Sorrow and remorse are two different things.
Sorrow is me feeling bad that you’re unhappy with me.
Remorse is me feeling bad that I hurt you.
When my feeling is sorrow, my intention and my behavior are to alleviate my discomfort.
When my feeling is remorse, my intention and my behavior are to alleviate your discomfort.
Even though he gives him, he is not forgiven until he requests [forgiveness] from him, as the pasuk says, “Now return the wife of...” (Genesis 20:7). And from where is it derived that if the victim does not forgive him that he is cruel? As it is stated: “And Abraham prayed to Hashem; and Hashem healed Abimelech...” (Braishis 20:17) (Mishna, Baba Kamma 92a)
Who gives what to whom? The Torah Temimah fills the lacunas in the Mishna, and teaches us a powerful hidden lesson as well.
And he will daven for you: One who causes injury to his fellow, even though he has paid him all of the monetary damages, is not forgiven until he asks forgiveness, as it says in the pasuk, “and now return the married women [to her husband Avraham] because he is a prophet and he will daven for you.” It appears that the Mishna is learning this from the fact that Avimelech [who had taken Sarah from Avraham] is being commanded to cause Avraham to daven for him. The pasuk is to be understood as follows: Now, return the married woman and hishtadeil sh’yispalel alecha, do everything in your power to get Avraham to daven for you. How do you accomplish this? By asking that he [not only] forgive you but that he [be so reconciled to you that] he will daven for you. (Torah Temimah, Braishis, 20:7,n 7)
The Mishna says that if the victim does not forgive him he is cruel. If the victim does forgive, there are two levels: mechila and selicha.
Selichah is personal forgiveness granted so that the transgression that was committed may not permanently blight the relationship of the transgressor to the one against whom he has sinned. Mechila is objective pardon, the waiver of the punishment which the transgressor would have deserved. (The Hirsch Siddur, Feldheim Publishers, 1969, pages 136-137)
The Torah Temimah offers a third level, higher than these. Behind not blighting the relationship, you enhance the relationship when your remorse is so deeply felt and richly expressed. You elicit the tefilos of the one whom you harmed. You lift your relationship from common respect to shared concern, from enjoying each other as you are to davening for each other's growth.
Here’s how you reach this level.
When you realize that you have caused harm or pain, slow down.
Instead of just saying, “I’m sorry,” say:
I’m sorry that I hurt you. What can I do to help you?
You can teach your child to say “I’m sorry” and leave it at that. He will probably comply readily when he realizes it’s an easy way out of taking responsibility for what he did and how it affected someone else.
It is harder to slow down and realize what you said or did that hurt someone else, to take the responsibility for what you did, what you can do about it now, and how to do better next time.
It is much harder to express your shame, embarrassment and remorse.
What is it about shame that is so debilitating? Usually there are two things that block you from doing what you cognitively know is appropriate to do when you’re feeling ashamed.
The first thing that blocks you is that you’d be admitting that you failed at something that you thought you would do better at. Failing at something does not make you a global, permanent failure any more than succeeding at something makes you a global, permanent success. Yes, you did poorly. What is so intensely painful about saying out loud that you made a mistake? It is unpleasant, and it’s very much worth the effort.
The second thing that blocks you is the fear that you will be criticized when you admit that you did something poorly. Unfortunately, that is often the case, especially from parents towards children. But the child already knows she did poorly and your criticism is in no way helpful. What is helpful is to ask your child, “What could you do differently next time, how could you do better?” And then let her think about it.
Then ask her to think about this:
My actions have consequences. Sometimes what I do hurts somebody else.
I can understand how someone else might be feeling.
I can do something to make it better.
I have time to understand and feel remorse.
When I do say “Sorry,” I really mean it. I feel bad for what I did.
(From “It’s Okay Not to Share”, Heather Shumaker, page 298)
Then, teach your child how to express remorse, how to ask someone to forgive her for the specific hurt she caused, the feelings that accompanied that pain. To ask what she could do to make it better.
Teach your child that when she expresses remorse and compassion, she will often receive compassion and complete forgiveness in return. She will become a better person and build a stronger friendship.
When your child disappoints you and expresses remorse, tell him you forgive him and that you will daven for him to do better next time. You and he will have a stronger relationship. Strong parent-child relationships are the foundation for success and nachas.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.