SHABBAT SHUVA 5773
The other day I called a friend to wish him a mazal tov on the engagement of his son. He wasn’t home and his message machine said: “If you would like to leave a message, press one.” So I did. I pressed one, and I left a message. And I thought I was finished. But then the machine said to me: “If you would like to hear the message you have recorded, press 2. I don’t know why—just out of curiosity I guess—I pressed 2 and I listened to the message that I had just recorded.
And do you know what? It sounded terrible. I realized that I sounded curt. I had simply told him that I was trying to reach him, and nothing else. I didn’t tell him that the reason I was calling was to give him a mazal tov. I didn’t mention where I was calling from, and I didn’t mention when and where he could reach me if he wanted to call back. I didn’t wish him a happy New Year. I just recorded a brief message, and that was it. And when I listened to the message that I had recorded, I must tell you that I was embarrassed. That’s not the way a person should speak to a friend or even to his friend’s answering machine.
But then my friend’s answering machine came on again. And this time, it said: “If you are satisfied with the message that you have recorded press 2. If you would like to erase this message and send another one in its place, press 3.” So I pressed 3 and I sent a new message. And this time, I didn’t just say: “Sorry that I missed you.” I said: “Mazel tov and much naches on your son’s engagement” I told him where I was going, and how he could reach me and I sent regards to his wife, and family wishing them all a good New Year.
It was very nice of my friend’s answering machine to make it possible for me to correct my message and do it over again. It really was. And I realized: Wouldn’t be wonderful if we all had a “do-over” device like that?
Did you ever have a meshulach coming to your door collecting for some charitable organization or for himself? I’m on their list and they come to my home often—probably because I can never send them away empty handed. But sometimes when the door bell rings—I must confess—I’m tempted to say, “Go away! I’m busy now,” or “Leave me alone, I gave at the office,” and close the door on him. Now what if I actually did that and a bell would go off in my head and a recording would say: “Is that the way you want to talk to a man who is trying to persuade you to do a good deed? Why don’t you call him back, and talk to him like a mentsch? And why don’t you invite him in for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake and a chance to rest his weary bones before he goes on his way?”
Unfortunately, there is no such bell, and there is no such machine that asks you that question, and therefore by the time you realize that you have humiliated another human being and that you’ve committed a great sin, it’s too late. There’s no way you can undo the sin of the way you treated him.
And what happens if night after night you come home after 9:00pm and your children are already asleep? You silently promise yourself that you will make more of an effort to spend time with them and help your wife in the evenings which is the most difficult time with its dinner, homework, bathing the kids and putting them to bed. But somehow this goes on week after week, year after year. Well, you can’t take back those years. There are no do-overs for fatherhood.
On Rosh Hashanah I spoke about the cancer that is criticism—how when you criticize a loved one, use harsh words, demeaning adjectives, or a sarcastic tone of voice, you literally strip your loved one’s core of self-confidence. And once you say it, it can’t be taken back. Even if you ask for forgiveness and it is granted, it still percolates in the heart.
I think of one of the saddest stories that I know that took place a couple of summers ago. Armando Galarraga, pitching for the Detroit Tigers, retired the 1st 26 batters he faced. He was on the edge of every pitcher’s dream—a perfect game. And then, in the bottom of the 9th with 2 out, the last batter hit a ground ball between 1st and 2nd. The 1st baseman picked it up and threw it to Galarraga runnig to cover 1st beating the runner by a step. The 1st base umpire, Jim Joyce, however, missed the call and called it safe.
The fans in the stands booed and booed some more. The other umpires all told him that he had made the wrong call and he realized that they were right. But the rules of baseball are very strict and, unlike football, there’s no such thing as reviewing a play—no do-overs. What impressed me was that the umpire later apologized profusely to Galarraga. He accepted the apology and they hugged! That was mentschlichkeit on both sides, wasn’t it?
Sometimes, life is like that. Sometimes you do something dumb or cruel; you put on your brake too late or make a nasty remark; and wish you could take it all back but you can’t. Sometimes you take one more drink than you should have and then drive, and there is simply no way on Gd’s earth that you can undo what you have done.
But it is the claim of these days leading up to Yom Kippur that we should try. It is the claim of these 10 Days of Repentance that we should look over what we have done during the last 12 months and where we realize that we have done something stupid, ugly or cruel—anything that may have caused pain or embarrassment—we ought to try, to the extent possible, to apologize and to make amends.
And so this is my request of you and myself: let this be the time when we do over the hurtful messages that we sent. For it is the premise of Yom Kippur that, if a telephone answering machine can give you a 2nd chance to redo your message, then perhaps Gd will give us a 2nd chance to do that too—if only we allow that by being forgiving to each other. And if we do so, we will have begun what I hope will be a good New Year—a year of love and understanding, a year of peace and blessing. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis