The Shulchan Aruch says like this:
The first time, you have to ask for forgiveness.
Remember, that the sins between adam le chavero aren’t atoned for on Yom Kippur until you first appease the person you hurt.
If the person isn’t appeased the first time you apologise, then according to the Shulchan Aruch, the second and third time you ask for forgiveness (ie, try to appease him) you should bring three additional people with you as witnesses. If the person is still not appeased after the third attempt, it’s their problem, not yours.
Why do we need to bring three people with us, in our efforts to appease the injured party? There are many explanations, but I have a feeling that it’s at least partially to help clarify what’s really going on, and where the problem lies. When other, more impartial, people are part of the ‘peace process’, it’s normally easier to see whether the appeasement being offered matches the hurt that was inflicted, and who needs to back down or be more flexible (clearly, what I just wrote doesn’t apply to Middle East politics).
The difference between appeasing and apologising
Again, there’s a few distinctions to be made here:
1. If I REALLY want to appease the other person, because I want to continue to have a healthy, trusting relationship with them in the future, I will do whatever it takes to get them back on side. That means:
o Making a full and frank admission of what I did wrong;
o Acknowledging specifically the hurt I caused to the other person (“I know I really embarrassed you in front of all your friends…I see I really let you down…I accept I’ve continually put my own interests ahead of yours…etc”)
o Clearly setting out how this is going to change in the future, and what steps I’m taking to prevent it from happening again (“I’m going to start talking to God for 5 minutes every day about my anger problem; I’m going to lock myself in a room when I feel a rage fit coming on; If I do something wrong, I’m going to come and apologise for it as soon as I calm down, and not leave it months or pretend it was all your fault…”)
2. If I’m interested in ‘doing the right thing’, but I don’t really care if I continue to have a relationship with the other person in the future, I will fulfill the letter of the law and do my best to apologise to them as per the Shulchan Aruch’s guidelines. If they accept my apology – great! If not, after the third time I tried, I’ll feel like I’ve done my part, and there’s nothing else to do.
What if you've tried a few times, and they still don't accept your apology?
Now, let’s look at what happens when you try to apologise on multiple occasions, and the other person keeps you hanging. There’s two main reasons for this. Either:
1) You’re going through the motions of apologizing but not really appeasing them (as set out above) which means that they don’t trust you enough to continue the relationship with you in the future.
If you want things to change, you’ll have to appease them. I should also say now that an emotionally healthy person will still accept your apology, even if it’s insincere, but that they will probably continue to keep their distance from you until you regain their trust. OR
2) You’re dealing with an emotionally unhealthy person.
When someone won’t give you a chance to apologise, refuses all your genuine attempts to appease them, and rebuffs your attempts to find out what you actually did wrong, then give it your best shot as per the Shulchan Aruch – and then walk away.
I’ve learned over time that the main reason people can’t forgive others – especially when the other person is going all-out to appease them, and not just going through the motions – it’s usually because on some level, they can’t forgive themselves.
More on this another time.
So there we have it: the pre-Yom Kippur guide to appeasing your fellow Jew.
Let me just state again that if I’ve hurt or upset anyone – please forgive me! If it’s something huge or specific – email me, and I’ll do my best to appease you (within the limits set by halacha…) And may God bless us all with a sweet, healthy, happy, holy, successful and peaceful year.
Hope you fast well.