Demanding an Apology

6 Sep

What is it that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants from the State of Israel?

An apology? Really now….

Raising our children, I can remember the many times that one child wronged another – a mean word, a teasing act – one child cried while the other walked away –after a “thorough” investigation, we would demand from the wrong-doer, “You say you’re sorry right now.” This would usually lead to a mumbled or angry “I’m sorry,” followed by a dramatic stomping-out-of-the room demonstration to make it clear that the words may have been expressed, but they meant absolutely nothing.

Given that we are in the month of Elul, and the Jewish people are in pursuit of forgiveness all around, it has given me pause to think about what we mean when we “ask for an apology,” when we ask someone to say “I’m sorry.”

Rambam outlines the process of teshuva and teaches that when one has wronged another, the apology must represent a lot more than the paying of lip service:

Sins…which are committed against one’s fellow man are never atoned for until one has paid any necessary fines to the person against whom one sinned, and appeased him. Even though one may have paid back any due money one still has to appease him and ask for forgiveness.(Hilchot Teshuva 2:9)

An apology is really worthless unless it comes with a sincere desire to be forgiven. One cannot ask to be forgiven unless one is first willing to appease the other side. I understand “appease” to involve a lengthy discussion, detailed explanation of why this happened, and only then, at the conclusion of this process, an apology, a request for forgiveness. The apology comes at the end of the appeasement process. Putting the apology – the saying “I’m sorry” at the very beginning – is worthless, and leads nowhere. It does not guarantee normalization of the relationship, and if anything, it sounds empty and insincere.

Israel has nothing to ask forgiveness for, so what use would there be to apologizing?

If Erdogan wants to normalize relations, to bring Israel and Turkey back in sync, then he should not be demanding an apology – he should be demanding a meeting and a discussion…..Obviously his demand is but a political move, not a desire to “make up and move on.” We can express regret (which we have), but an apology would require the State of Israel to “feel” differently, and the vast majority of us do not. We are very sorry for the loss of life, we regret that our own soldiers had to use lethal defense to protect their own lives….but what should they have done, put on boxing gloves and challenged the knife wielding intruders to a “fair fight”?

We feel that Turkey got exactly what is was looking for – a conflict with Israel – and now Erdogan is trying to figure out a way, post-Palmer Report, to come out on top.

As we dedicate this month of Elul to introspection and reflection, let it be clear to all of us the difference between regretting the wrongs we have committed against others this past year and truly feeling remorse for those actions (or inactions). To apologize to another person is a serious matters and requires heartfelt preparation for it to be meaningful. Until we really feel that we have done something wrong, we can say “I’m sorry,” but we cannot really apologize. And if we want to get things back to normal, we need to clear the air with open, heartfelt discussion that can culminate with genuine apology.


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