Never be Afraid to Say Sorry by Dovid Gottesman


In this week’s Parashah, the Torah states (VaYikra 16:30) “Ki VaYom HaZeh YeChapeir Aleichem LeTaheir Etchem MiKol Chatoteichem Lifnei Hashem Titharu” “on this day he shall atone for you; from all your sins, before Hashem you will be purified”. The Mishnah (Yoma 85b) states that Rav Elazar Ben Azariyah read the Pasuk a little differently, saying it should be read as follows: “on this day he will atone for you: from all your sins before Hashem, you will be purified”. Just by moving the comma, Rav Elazar derives that on Yom Kippur, Hashem grants atonement only on sins he made against Hashem, as opposed to his fellow man. Only by asking your friend for forgiveness will Hashem grant atonement. Later in the Gemara, Rav Yitzchak is quoted to have said that one who upsets his friend, even through words, must appease him, as it says in Mishlei (6:1-3): you have been trapped by your words, do this and be rescued: humble yourself and appease your friend.

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik inquired, what did this teaching of Rav Yitchak teach us that couldn’t be learned from Rav Elazar interpretation of our Pasuk in the Mishna?

 He answered this question with an anecdote that happened to him. In Brisk, a butcher was sued for a huge sum of money, and the case was brought to Rav Chaim. Despite encouragement for both sides to accept Rav Chaim’s arbitration, the butcher was indignant because he thought that there was no case against him. When Rav Chaim ruled against the butcher, the butcher, enraged, started shouting at Rav Chaim terrible insulting epithets, despite Rav Chaim’s assurances that he judged the case as best he could with the laws set down by Judaism. When the butcher wouldn’t stop insulting him, Rav Chaim yelled at the butcher “insolent one! Leave this court immediately!” Two months after the incident, when Yom Kippur came around, Rav Chaim approached the butcher with his three sons, asking forgiveness for calling him ‘insolent’. The butcher responded that he will only forgive him if he pays back the sum that he lost in the case, to which Rav Chaim responded he will only go as far as asking him forgiveness a second and a third time, as much as require by law, whence he would stop. He continued to say that he was not asking forgiveness for a sin he committed, biblical or rabbinic; for the Midrash teaches that a person is allowed to insult someone if he is insulted first. Rather there is an obligation to ask forgiveness on Yom Kippur for any insult, justified or not.

Rav Chaim later told his sons that the source for this idea is the statement of Rav Yitchak, that a person who upsets his friend, even by words, must appease him. Rav Elazar in the Mishna teaches that if a sin is committed between two people then it requires atonement. Rav Yitchak added that even if there is no sin, but a justified action against your friend, that as well you have to ask appeasement for. Rav Chaim explains this logic as follows. When insulted, the truly virtuous person remains silent, even when he is permitted to respond. Responding to an insult exhibits a lapse in self-composure and in character. Rav Yitchak teaches that even for this flaw one must ask forgiveness.

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