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One of my favorite childrenâ€™s books for Yom Kippur is Jacqueline Julesâ€™ The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story. Itâ€™s about the Ziz, an enormous bird with dark red wings and a purple forehead. The Zizâ€™s giant wings are always knocking things over. One day, after the Ziz mistakenly knocks over a big tree with his wings and the tree then knocks over another tree, which smashes a childrenâ€™s vegetable garden, the Ziz goes to God and asks God how he can make things better.
God instructs the Ziz to search the earth and bring back â€śthe hardest word.â€ť The Ziz stretches out his big red wings and goes off to search, coming back to God over one hundred times with a variety of words. Each time God sends the Ziz back out, insisting that there is still a harder word.
Finally, the Ziz, discouraged, flies back for one last discussion with God:
â€śWhat word did you bring this time?â€ť asks God.
â€śNo word,â€ť the Ziz says quietly.
â€śNo word?â€ť God asks.
â€śNo,â€ť the Ziz says sadly. â€śIâ€™ve come to say Iâ€™m sorry. I canâ€™t find the hardest word.â€ť
â€śYou canâ€™t?â€ť God asks.
â€śNo,â€ť Ziz shakes his head. â€śIâ€™m sorry.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re sorry?â€ť God asks.
â€śYes.â€ť Ziz nods his big purple head. â€śIâ€™m sorry.â€ť
â€śGood job!â€ť God says. â€śYou found the hardest word.â€ť
â€śI did?â€ť wonders the Ziz. At this point, the Ziz is very confused.
â€śYes,â€ť God says. â€śThe hardest word is Sorry. While the other words you brought were hard, Sorry is the hardest.â€ť
I love the story of the Ziz because it draws our attention to a universal aspect of human nature: the difficulty of apologizing. Elton John pointed out this fundamental truth years ago with the title to his song â€śSorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.â€ť And if youâ€™re like me and youâ€™re old enough to remember the TV show Happy Days, you may recall how Fonzie, the cool guy who all the guys wanted to be like and all the girls wanted to date, struggled whenever he had to even admit that he was wrong, let alone apologize. In one episode, when Mrs. Cunningham, a woman Fonzie greatly respects whoâ€™s like a surrogate mother to him, tells him that he has to be an adult and apologize to a guy named Roger, Fonzie finally says: â€śAlright look, I went a little nutso, alright. So the whole thing was my fuhvv-vu-vuâ€¦and Iâ€™m really suzz-zzz-zzz. Alright?â€ť
Apologizing was SO HARD for Fonzie that he couldnâ€™t even pronounce the word â€śsorry.â€ť I, for one, can relate. And I know that Iâ€™m not alone. Mental health professionals have pointed out that many people view apologizing as a sign of weakness. The perception is that the person who apologizes is the â€śloser,â€ť whereas the person who receives the apology is the â€świnner.â€ť Apologizing can make us feel vulnerableâ€”like weâ€™re losing power, or even control. Like Fonzie, most of us donâ€™t like the feeling of not being in controlâ€”too often we let our pride get in the way and prevent us from apologizing.
But in reality, apologizing isnâ€™t a sign of weakness, itâ€™s a sign of strength. It takes strength to exhibit the moral character necessary to offer an apology, thereby admitting that youâ€™ve hurt someone or done something wrong.
And think about it: Have you ever regretted apologizing to someone? If youâ€™re like me, then you probably havenâ€™t, or at least not often. For most of us, the time leading up to offering an apology is stressful, but once weâ€™ve gotten over the hump of saying â€śIâ€™m sorry,â€ť itâ€™s usually a big relief. In the best of situations, an apology is accepted. But even when an apology isnâ€™t accepted, when itâ€™s offered sincerely, we at least have the consolation of knowing that weâ€™ve tried to make things better.
On the other hand, have you ever regretted NOT apologizing to someone? For most of us, the answer to this question is â€śyes.â€ť Surely, if we take the time to think about it, we can all point to times when we didnâ€™t say â€śIâ€™m sorry,â€ť even though we now wish we had.
The Jewish New Year is an ideal time to reflect on the year that has just passed and think about those people to whom we owe apologies. Jewish tradition urges us to recount the people weâ€™ve wronged in the past year and to apologize and ask for forgiveness before Yom Kippur. â€śSorryâ€ť may be the hardest word, but it also has the potential to be one of the most powerful wordsâ€”a word of restoration, a word of healing and a word of starting over.
I can think of several people I want to apologize to before Yom Kippur for things Iâ€™ve done in the past year: my husband; my children; some friends and colleagues. I know that apologizing wonâ€™t be easy, but I also know that itâ€™s worth it, and that the year ahead will be better because of it.
What about you? Have you ever regretted apologizing? Have you ever regretted NOT apologizing? Do you plan to apologize to anyone in preparation for Yom Kippur?