We are in the midst of (almost done with) the 10 Days of Repentance. The time on the Jewish calendar between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It is during this time during which we are taught to truly consider our deeds and actively repent. A major part of that process (perhaps the most important part) is to apologize for the wrongs we have done to others and to ask forgiveness.
Over the past few years, the trend has arisen to make “mass apologies” on facebook. There has also been some criticism of this practice, which is understandable. Apologizing en masse for everything you’ve done in a general statement to everyone you know certainly doesn’t replace a an authentic process of atonement and repentence.
And yet, I still apologize on facebook. And I will continue to do so. Even if I know there are those that don’t think it’s right. But it’s part of my own process, and it’s become important to my holiday ritual. And here are some of my reasons why I think it’s a legitimate expression of my Jewish practice:
- As I said, it’s become part of my ritual. And I think ritual is important. The moment when I make that post each year has actually become a moment when I’m able to pause and reflect. Not think about sermons, or service order, or what time I need to be where. It’s a moment when I’m able to recognize that the holiday is to begin soon.
- It’s not a replacement, it’s an addition. Writing a facebook post is not the only apologizing I do. I admit some of it may sometimes happen after Yom Kippur, but I make a concerted effort during this season to seek forgiveness from those that I’ve wronged during the past year. The group apology is in addition to the other work I do in t’shuvah.
- Otherwise, I might miss people. Not because I will forget them (although, I admit, that’s possible), but because I might not know. Sometimes we hurt people inadvertantly; more to the point, sometimes we hurt people and we don’t realize it. By opening the door to invite people to tell me that I’ve hurt them, I open the opportunity to do t’shuvah for acts that I might not have realized I needed to do t’shuvah for. We are taught in Leviticus 19 that we should rebuke people for the worngs they have done–but I know that’s difficult. Perhaps, if I invite people to rebuke me, it will make it that much easier for them to point out something I’ve done wrong. So that I can learn, and that I can consider, and that I can change, and that I can do better in the future.
- I have friends on the internet. Friends whom I only know, or mainly know, through digital means. Some of them I have never heard the sounds of their voice–others I’ve met in person. But our main friendship exists online. It’s only natural for me to apologize online.
- I can model behavior. One of the many ways I use facebook and other social media as a tool is that it gives me a chance to model Jewish living. By showing others–my students, my congregants, my friends–that I take the actions of the High Holy Days seriously, and not just when I’m in temple–not just in services–I show that these are things that we can all do in general.
- It’s a teaching moment. This is related to the above, but it’s also a chance for those not of the Jewish faith to learn what Jewish people do during these days. We consider our actions. We apologize. We repent. We try to do better. By making my actions public, even in a symbolic way (and isn’t much of what we do during this season symbolic), I’m able to show what these holidays are all about.
- It’s not the only time that it’s a less than perfect confession. This isn’t so much a reason as it is something I’ve come to realize. The holidays are full of moments when we apologize, when we atone, and it isn’t really a moment of real apology. I know for myself, my mind is more on making sure I don’t lose my place during the responsive reading of Al Chet than on the communal recitation of our wrongs. During Kol Nidrei, my mind might wander to my sermon. During Ashamnu, I admit to taking a moment to giggle at the stretches that the English acrostic takes–and perhaps at the line “an alphabet of woe.” The holy days are full of times when our actions are important–when our words are ritualized and symbolic–when what we are saying is not an authentic apology or act of t’shuvah, but is still an act of importance. For me, this is a modern embodiment of my own version of that.
So, yes. Tomorrow afternoon, I will make a post apologizing to those I haven’t apologized to–asking those I have wronged to let me know–and wishing everyone a meaningful holiday experience. I recognize that there are those that don’t follow that practice–that there are those that don’t appreciate that practice…but that’s the case for much of my Jewish expression. And such is the joy and challenge of the diversity of modern Jewish expression.