by Rabbi David Woznica
The Talmud teaches, “The Day of Atonement atones for sins against God, not for sins against man, unless the injured party has been appeased.” (Mishna Yoma 8:9) In other words, even with sincere prayer, fasting, spending the day in synagogue, it is only those sins against God that can be forgiven.
That is why our tradition encourages us to ask forgiveness for sins against people before the High Holidays begin. We are to approach those we have sinned against with remorse, making recompense if possible and appropriate, resolving to change in the future and asking their forgiveness. Even if the offended person refuses our apology, we should approach them two more times.
And if someone should sincerely ask our forgiveness, we have an obligation to accept their request (except in the case of irrevocable or extreme damage). Not to do so is regarded as cruel.
If we can set aside time during these weeks leading up to the High Holidays to reflect on where we have fallen short this year, approach those who we have inappropriately hurt and sincerely ask their forgiveness, then when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur arrive we will be in an optimistic and uplifted frame of mind.
That is why, even though we fast, Yom Kippur is not a day of sadness. In fact, the Talmud teaches the opposite: “There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av (a Hebrew date when many marriages were arranged) and Yom Kippur.” (Mishna Ta’anit 4:8).
We will be happy because when we hear that final shofar blast at the end of the day, we can leave feeling fresh and clean, eager to embrace New Year.
Rabbi Woznica can be reached at email@example.com