Saying sorry: 3 steps to seeking forgiveness on Rosh Hashanah | Worship

By Glen Pickus | Temple Beth Or | Sep 20, 2017

“I’m sorry” are two words that are sometimes impossible to say out loud.

With the start of Rosh Hashanah tonight – Wednesday, Sept. 20 – Jews in Mukilteo and around the world will start a 10-day period of saying “I’m sorry” to everybody we have wronged in the past year, no matter how many.

The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah – literally, “Head of the Year”, the Jewish New Year – to Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement – are often referred to as the 10 Days of Repentance. During these 10 days, Jews undergo intense self-examination, seek repentance and vow to do better in the coming year.

Jewish tradition holds that on Yom Kippur, transgressions between a person and God are automatically forgiven.

However, there is no such automatic atonement for person-to-person transgressions.

God only erases the sins we have committed "before God" but not the sins we may have committed against fellow human beings.

In fact, we can’t receive God’s atonement until we first make things right with the people we’ve wronged, because people come first.

To make things right with those we have wronged, we must say to them, face-to-face, “I’m sorry.” And as hard as it is to say “I’m sorry,” that’s not enough. Achieving repentance is a three-step process.

First, we must acknowledge that we’ve wronged somebody. Then, we must apologize to that person and ask for their forgiveness.

If our apology is not sincere, it is meaningless. We must show regret and remorse because without them there is no opportunity for healing, we’re not going to change, and we’ll end up committing the same wrong again.

However, without the third step, steps one and two are a waste of time. Step three is to resolve to never commit the wrong again.

In Judaism, this process is called teshuvah – literally “return.” Teshuvah is the work we do from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.

As hard as it is to ask for forgiveness, forgiving can be even more difficult. In Judaism, it is a sin to deny a sincere request for forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it once was. It does mean that when we forgive somebody, we can give up our victim status and go on with the rest of our life.

During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we recite prayers admitting to God that we have sinned. This ritual helps us internalize that no matter what we did, no matter how we behaved last year, we can do better in the next year.

Asking for forgiveness doesn’t just apply to the 10 Days of Repentance. We must seek reconciliation with others whenever we realize we have wronged them, no matter what time of year.

While Yom Kippur helps us focus on seeking repentance because it sets a ritual deadline, we shouldn’t wait until then to think about whom we have wronged and how we can seek their forgiveness.

Teshuvah must be practiced year round. With that in mind, “L’shanah tovah” – to a good year.


Glen Pickus is a member of Temple Beth Or, the Jewish synagogue serving Snohomish County. The synagogue is at 3215 Lombard Ave. For more information, visit

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