On Yom Kippur, we acknowledge the mistakes that we have made, and we regret having squandered some of our potential. And while we must make a firm commitment to God and to ourselves not to repeat the harmful action in the future and doing teshuva in combination with Yom Kippur atones for sins against God, it does not automatically erase wrongs committed against other people. So our custom is to apologize and seek forgiveness from anyone we may have harmed.
So I will start this column by asking for mechila, forgiveness, for any story I didn’t write but should have, for stories I did write but should not have, for typos that slipped through, for quotes that one felt were taken out of context.
There’s an ever-large balancing act for Jewish journalists to educate, inform and strengthen community. And each of those components of the job can clash with one another.
Recently, there was one particular piece, and I don’t want to rehash it all here, that caused one segment of our readership to be very upset. And it was a story that I knew about for months, a story I vacillated over until I had received so many calls about it, heard incorrect rumors that I felt a need to quell and learned from an expert that writing this particular piece could actually inform the community of how to avoid potential future danger.
But I made some mistakes in that article – and I am sure others. Never out of ill intention, but sometimes out of lack of knowledge and other times perspective.
What people don’t know is that I keep a file on my hard drive of stories that I know about, that have been shared with me (and sometimes even researched by me), but that I don’t feel the need to pen and print. That is because I hold them up to our paper’s mission: To write “award-winning” (meaning top-quality) stories and to build and strengthen community. Not everything passes that test.
But I want to clarify something, too. Building and strengthening community does not always mean writing positive pieces.
In an article published in the “Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society,” author Steven Oppenheimer says, “Media that seek truth and justice while promoting peace and harmony will strengthen the community and serve as an invaluable and precious resource.” And he teaches that there are times when the Torah commands us to take public action to warn against/prevent certain behavior. Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838 – 1933) writes that if there are persistent rumors about an individual’s transgressions, and if the general public opinion is that this person is suspected of being guilty of these transgressions, he may be considered a wicked person and it is permitted to shame him. The laws of verbal wrongdoing and embarrassing someone publicly do not apply to people whose actions are the antithesis of Torah prescribed behavior; the harm that may befall the family is the responsibility of the wrongdoer.
However, I am not a rabbi or a great scholar. So there are times when I make wrong choices.
The message of Yom Kippur, however, is that everyone makes mistakes – everyone sins. And God affords us the opportunity to learn from those transgressions and do better.
So this Yom Kippur – I hope we will all do a little self-reflection, all think about choices made, things said, written and done – and grow into a happy and healthy and successful 5774.