My son, at about age 3 got on his scooter car and proceeded to “motor” around our back yard. Encountering his much younger sister sitting in his path, he tooted his horn, smiled and blurted out “*&^% you! Get out of my way!” as he swerved around her. Shocked, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I realized he was simply mimicking my own reactions in the car when someone was in my way. Needless to say, we had a long discussion (for a 3-year-old) about words, after which he apologized to his sister and I watched my driving (and words) more carefully.
Apologizing (teshuva) and forgiveness (selicha) are a big part of the High Holiday season. Note this passage, found in Jewish Machzorim (High Holiday prayer books), part of the preparatory prayers for Kol Nidre (the evening that begins Yom Kippur):
Yom Kippur provides the opportunity to atone for sins against God. However, Yom Kippur does not automatically atone for sins against another human being until one has appeased the person offended.
Like conjoined twins, apology and forgiveness are bound together. If we have not received forgiveness from the people we have offended, we are certainly not going to receive it from God. It is therefore our obligation to seek out those we have hurt in any way during the year and say, “I’m sorry.”
Parents the world over know that we will do or say something that will hurt someone’s feelings. We are equally certain that someone somewhere will do or say something that will hurt our feelings. Nevertheless, we try as much as possible to—meaningfully—apologize as soon as we can to those we hurt and to—graciously—forgive those who hurt us. Life really is too short to do otherwise.
From playgrounds to parking lots, rude clerks to sandbox misunderstandings, we understand that one of our parental responsibilities is to help our children negotiate life’s small and large mistakes, hurt feelings and accidents. Teaching children, from as early an age as possible to learn to say, “I’m sorry” and mean it, forgive and move on are important life skills.
We are obligated to do this during the High Holidays, but why not practice this action throughout the year? Here are some books that can support you in this undertaking:
I’m Sorry by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Jennifer Eachus. HarperCollins, ©2006. Ages 3-6.
Learning to say, “I’m sorry” may be a difficult concept for very young children. Yet, this story which is about best friends who share everything but then get into an argument, uses feelings to target the message exactly. Beautiful, warm, rich illustrations and simple lilting text really deliver.
New Year at the Pier by April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Dial, ©2009. Ages 5-9.
Izzy and his family are getting ready to celebrate Tashlich (the casting off of sins) with their religious community. Izzy has several apologies to make before the ceremony. He manages all of them, except the most difficult. Will he be able to say he’s sorry to his best friend?
This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagerenski. Houghton Mifflin Company, ©2007. Ages 8-13.
A sixth grade class is asked to write poems to apologize for any number of things. In return, those apologized to respond with forgiveness poems. The resulting effort is a perfect tribute to the ideals of Teshuva and Selichot.
Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, illustrated by A.G. Ford. Candlewick Press, ©2013. Ages 5-9.
With the guidance of some very patient people, hurt and anger can be changed to more constructive feelings that ultimately can turn around an entire country. Based on a true story in the life of Archbishop Tutu.
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen. HarperCollins, ©2002. Ages 11+.
Beaten by his father, ignored by his mother, stealing and fighting his way through school, Cole Matthews is a bully. This time, however, he has gone too far. In an effort to “teach a lesson” to Peter Driscal, the boy who “ratted him out,” Cole beats Peter so seriously he has suffered lifelong brain damage. Cole is headed for jail…unless he agrees to Circle Justice, one-year banishment on an Alaskan island where he will learn about himself, his anger and how to apologize for all he has done in his life.