By Yaffa Ganz
“You won’t believe this,” she said. “Really, you won’t.”
“Sure I will. Just tell me.”
My friend turned and twisted in the chair, nervously tapping her foot on the floor. Her eyes were bright with tears.
“Don’t get carried away,” I said soothingly. “It can’t be that bad. After all, it was Rosh Hashanah and I’m sure your intentions were good ones.”
“That’s just the problem!” she blurted out. “If it had been any other day it wouldn’t have been so awful, but on Rosh Hashanah!”
She put her head in her hands.
“So your intentions weren’t so good,” I went on, searching for some way of calming her. “You’re only human, you know. That’s why we have Yom Kippur!”
She shuddered. “But don’t you understand?” she whispered. “I can’t possibly go into Yom Kippur like this. What shall I do?”
“If you’ll only tell me what it was that you did, maybe I can think of something,” I said.
It turned out that she had had a fight with her husband on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, in the afternoon. After she had been busy with holiday preparations for two weeks and hadn’t had a chance to buy a new dress or hat for the holiday. After she had cooked for a solid week to feed all the guests they were having. She hadn’t even gone out for her usual morning walks to enjoy the lovely fall weather. She had happily, willingly, cheerfully stood in the kitchen and cooked. When the day finally arrived, she was a very tired lady indeed, but one full of satisfaction – and expectations. Then, when her husband begged off Tashlich (he prefered going with the men from his shul rather than, as he said, “turning Tashlich into a Rosh Hashanah social affair”), she had exploded.
The poor man never knew what hit him. Disagreements, annoyances, unsolved problems – all the hurts (mostly unintentional) and frustrations of the past year suddenly rose from the grave and found new life. They came pouring out, threatening to drown her stupefied mate.
When he finally managed to gather his wits about him, his first reaction was – you guessed it – anger. But being a good, fine type of man and husband, he controlled himself and kept quiet. The only trouble was, so did his wife. Through the rest of Rosh Hashanah, through Tzom Gedalyah, and through the next five days. Now Yom Kippur was approaching and no one knew quite how to end the deafening silence.
He had, during the week, tried to break the ice by planting a conciliatory kiss on her cheek each morning. These overtures were balanced by a few chilly Good Mornings and Good Nights on her part. My friend has always been a lively type who usually laughs and sings throughout the day, and the kids wondered why the house was so still. So did their father. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what had happened.
I sighed. It was the same, well-known problem. Different needs, different languages. What my friend had needed was one of those kisses on the cheek before she lost control. An invitation for a walk during Rosh Hashanah. The promise of dinner in a nice restaurant after the holidays. All that her anger meant was that she was tired, and was looking forward to finally going out for Tashlich. Although sensitive to her husband’s spiritual leanings under normal conditions, this had definitely not been a normal week. In addition to the usual pre-holiday cooking and work, there had also been other family-related mini-crises which had added to the tension. When she tried to explain this to her husband, he replied (justifiably) that he too was often under pressure, but he didn’t explode.
“He used to say I was vivacious, not explosive,” she said. “He used to think it was a wonderful quality I had, to be so bubbly and enthusiastic and full of life and not always cool and rational and under control. He felt that I was so alive …
“Of course I shouldn’t have blown up like I did. I know that. And on Rosh Hashanah yet.” She groaned again. “But it’s Rosh Hashanah for him too, isn’t it? Why isn’t he more understanding, forgiving? Why do I have to be the tzadekes (saint)?”
“You don’t,” I answered. “You can stay angry as long as you like. He’s only your husband. So what if he shared getting up in the middle of the night with you for crying babies, for years? So what if he’s always willing to get out of bed to make sure you locked the door, and always remembers your birthday, and goes shopping for you when you’re too tired, and agrees to all of your bubbly, enthusiastic, vivacious ideas, even when they’re slightly off the wall? So what if he’s a marvelous father? And a talmid chacham (scholar)? And a mensch?”
“If it will make you happy,” I went on, ”you can pout and simmer and steam all you want. Then you can cry your eyes out because you’re miserable and he’s only human. Is there a man alive who always understands his wife? Even our father Avraham didn’t understand Sarah! It took God Himself to instruct him! Besides, your husband is probably in such a state of shell-shock right now that he wouldn’t understand even if God spoke to him!”
She sat there in agony – my dear, kind, bright, intelligent, lovely and loving, wonderful friend. “So what should I do?” she asked.
”’Fess up,” I suggested. “Write him an apology, an Al chet*.”
“I will not!” she huffed. “It’s his fault, not mine!”
“Just a minute. It’s all in the plural, remember? Al chet shechatanu – for the sin we have committed! You both messed this one up. You’re sorry; he’s sorry; everyone’s sorry. All you have to do is find a way to say it. Since it’s all been said for you in the original version, it should be easy. Use your vivacious imagination.”
“Okay,” she said, rising with great dignity (and a sniff). “I will.”
I smiled. Whenever my friend put her imagination to work, the results were always fabulous.
As I watched her leave, I suddenly understood why, according to our Sages, anger was considered akin to idol-worship. When we are really angry, we are so emotionally involved in ourselves that there is simply no room for anyone or anything else. Not even God. It’s a pure, unadulterated ego trip. I want; I didn’t get; I hurt; I am frustrated. I, I, I. And we are so engrossed in ourselves, our feelings, our desires, that once we’re caught up in the eye of an Ego Hurricane, it’s hard to get out.
That evening, my friend called. I could hear her smile.
“It worked!” she said. “I can always depend on you for a good idea!”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Just what you told me to. I wrote an Al chet.”
She gave me a copy the next day. For Domestic Distress, it’s almost as good as the original.
FOR THE SINS that we have sinned under the duress of children and cooking and holidays and other household chores. And for the sins we have sinned willingly out of our own pure obstinate ego. And for the sins we have sinned through hardness of heart when softness would have been wiser and more loving.
FOR THE SINS we have committed without knowledge or understanding because we are only mortal, ignorant, blundering and sometimes downright stupid. And for those sins we have sometimes committed with knowledge, which is really horrendous.
FOR THE SINS we have perpetrated through the utterance of our lips (which is where a good deal of our sinning comes from); through harsh speech (which is one of the worst kinds because even when we say we’re sorry, we can’t really erase the hurt from someone else’s soul); and through tipshus peh – pure stupidity.
FOR THE SINS of hardheartedness and compulsion – of insisting and being stubborn and high-handed and always right, even when we’re not. (And even when we are … )
FOR THE SINS of confession – of saying “Okay, I’m sorry!” when we don’t really mean it but we just want the satisfaction of being heroic and long-suffering.
AND FOR THE SIN of not loving enough, of not being considerate enough, of not understanding enough.
FOR THESE AND ALL OTHER sins, too numerous to mention, forgive me, love me, bear with me … as I will, with God’s help, do my utmost to forgive you, love you, bear with you.
BECAUSE WE ARE TWO DEFICIENT HALVES of one potential whole which can, somehow, transcend the sum of its parts – and its sins.
AND BECAUSE I love you**, and where there is love, there is chessed (kindness). And when love and chessed come together, there is no room left for ego and anger and hardness of heart. There is only room for you, and me, and God.
**(except when you leave your dirty coffee cups on my clean counter after dinner, for which sin I shall not forgive you because there’s no reason you can’t remember to put them in the sink!!!)