The period from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur is the most revered time in the Jewish calendar. It is called the Aseret Yemei Teshuva — the Ten Days of Repentance. It culminates with Yom Kippur, when we stand before God to apologize for our sins. The Rabbis teach that God can only forgive us for sins committed against God, but not for wrongs we commit against fellow human beings.
So during this time, it is customary to apologize to our family, friends, and neighbors for the ways in which we hurt or mistreated them.
In modern times, this once-sacred practice of asking people for forgiveness has devolved into a generic, conditional, mass apology. It often comes in the form of an email or a social media post, and it sounds something like this:
If I have done anything in the past year to hurt you or upset you, please forgive me.
And, I’m sorry — no, actually, I am not sorry — but, NO.
This doesn’t cut it.
All this does is shift the burden to the person you’re ostensibly apologizing to, to determine whether you even need to apologize.
How about owning what you did and being intentional with your apology?
The Elements of an Apology
To offer a true apology, you must start with the 3 As:
- *awareness*of what you did
- acknowledge how it hurt the other person; and
- accept responsibility for your actions.
The conditional apology — I’m sorry if I hurt you — does none of these things.
Apologizing Helps Us Heal
Let’s get real: to apologize and ask for forgiveness is not an easy task. It requires a sense of humility and contrition.
We are living in a time when real, heartfelt, apologies are scarce. Nobody likes to apologize. Because nobody likes to admit being wrong.
But we are missing out. Taking responsibility for your actions can lay the groundwork for healing rifts in your relationships with those you’ve wronged. And it can also serve as a healing agent for your most important relationship — the one you have with yourself.
When we accept responsibility for our actions, we empower ourselves. We are no longer victims of circumstances or ill-informed choices. It is only by owning our mistakes that we can finally put them behind us and turn away from that undesired path. This “turning” is the essence of teshuva, which comes from the word meaning “to return.”
Without owning up to what we’ve done, how can we ensure that we won’t do it again?
And if you’re going to do it again, what’s the point of apologizing?
A true apology is not just about “making nice” or smoothing over the rough spots; it’s about making things whole. This is the principle of atonement — being at one with ourselves, others, God, and the universe.
We are human. We falter, we fall, we mis-speak, we hurt others. But we can repair our ways and return to our true nature. It starts with owning what we’ve done.