The Jewish calendar places us right now at that point between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which is arguably the most important time of the Jewish year. It is during this time, formally known as the 10 days of Repentance that we are admonished to take a full accounting of our negative behaviors, ask for forgiveness so that we may learn from our sins, and not commit any similar sins in the future. The sins that Halacha, Jewish law considers as personal, in the sense that they are private, between man and G-d are easier to cope with. It is our only responsibility to admit these private transgressions in our prayers, vow to prevent them from recurring and, it is said, that G-d will forgive them; Yom Kippur forgives those sins. The sins between people are far more complex in that G-d will not or perhaps cannot, forgive them rather forgiveness requires the active pursuit of pardon by contacting the ones we have hurt and gaining their absolution directly.
The official formula for seeking the repair between two individuals is to approach the person you have hurt with three others, acting as a Beit Din, a court, who will oversee the process to make sure that the one asking forgiveness does so appropriately and that the one harmed, if he does choose to give, his clemency does so truthfully. The formality of the process speaks to a greater human insight than simply seeking a formal pardon. This process requires a clear understanding that someone has been harmed by your actions and their feelings both emotionally and bodily are of value. We cannot dismiss any of their harmed feelings. We consider their needs for repair above our own needs of shame in seeking out the absolution so much so that it follows a formal process with oversight that occurs directly between the people involved.
Were it only so easy to find a simple way for people to work out their problems. Pride, envy, jealousy, haughtiness even plain stubbornness all get in the way. Far too often people who have harmed another individual refuse to acknowledge the fact that they have hurt someone else. Too often, even if there is some recognition that someone has been harmed the offenders’ response is “They deserved it” or “They hurt me so I gave it back to them.” There is rarely a quick admission or sudden flash of insight that acknowledges that harm has been done and that forgiveness must be sought. This form of blindness to the pain caused to others exists in all sorts of situations and in all manner of human interaction.
The purpose of this column is not to delineate the many varied possibilities that people use to avoid culpability in their interactions. I am now more focused on the harm that is caused by a combination of rationalization and selfish addiction. This problem is most common among child molesters. Virtually no child molester asks for forgiveness from their victims. Even when a molester is caught and confronted in court, he or she will often take the tack of blaming their victims. This form of rationalization perpetuates the big lie approach. If you say something enough times with as much conviction as can be mustered molesters believe they can ignore their sin, even get away with it, or worse justify it. We have seen several such situations in recent years where molesters have publicly denied their actions and blame their victims. As a result, we have seen far too many known molesters get a pass for their sins. Powerful individuals or institutions protect them. These molesters see no reason to repair themselves and certainly no reason to apologize to those they may have irreparably harmed. It is always easier to rationalize your behavior but all that rationalization is is a rational lie, a big lie.
This is a plea to those who stand by molesters – those who protect them and enable them – to examine, especially at this time of year, their own transgressions and ask for forgiveness. In this type of situation, enablers are sinners too. Molesters cannot hurt children if they are exposed and prosecuted. Even molesters lies can be easily debunked if they are not protected. It is time to stop rationalizing away the pain that molesters and their enablers cause and it is time to prosecute them. Without that act of acknowledgement of sin, forgiveness, even solace can never be achieved for those so harmed.