by Monica Solomon
Being in business these are words I hear almost daily. Certainly if they are not said, they are implied. It seems that it is really difficult for people to own up to their mistakes, and to take responsibility for the consequences. And when one tells the other what the result of their mistake is, ‘sorry’ still does not come easily. And sometimes ‘sorry’ can be a painful word to say, depending on the severity of the result.
It’s the same in any relationship, whether business or personal. No-one likes to admit they’re wrong because they feel that this somehow diminishes them, but if one doesn’t admit ones mistake life cannot go on with any normality.
There’s a children’s story entitled “The Hardest Word; a Yom Kippur story” which brings this point home in a beautiful way. The story describes God commanding a giant bird to search the world for the “hardest word” a person can say. In a first attempt, the bird proposes “Goodnight” — since no child likes going to bed. God just smiles. Next, the bird suggests, “Spaghetti.” Cute but wrong. Only later, after many unsuccessful guesses, the bird reflects on his own life, looks into his own heart, and realizes that the hardest word must be “Sorry” (Jacqueline Jules, Kar-Ben, 2001).
The story rings true as much for us as it does for children “Sorry” is indeed one of the hardest words we can say. But when we do say ‘sorry’ and we do accept that we are in the wrong, we create a just society. We remove blame from the other and both parties can be assured that even though a mistake has been made efforts have been made to repair the damage.
This weeks Parasha, Naso, reads in part “The Eternal said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Eternal is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.“
Rashi commented that this injunction is similar to the one in Leviticus ch. 5. He say that the words “and must confess the sin” stresses that repentance cannot be effective without a proper confession of wrongdoing.
Interestingly, requiring confession from the guilty seems to have been one of Rashi’s particular concerns. Elsewhere, in his Talmud commentary, Rashi writes that a person cannot achieve true repentance without admitting guilt: “One does not offer compensation or a sin sacrifice without making confession” (Rashi on Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama 108b, s.v. m’shalem keren).
So our Parashah teaches us that, just like there is belief that Israel and Palestine can only live peacefully with a two state solution, justice can only be achieved by a two step solution: when the guilty party makes confession and then follows this with restitution.
Admitting guilt is a sacred act. It’s difficult but in order to repair the world it is necessary. Maimonides wrote a lot about the concept of confession going so far as to say that confession should be a public act.
At the end of The Hardest Word, the giant bird reflects on recent events and remembers when he “accidentally” fell from the sky and destroyed a vegetable garden beside a synagogue. He determines that he will return to the scene of the crime bearing a basket of fruits and vegetables from his own garden because, “It was time to say the hardest word.”
It’s time for all of us, to learn how to say the hardest word too.
Torah Reading Shabbat Naso
Numbers 4:21—7:89 Reading Num 6:1-27
Plaut p.928; Hertz p.592
Haftarah Judges 13:2-25 Plaut p.947; Hertz p.602
In our Torah portion:
*A census of the Gershonites, Merarites, and Koathites between the ages of thirty and fifty is conducted and their duties in the Tabernacle are detailed.
* God speaks to Moses concerning what to do with ritually unclean people, repentant individuals, and those who are suspected of adultery.
* The obligations of a nazirite vow are explained. They include abstaining from alcohol and not cutting one’s hair.
* God tells Moses how to teach Aaron and his sons the Priestly Blessing.
* Moses consecrates the Sanctuary, and the tribal chieftains bring offerings. Moses then speaks with God inside the Tent of Meeting.