Or better yet: your inboxes fill with mass text messages and emails that read, “Have a gmar chasima tova, and if there’s anything I’ve done to hurt you this year, I hope you will be mochel me!”
Right. So about that—I’ve been thinking, and I haven’t really reached any solid conclusions--which is bad considering that Yom Kippur is right around the corner. Maybe you can help me out.
The practice of asking everyone for mechilah is based on the idea (brought by the Rambam and others) that you cannot achieve mechilah from Hashem for aveirot bein adam l’chaveiro unless the person you wronged has forgiven you first. This I understand. However…
How much do these blanket requests for forgiveness really achieve? Is an unspecific appeal or an electronic mass message really all that much better than nothing? The assumption is that the person/people you’re asking are going to say, “Of course!” If that’s the case, do you really have to go through the motions of asking? If you know that the person will forgive you, or has probably already forgiven you, or has forgotten all about any potential wrong you might have done to him/her, do you have to ask?
Also, in a case where the person doesn’t even know that she was wronged—say, for example, that you spoke loshon hara about someone behind her back—is it constructive to approach the person and say, “Hi, I spoke loshon hara about you this year, do you forgive me?” Would it be better to just leave the person in blissful ignorance?
Also, how do these things change if the person is just an acquaintance instead of a close friend? With a close friend you can pretty much assume that she will/has already forgiven you for anything unspecified you might have done to her. But an acquaintance probably hasn’t even though about your existence long enough to contemplate the possibility that you wronged him/her, so what is the proper thing to do? Call the person up and say, “Hi, I’m SJ, you know, from English class? I sit in the third row near the back? Right, so, um, I’m pretty sure I spoke loshon hara about you this year—are you mochel me?” Is that constructive? And, um, how are you supposed to get her phone number in the first place?
All of this makes me feel that perhaps the proper course of action would be to forego all of this meshugas. That would allow you to focus on asking mechilah for specific actions that you know have hurt others, and for which the injured party still bears a grudge of some sort. If you could call someone up and say, “Remember the time I embarrassed you in front of our friends? I’m really, really sorry about that. The action was beneath me, and I feel sincerely awful about it. Will you forgive me?”—that sounds a lot more like a significant, productive conversation that the others I’ve mentioned.
The problem is that limiting requests for mechilah to the situation I’ve just described doesn’t really line up with the Rambam’s idea, because you haven’t been officially forgiven for all of your chataim bein adam l’chaveiro.
Do you see my issue? Do you have any thoughts?
P.S. If there’s anything I’ve done to hurt or wrong you in the past, either with your knowledge or without, I am sincerely sorry, and I humbly request your mechilah.
No, I really really do.