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It's too late to apologize?

06/17/2020 06:40:34 PM


When I get mad, I like to talk about how I am feeling. I like validation, but when my anger is justified, I really appreciate an apology. Yet, if I ask for an apology, then doubt enters my mind whether or not the apology is given because I asked for it, or because it was sincere. Of course, the flip side is true as well. When I am in the wrong, and an apology is asked of me, its important for me to not just apologize, but to show someone that I really meant it.

I wonder if this is partly at issue in Parshat Shlach Lecha. In this week’s parsha, Moses sends twelve spies to scout the land of Canaan. Of the twelve, ten come back with a discouraging report about the difficulty of conquering the land that causes discord in the Israelite camp. They complain to Moses and God, God gets angry, and thus God punishes them with a lifetime of wandering in the wilderness. But this doesn’t stop some Israelites from rash behavior. Feeling defiant of God’s decree, and perhaps a little remorseful, some Israelites try to enter the land of Canaan then and there, despite God’s punishment (Numbers 14:39). Whereas before they should have wanted to enter the land but didn’t want to, they now want to enter the land but shouldn’t. Thus they are met by the Canaanites and are defeated. Why couldn’t God have shown mercy? Was there no way for the Israelites to repent? While some would argue that God’s oaths and decrees are irreversible, I am reminded of God’s clemency that was shown after the grave sin of the Golden Calf. So why is this situation different? Perhaps it is because the Israelites actions were not sincere. Perhaps their change of conviction is tainted by the undesirable decree against them. Did the Israelites really have a change of faith? Or are they just trying to prevent the harsh punishment? If only the Israelites were able to have faith before the harsh decree was made.

Like the Israelites and the scouts, we are bound to mess up and make others angry. And like the Israelites, we will feel remorse for our actions. The question will be whether we will be able to recognize the mistakes on our own, or whether we will need someone else to point it out to us. If we can figure things out independently, then there can be little doubt that our regret has been internalized and sincere. However, if an outside force is acting on us compelling us to apologize, then what extra work must we do to signal the sincerity of our actions? And when we do try to make things better, then it is best to learn from the Israelites and at least be respectful of the wishes of the one who was offended. 

Shabbat Shalom

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784