“the Bat Mitzvah of Amelie Stambouli”

Apologies. Forgiveness. Teshuvah. The heartfelt words of a young woman that should inspire us all.

Good morning everyone. My Torah portion is called Acharei Mot which translates to “after the death of.” It starts by reminding us of the two eldest sons of Aaron, the high priest, who went to offer some sacrifices. But the way they carried out these offerings and sacrifices was not the way God had commanded them to,  so of course, a fire came down, consumed them and they died. Then Moses, Aaron’s brother, receives a list of weird and concerning rituals that would allow safe access to the sacred and for Aaron to be forgiven. These purification rituals eventually evolved into what we do now on Yom Kippur.  First,  Aaron is not allowed to enter the innermost sanctuary, the holy of holies, on any day except Yom Kippur. Then he takes a bath before he sets aside different animals to sacrifice. He begins the sacrifices then sprinkles the blood in the holy of holies. He finishes the sacrificial rites and then removes his separate priestly garments, bathes again, and puts the white garments back on to remove the incense and finish the day’s services. Aaron put in a lot of effort to make sure he would be forgiven by G-d because it was something that mattered to him. He tried really hard to make things right because as a Jew, he had the obligation to make things right.  To this day, deserving forgiveness by changing our behavior is something that is extremely important to most Jews. 

Obviously, the way we go about being forgiven today is different from what Aaron did in the Torah,  but we all still have situations where we need to make things right and apologize. So what can we say to apologize and be forgiven?

Teshuvah is the Jewish practice of atonement for sins against G-d and other people. Teshuvah translates to “return.” When we make a mistake, we are asked by G-d to do Teshuvah, which means to return to the path that G-d has set for us when we are born; the path that leads to becoming a better version of ourselves. 

There are four steps required by Jewish law that we have to take in order to deserve to be forgiven and achieve Teshuvah.  The first step is that we need to just stop. Saying that might sound obvious or easy to do, but in practice it’s harder than it seems. Let’s say you lose your temper with someone and you realize whilst yelling at them that what you’re doing probably isn’t right,  yet you continue to yell at them for whatever reason. Stopping whatever destructive action we are doing is a necessary start to achieve Teshuvah and to be forgiven. The next step is regret. You cannot  sincerely apologize and achieve teshuvah without feeling regret for what you did. 

The next step is verbally confessing your mistakes. Not just to whoever you wronged, but you have to verbalize your regret to G-d out loud. I’m sure everyone here has apologized to someone by saying something like “I’m sorry, you probably just hate me and I know you think I do everything wrong” instead of just acknowledging and admitting our mistake. We get defensive so we justify whatever we have done wrong by choosing to protect our egos rather than apologizing to the people we love. When you are being defensive in an apology, you aren’t helping anyone. It’s going to make you feel guilty later on, and whoever you’re apologizing to will not and probably, should not forgive you. If you do have a reason or something that triggered you to make that mistake, use that as an explanation, not an excuse that frees you from the obligation to offer a sincere apology.

The last step is to make a plan on how you can make sure that your hurtful behavior will not happen again. An apology without change is not a real and sincere apology.

In a Taylor Swift interview she states “Y’know people go on and on about how you have to forgive and forget to move past something. No you don’t. You don’t have to forgive and you don’t have to forget to move on. You can move on without any of those things happening. You just become indifferent, and then you move on.” Then she was asked if she believed in forgiveness to which she responded “Yes, absolutely! For people that have enriched your life and made it better, but not if something’s toxic, and it’s only ever really been that, what are you gonna do? Just move on, it’s fine.” 

So what does this mean? Are we obligated to forgive someone no matter what they did because we’re Jews? No. Like I said before, you have an obligation to make things right, which means to apologize, but you only have an obligation to forgive someone who goes through the four steps I described earlier.   I’m sure everyone in this room has gotten into a small argument with maybe a friend or a family member over something like stealing your sister Lily’s sweaters while she is at field hockey practice… just me? Okay… But I always apologize and (sometimes) give them back and she forgives me because it’s not that big of a deal (and I enrich her life of course). So we move on. But I’m also sure everyone has gotten into a big argument with someone who doesn’t bring happiness into their life, and maybe they apologized but you didn’t forgive them. That’s fine! You can move past that without forgiving them unless of course they sincerely regret what they did and take all four steps.  Then, we really should forgive them.   And it is important to remember that we can forgive someone without forgetting what they did.  Forgiveness does not require us to forget hurt.  .

My Torah portion has taught me that there is a way for us to apologize correctly. It has also taught me my Jewish responsibility and obligation to acknowledge when I’ve done something wrong and apologize for it. I hope we all learn from the Torah this morning to be better people by owning our mistakes and changing our behavior so that we have more forgiveness, love and peace in our families, friendships and world. Shabbat shalom.

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Inclusivity & Forgiveness
Inclusivity & Forgiveness
4 months ago

Interesting rendition. One wonders if this was read by the City Council and ALL those involved in the flap regarding the presumed slight by Commissioner Hoopengarner. The principle complainant is a person of Persian Jewish tradition , Treas of the ISJC yet he commandeered the President of the Iranian American Council in Washington, D.C., Jamal Abdi to send to the City Council, City Manager and City Clerk and entered as a submission under Public Comment in the agenda. Please read it for yourself, the language is interesting and make up your own mind. To my knowledge no one audibly presented… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
4 months ago

This was a delightful and much-needed read. Thank you for sharing it.

SLH
SLH
4 months ago

You are a beautiful light in a world that needs more hope and love and understanding. Thank you for sharing.

Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane
4 months ago

You brought a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing this lovely story and spirit.

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