Learning from an Apology

The Times of Israel posted a story yesterday about a woman (Baci Weiler) who was walking in New York last Friday and was mistaken for a man by a Chabad emissary. He asked her (he thought SHE was HE)  if she had yet put on tefillin that day. Responding in the negative, the emissary then proceeded to put tefillin on her arm and head.

Shortly after that, she posted a couple of pictures of herself and the Chabad emissary explaining that he apparently mistook her for a man, due to her buzzcut, baggy pants etc. In her post, she expressed her feelings about what that moment meant to her. However, at the same time, apparently, she was not thinking about the affect that this post would have on the unnamed Chabad man. How would he feel when his picture would be splashed all over the internet doing what he, more than likely, would NOT have wanted to do had he known the facts? How would he feel at seemingly being duped (not necessarily on purpose) into doing something that went against his religious principles?

I am not commenting one way or the other on her putting on Tefillin (which she has been doing for the past 10 months) as that is not the subject of this post. I am commenting on the uncomfortable situation which she put another person in with her actions–and her follow up.

And it is then, that Baci made a wonderful decision and took action. After reflecting on her post and after seeing it from the “other side,” she took to her Facebook page and posted a public apology.

Though I didn’t force him to do something wrong, I allowed him to do something he presumably would have been uncomfortable doing given complete knowledge of the situation. Despite our ideological differences, I owed him this basic level of respect as a fellow Jew and as a human. For that I am sorry.

Clear, to the point, contrite and full of emotion, this apology can teach us all a lesson in basic human kindness, dignity, ethics and religion. Baci saw that what she did hurt a fellow Jew and she did not make excuses. She saw that her not being upfront with him (would have) caused him pain and embarrassment. And she did the right thing…she apologized to him in the same forum in which she had “outed” him.

When the brothers of Yosef HaTzadik see all that bad things that befall them (prior to Yosef revealing himself to them)  they acknowledge that they brought the calamity upon themselves. However, in their statement they say: אבל אשמים שנחנו (“BUT, we are guilty”), meaning, they understood that their actions (selling Yosef, etc) was what brought them to the situation that they were in. However, they begin their acknowledgment with the word “BUT.” The commentaries state that this preamble of “but” indicated that while they understood that they were guilty, they still did not feel it with a whole heart, as they still insisted on saying “buuuuuuuut….”

Baci, I do not know you, but your apology has taught me and others a valuable lesson. We must always take the other person into account when we act. And when we fail to do so and can (even potentially) bring harm, we must acknowledge it with no excuse, no “but,” no beating around the bush. I value your words and for that *I* publicly thank YOU.

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.
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