Monday, August 29, 2011

Repentance Without an Apology

When you look at my picture on the blog you would probably not guess that I have a real temper. With age and wisdom I no longer get angry as much as I used to, Baruch HaShem, but there were some real blow-ups through the years. One of the worst happened ages ago.
I was on the number four bus in Jerusalem with two of my sons. One was five-years-old and the other was age eleven. It was early afternoon and the bus was crowded with junior-high-school students who had just gotten out of school.

My reminiscences of riding my school bus during my junior-high-school days are anything but pleasant. They are a mush of memories of crowding, pushing for seats, spitballs, name-calling, and mean laughter.  So I should have been prepared for the behavior of three boys in the back of the bus, but I was not.
It was almost as if three boys from my school bus had been transported in a time machine from 1968 Kansas to a public bus in 1989 Israel. They were loud with raucous laughter, they shoved each other and those who had the misfortunate to be in their way, and they glared at all the other passengers. I did not pick up on their worst behavior, though, until we were travelling down Strauss Street in the heart of Guela. From my window I noticed teenage girls, modestly dressed, with their hair in braids surreptitiously wiping their cheeks. The light bulb went on.
“Did they,” I motioned to the boys, “spit at the girls?” I asked my older son.
With his eyes downcast he nodded his head. And I lost it!
Perhaps it was the uncomfortable memories of my junior high school days or maybe I resented the idea that those innocent girls had been violated by these juvenile delinquents.
Whatever the reason, I stood up, approached one of the boys, and, I am embarrassed to say, hit him over the head with my purse while exclaiming an explicative. The boy was shocked. My older son was embarrassed. And my younger son watched the whole scene with his eyes as big as saucers.
Quickly the boy recovered from his surprise and was up, out of his seat, and ready, I was sure, to attack me. A university coed jumped up to separate us and we both sat down, he seething with resentment, no doubt, and me shaking with embarrassment and fear. The girl had separated us but what would happen when I got off the bus?
Feeling sheepish, to say the least, and sure that every passenger on the bus was staring at me, I made my way to front of the bus to ask help from the driver. Perhaps he could let just me and my sons off before the scheduled stop. To say he was unsympathetic was an understatement. Full of dread and feeling like a fool, I ushered my boys off the bus from the front door by the driver. It was the middle of downtown Jerusalem, I reasoned. There were scores of people around. What could the boys do to me? Maybe they would just stay on the bus.
But no, I saw them exit out the back door. “Please,” I prayed, “don’t let them do anything to my sons.”
With quick strides we purposely drew near the big bank but to my dismay I found the doors locked. The three boys surrounded me. My heart was thumping wildly. Before I could tell my sons to run away I was attacked…with spit. All three of them spit in my face at once. And then they were off running in three different directions as fast as they could.
It was not pleasant but it could have been much worse. I found a bathroom and was able to clean myself up. Then came the more important tasks, apologizing to my sons and explaining how I could have handled myself better. It was too bad, I told them, that I had not complained to the driver about the spitting boys. If he had not handled his responsibility to make them stop then I should have noted his identity number and complained to the bus company. Not only was hitting and swearing not an acceptable way to solve a problem, I was afraid I had done a tremendous Chilul HaShem. By acting as I did as an obviously observant woman I caused the other people on the bus to think badly of religious Jews.
Although it is always a good time for repentance, Elul is the time when it is emphasized. The Rambam teaches us that there are several steps of teshuva. The first is to feel bad about what was done. The second is to admit to the wrongdoing and vow not to repeat the action. Final repentance is done when one is in the same situation and refrains from repeating the sin. This all applies when the sin is against HaShem. If it was an action against a fellowman then apology is definitely part of the order.   
I have done the first parts of repentance many times over. I have felt bad and admitted my wrongdoing. There have been so many times I have been on the bus with obnoxious passengers and I have never again sworn and hit anyone, Baruch HaShem. As far as my sin of Chilul HaShem I am okay. For the sin of raising my hand against a fellow Jew I am not. I was never able to apologize to the spitting boy because I have no idea who he is. I can give tzedakah as a sort of penance. And I can pray that when my purse hit his head I managed to knock some sense into him and he straightened up. Hopefully he is now a responsible adult and he long ago forgave that crazy woman on the number four bus.   
Baruch HaShem: bless G-d
Chilul HaShem: desecration of G-d’s honor   
Teshuva: repentance
Tzedakah: donation

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