Does God Apologize?
Sorry, no, for real, I am sorry.
I have been guilty a few times in my life of offering the most annoying type of apology: “I am sorry that you feel that way…” Admittedly, I have gotten better at it, but I still struggle and so does the rest of the world methinks. Apologizing is hard!
Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant breaks down crappy apologies into different categories:
1There’s the no-fault apology: Sure, I did something wrong, but I didn’t know it was wrong at the time.
There’s also the pre-pology: I’m owning up to my sins before anyone accuses me, but I’m the real victim here. I have many childhood demons.
And finally, there’s the un-pology: My apology was genuine, but I didn’t do the thing I apologized for, so I hereby deny it.
Recognize any of them? Me too. As much as the pandemic exacerbated the issue, the challenge of the apology has a lengthy track record. Ask an older relative if they’ve ever been on the wrong side of an apology. Instead of ameliorating the tension of a situation, a bad apology can push the two parties even further apart.
Unsurprisingly, the sages of Judaism had a few thoughts on apologies. One of my favorite apology references comes from the mind of the Rabbis of the Talmud in response to a moment in this week’s Torah portion. There, we read about the offerings that come in response to Rosh Hodesh (the day that marks the beginning of each Hebrew month). Numbers 28:15 details the following procedure
“and there shall be one goat as a sin offering for God, to be offered in addition to the regular burnt offering and its libation.
That wording of “for” before God begs for interpretation. For what reason would God ever need a sin offering? What error has God made? Well, allow the Talmud to take you back2:
Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi raises a contradiction between two verses. It is written: “And God made the two great lights” (Genesis 1:16), and it is also written in the same verse: “The greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night,” indicating that only one was greater than the other. He explains: When God first created the sun and the moon, they were equally bright. Then, the moon said before the Holy One: is it possible for two kings to serve with one crown? One of us must be subservient to the other. God therefore said to her, i.e., the moon: If so, go and diminish yourself.
She said before God: Master of the Universe, since I said a correct observation before You, must I diminish myself? God said to her: As compensation, go and rule both during the day along with the sun and during the night. She said to God: What is the greatness of shining alongside the sun? What use is a candle in the middle of the day?...
God saw that the moon was not comforted. The Holy One said: Bring atonement for me, since I diminished the moon. The Talmud notes: And this is what Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: What is different about the goat offering of the New Moon, that it is stated with regard to it: “For the Lord” (Numbers 28:15)? The Holy One said: This goat shall be an atonement for Me for having diminished the size of the moon.
That’s right. Way back at the time of creation, God made an error in diminishing the moon. God tried all the tricks to pacify the moon, but she remained unmoved. It was only when God apologized, in the form of a monthly offering on God’s behalf, in perpetuity, that the moon was satisfied. So every month, when we read this text (in place of offerings that are no longer offered), we are reminding ourselves that even the Divine needs to apologize.
If that is ultimately the case, then how much more does that apply for us? Even if God doesn’t take a role in your life, substitute the word Spirit, Universe, Karma, Energy, or your universal power of choice. Apologizing is so much bigger than our selves but we often let our selves get in the way. So what are some ways we can apologize more effectively?
As in everything, be authentic. We know a half-assed apology when we offer it or receive it. Make sure you actually mean what you’re saying. Just because you think you don’t need to apologize, ask an objective party as sometimes we’re too far in it to realize the extent of our wrongdoing.
Take ownership and blame. Explicitly say the thing that you did wrong when you apologize. Don’t offer it in relation to something they did. There could be time for that eventually. Maybe your apology will even spur them to apologize to you. For now, take the responsibility.
Don’t expect an immediate return to what was in the form of forgiveness. An apology is a step in the process, not the end of potential reconciliation.
Don’t use the word “if.” As Susan McCarthy wrote:
‘I’m sorry I killed your frog’ is better than ‘I’m sorry if my killing your frog caused you pain,’
There are probably many more suggestion you might have that I would love to hear. In the meantime, there’s probably someone out there to whom you owe an apology. Take stock of what actually happened and open yourself up to the power of a simple apology. We currently live in the world of “sorry not sorry” but it might behoove us to make it a little bit more of a “No, I am actually sorry” kind of world.
Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Hullin, page 60b