayikra and many reasons to be sorry.
Without having to ask “Can you hear Me now?” for the third time in the Torah it is written that G-d “called” Moses. Once again it was to assume a momentous duty. So important is this new duty that the entire book of Leviticus is titled Vayikra, which means, “He called.” Leviticus opens with G-d instructing Moses how the Israelites should “say sorry” through sacrificial service to atone for their sins. They were to atone not only for sins against G-d, but for sins against each other. They were to atone not only for sins they did, but also for their sinful thoughts. They were to atone not only for clear violations of the commandments, but for sins they were not certain they even violated. They were to atone not only for sins they did on purpose, but for ones they committed accidentally. Why? Because G-d takes “sorry” very seriously. Yes, Moses got the “call,” but who’s sorry now?
The sages teach that thought, speech and action are garments of the soul. We need to clean those garments when they become sullied by sin. The sacrifices provided the remedy to purify those “garments.” And let’s not keep this so sterile. The act of sacrificing involves slaughtering a living animal, cutting it into pieces and sprinkling blood, etc.; It’s gory even if it is for a holy end. But be sure that those who brought sacrifices were cognizant of one thing: that the animal before them was dying in their stead. Since it is the animal soul of man that causes him to sin, “atonement comes about only through blood” (Zevachim 26b).
But there is one thing that even sacrifices cannot do for us and that is to say sorry to one we have wronged, hurt, lied to or from whom we’ve stolen (which includes stealing time, reputation, manipulating, etc.) Until we make good, G-d won’t forgive us. Even our fasting on Yom Kippur absolves only our sins toward G-d not those perpetrated against others. When we try and preserve the “I” our ego makes no room for G-d, for goodness, for apologies or forgiveness. And luxuriating in our own imagined greatness will bring us to sin. The word for “I” in Hebrew is “ani”; when the same letters are rearranged they spell the Hebrew word “ayin" which means nothingness. Moses was the most humble person in history because he rearranged the letters, perceived his nothingness and in a profound unfathomable way he lived beyond the “I.” That made him the worthy recipient and teacher of G-d’s Torah.
In this generation of selfies and excessive self-love, the challenge for us all is ever harder. The “I” has been exponentially fortified, digitized, glamorized and monetized, but scantily spiritualized. Unfortunately, the third Temple has yet to be rebuilt and we can’t throw some poor sheep on the fire to atone for us. But saying sorry to G-d, to our neighbors and to ourselves is still possible. If G-d loved Moses for being the most humble man on earth then we can deduce, even though we are no Sherlock Holmes, that G-d must hate the arrogant and prideful. And indeed it is written in the Talmud that where the arrogant reside, G-d cannot dwell.
Forget about all the self-help books which expire like old medicine and the gurus promising to make you the best YOU; G-d’s eternal book will make you the best JEW and therein you’ll find the best you. In that destined role you will truly find who you are. Just as physical light influences plants to grow, spiritual and intellectual light i.e., the Torah, prods man to achieve his potential. So, yes, be sorry. Be very very sorry if tomorrow you are not a better person and better Jew than you were today. Most of the pain in our lives is because we don’t know how to say sorry or how to forgive. And if you think saying sorry to G-d or to your neighbor or friend, to your brother or sister, makes you “small,” then I’m very sorry to tell you, you weren’t all that much to begin with. Shabbat Shalom!