There is a sweet children’s book called “The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story” that has particular resonance for today. The hardest word, as you might have guessed is “sorry.” During this time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Jewish tradition of apologizing is in full swing. Blanket apologies are not accepted here. They must be one-on-one personal confessions, which brings me to the disgraceful apology that Donald Trump offered this past weekend for bragging about sexually assaulting women.
No matter what one’s political inclinations are, let us agree that in no way does Donald Trump represent the Grand Old Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower. His is a virulent policy of exploiting the most desperate Americans with lies and false promises. So no, this is not about politics. This is about what is decent and right and democratic. It makes me sad that no one has used the word “democratic” very much in this campaign season, but what is at stake here is our very democracy. At the Democratic Convention, Khzir Khan, the father of U.S. Captain Humayan Khan killed in action and the recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal, emotionally and pointedly asked Trump, “Have you read the Constitution?”
As for his apology, Trump scowled through it like a schoolyard bully. It was a feeble attempt to sidestep his boasting about a rape culture, to consider his words of hate as merely “locker room talk.” He calls the release of the lewd recording in which he is heard attacking women a “distraction” from campaign issues. “Sorry” is the hardest word – it’s a word that carries notes of contrition and grace. Done with love, these notes harmonize into the sweetest melody in the world.
Our Jewish tradition has much to say about apology. Writing in the Washington Post, Mark Oppenheimer invokes Maimonides as a wise guide on the subject. Oppenheimer writes that, “Maimonides spelled out his rules for repentance in one of the chapters of the 14-volume Mishneh Torah, completed in 1180. This section, though only a few pages-long and little read outside scholarly Jewish circles, is one of the great spiritual documents of the world. The rules are lucid and practical , and they feel absolutely relevant today.”
Maimonides was clear that the offended must be apologized to directly. In Trump’s case that would be the two women he was heard trashing on tape. According to Maimonides if neither of these women want contrition from Trump, he “should bring a group of three of his friends and approach [the women] to request forgiveness.” If this doesn’t work the first time, the atoner must try to apologize up to three times. After that the tables are turned and the person who refuses to grant the forgiveness is the sinner.
I like the direct format of the Al Chet prayer – translated as “For the Sin of.” The actual text is an exhaustive list of sins that is said a total of ten times during the course of Yom Kippur services. The litany is real, hard-hitting. In fact, in traditional prayer one expresses atonement when reciting each line of Al Chet by thumping the chest for each sin recited. And it’s also a prayer that reflects how sin is a communal responsibility. Shaking our heads in disbelief and then disgust is not enough. We’ve all had a part in allowing Trump to get as far as he has.
Herewith is my version of Al Chet exposing the more glaring Trump sins that we have committed these past months.
We have sinned against You through shrugging off criminal behavior.
And we have sinned against You through ignoring misogyny.
We have sinned against You by allowing the insult of our Gold Star families.
And we have sinned against You through permitting disrespect of our veterans and Prisoners of War.
We have sinned against You by witnessing mocking of the disabled.
And we have sinned against You through not supporting our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
We have sinned against You through accepting not paying our taxes.
And we have sinned against You through allowing the swindling of people in business.
We have sinned against You through watching the exploitation of fear and vulnerability.
We have sinned against You by listening to hatemongering.
We have sinned against You through exposing our children to hideous and lewd comments.
We have sinned against You through not insisting on the truth.
For all these sins, forgiving God, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.