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MISHNA IMPOSSIBLE 17

But I said “Sorry!”

By Warren Shapiro

Daf 12 contains a brief discourse by Rabbah bar Chanina who said, in the name of Rav, “Anyone who commits a sin and is embarrassed of it is forgiven for all of his sins”. For, the Rabbi says, it is stated “In order that you remember and be ashamed and so that you no longer have an excuse because of your humiliation, when I forgive you for all that you have done, the word of Hashem”.

This got me thinking – why is the word “embarrassed” used instead of “remorseful” or “regretful”. Instinctively, I understand that there is a difference but I was wondering quite what that was. And, as so often happens, my kids helped me towards an answer!

My younger son and my daughter got into a fight about something and a male hand connected with a female head. Once I had separated the junior pugilists, I told my son to say sorry – which he did, in a grumble. My daughter however was having none of it and said “Not OK!” and walked off. When I looked at my boy, he looked at me and shouted “But I said sorry!”.

This little spat struck me – because my daughter was right, it was not OK. They say that “sorry seems to be the hardest word” but actually it is quite easy to say. It is just a word, after all. My little one, about to turn 4, grasped the difference immediately between saying sorry for what you did and being sorry for what you did.

This goes to the heart of why Rabbah bar Chaninah refers to being embarrassed of the sin we commit in order to be forgiven for it and why words such as “ashamed” and “humiliated” are quoted. Embarrassment and shame connote a discomfort at what has been done, or how people have reacted to something we did. Much like remorse – it involves self analysis, admitting your mistake and taking responsibility for your actions. Once you have undertaken this process, only then can you really appreciate what you have done and try not to do it again. It should be only at this stage that forgiveness comes. Because the other side of
it is to just say the right words without feeling them – expressing “regret”, which is often nothing more than a grudging acceptance that your act had consequences (often with the focus being on the consequences for you, not for the other person!).

Put differently, “saying sorry” (expressing regret) is appreciating that what you did caused pain and requires a response – but that might be to avoid pain or consequence for you. It is ticking a box. And box-ticking will not develop anyone to the stage where they can actually take responsibility for their actions and resolve to do better.

“Being sorry” means appreciating that you caused pain to another and genuinely trying not to do that again. Absent this, it is understandable perhaps why forgiveness will not come – when it comes to wiping the slate, whether by Hashem or an aggrieved little girl, you have to mean it before you can clean it!