The Jewish season of repentance and forgiveness starts a month before Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – and lasts until the end of Sukkot – an eight-day holiday that ends on Oct. 13 this year. During this time, many Orthodox Jews will approach friends, family and acquaintances about wrongs committed throughout the year, asking for and granting forgiveness.
While this tradition emerges from religious concerns – Yom Kippur, this year on Sept. 30, is judgment day – discussing the highs and lows of relationships with those close to you can be a positive experience for anyone.
Judaism separates transgressions into three categories: between you and God, between you and others and between you and yourself.
Whatever time of year, focusing on correcting past mistakes and addressing, rather than hiding from, mistakes we have made with our friends can strengthen our relationships. It can also lead to greater emotional stability and less stress – things every college student could use. These in turn correlate with greater cardiovascular and mental health – either through a direct effect or because people spend less time engaging in unhealthy stress-managing activities like smoking, drinking alcohol and overeating.
General repentance is simple, if difficult. You must feel regret for what you have done. Stop dwelling on what you did – stop doing it and stop thinking about it. You should verbalize what you have done wrong and make resolutions about how you will act in the future.
It is more difficult to ask friends for forgiveness. Most people will ask for general forgiveness: “I apologize for anything I may have done, whether I remember it or not, that offended you or was done against you this past year. I hope you can forgive me.”
I find it more valuable to discuss what went wrong: “I spoke negatively about you behind your back,” “I’m sorry that I flaked out on you on your birthday,” “Could you forgive me for stealing food from your fridge?” The conversation might start in an awkward place, but talking through our faults can help us act better in the future and strengthen our relationships.
Forgiving oneself can be the hardest. How often do we look at tests and agonize over how much more we could have studied? When family members get mad at us, we look back at every interaction we have had and analyze what we did wrong.
It is easy to view ourselves as incompetent when we see our friends who seem to coast through life.
But forgiving yourself might be the most important exercise of repentance. Your friends might forgive you, the universe might forgive you, but if you do not forgive yourself, then all that mercy does nothing to absolve you. You beat yourself up over nothing.
After you have come to terms with your moral code and resolved issues with your friends, take some time to be with yourself. Write your feelings out for 20 minutes. Lay down on the grass on a sunny day. Go for a run.
By confronting our offenses to our friends and ourselves, and by forgiving these offenses, we empower ourselves and others to grow together and live positive, productive lives.