In the Scale of Merit
I was sitting in my car, minding my own business, chatting on the phone, waiting for the light to change, when, all of a sudden, from behind the car- boom! The car behind me failed to stop and my rear bumper went crunch. The other driver and I dutifully pulled off into a parking lot and waited for the police. They took the report, we called our insurance companies, and life went on.
A minor inconvenience, a bang on the head, nothing to be upset over. What WAS upsetting, however, was hearing from the insurance agent several weeks later that the driver of the other car was denying that she hit me and, in fact, suggested that I had backed up into her vehicle! Fortunately, I was exonerated by the police report and the matter was quickly resolved, but her unwillingness to take responsibility made me angry!
There is nothing quite so disarming as a heartfelt apology. Hearing the words, “I’m so sorry, I was wrong, I should have done better and WILL do better next time, please forgive me”- these words take the wind right out of our sails when we feel righteously indignant.
During these final weeks of the year, our spiritual task is to do an honest accounting of our actions, take responsibility, and seek reconciliation in our relationships. Our hope is that if we acknowledge what we’ve done wrong, if we admit our flaws, if we take responsibility and apologize and ask God- “Forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement,” that we can move God from the throne of justice to the throne of mercy, that we can take the metaphoric wind out of God’s metaphoric sails through our process of teshuva, repentance and return.
A Yiddish proverb suggests that it is harder to stay on people’s good side than God’s. Yom Kippur is Yom ha-Din, the day of judgment. For too many of us, every day is judgment day. We are all too ready to believe the worst about each other.. On Yom Kippur we stand in judgment before God. On the other 364 days of the year, all too often we stand in judgment of others.
I received an email recently from a member of my congregation whose feelings I had inadvertently hurt many years ago. In her note, she acknowledged that, when I called to ask if I had offended her in some way, she said no. Now, years later, she was writing to apologize to me for not having answered me honestly at that time.
It was both powerful and healing to me to read her message. I simply replied- “Thank you so much for letting me know. It is my goal to be responsive and supportive to members of the congregation in times of need, and I am sorry I was not the presence that you needed at a difficult time. I appreciate your letting me know now and hope that you can forgive me. “
As the High Holidays approach, we reflect on how quick we are to judge others, to impute the worst possible motives to each other Pirke Avot 1:16 tells us that we must “Judge in the scale of merit,” that is, give each other the benefit of the doubt. We feel the pain of the intense sense of self-judgment when we examine our own failings. Let us resolve, in the year ahead, to be kinder and gentler with each other, not rushing to judgment, seeking to understand and impute the highest possible motives to our friends and loved ones, mindful of the wisdom of our tradition, that as we forgive others, so will we be forgiven.