“Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between man and his fellow until the [perpetrator] appeases [the victim].” (Yoma 85b)

The process of returning to God involves two steps: teshuva, repentance and kappara, atonement. The first is performed by man and the second, by God. Teshuva includes several requirements: the sinner must abandon his sinful behaviour, remove it from his thoughts and resolve in his heart never to do it again. He must have sincere remorse and regret for his behaviour and he must confess his sins before Hashem (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 2:2).   Teshuva is akin to a cleansing process, removing the filth and stench of the sin from one’s heart and soul. But even after sincere repentance, sin leaves a stain that no human hand can remove. That is when kappara, atonement, is needed. Rashi (Bereishit 32:21) writes, “It appears in my eyes that any forms of the word kappara that are used by Scripture in association with “sin” or “transgression” or in association with “face/countenance”, all mean “wiping away” or “removal”…” God completely wipes away any remnant of the sin, leaving us pure and clean as if we never sinned. This wiping away, or atonement, takes place annually on Yom Kippur.

Teshuva and kappara are only effective for sins between man and God, such as consuming non-kosher food or engaging in prohibited sexual activity. But if the sin was committed against another person, such as assault, theft or libel, the perpetrator does not achieve forgiveness until he compensates his victim. And even if he does compensate him, he must still seek his forgiveness and receive his pardon. Only then will Yom Kippur atone for his sin. (Rambam, ibid, Halacha 9). In consideration of the importance of this rule, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 606) dedicates a chapter to the requirement to appease one’s fellow on Erev Yom Kippur. Here are some of the salient halakhot, as explained by the Mishna Berura.

One must appease a person that one has harmed, even if the harm was ‘only’ berating them with words. Verbal abuse is included under the heading of ona’at devarim which is a Torah prohibition. The requirement to appease one’s victim applies throughout the year, although it may be postponed to a more oppurtune time. However, on Erev Yom Kippur one is obligated to make amends. If one has property belonging to another in one’s possession which came to him through theft or over-charging, this must be returned on Erev Yom Kippur. If one attempts to appease one’s fellow and the victim does not accept the apology, one is required to try a second and a third time. Each time, he should take with him three people to demonstrate his sincerity and he should use different words of appeasement. It is better for the perpetrator to go in person but if this is difficult, or he believes an intermediary would be more effective, he can send a third party. If the third attempt at appeasement was not successful, the perpetrator does not have to try again but may do so if he wants to. In that case, he should tell ten people that he asked the victim for forgiveness. 

A victim should not be cruel but should accept an apology if it is made sincerely. He should not hold a grudge or engage in revenge. If the sin involved a libellous statement, the victim does not have to forgive because “there are those who heard the libel but did not hear the retraction and therefore the libel remains in place.” This is especially true in the era of the internet and social media. It often happens that a completely false accusation is made against someone and this becomes the ‘truth’. At some later point when the accusation is proven false, there are still thousands (if not millions) of people who continue to believe the lie either because they are unaware of the retraction or because they refuse to accept it.

If the victim died before the perpetrator could appease him, he must gather ten people at the victim’s grave and say, “I have sinned to the God of Israel and to this person.” He must then mention the sin he committed against the deceased. If the grave is very far away, one may appoint a proxy to go to the grave with ten people. The proxy must state that he is acting as an emissary of the perpetrator. It is forbidden by rabbinical ban to utter libellous remarks about someone who has passed away and one who does so must repent of his sin. If one stole from multiple victims and does not know their identity, such as a shopkeeper who overcharged or sold products using inaccurate scales, full repentance cannot be achieved.  Nevertheless, the thief should make an estimate of the money he stole and use the funds for communal matters, such as repairing roads or water cisterns (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 366:2). Perhaps such a thief could give the money to a communal charity fund.

The Tur and Levush write that the appeasement that is done on Erev Yom Kippur serves to unite the hearts of Jews with one another. Through this, they prevent the accusing angel from prosecuting them before Hashem. On the contrary, the accuser is forced to admit that the nation of Israel are like angels who dwell in peace with one another.  

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatima Tova!

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: https://youtu.be/LUN75ntqtCQ

For Yom Kippur: https://youtu.be/pUUf0FgZZTY

Share with your community
No Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.