Written & Animated by Hanan Harchol

Jewish Food For Thought: The Animated Series was created with generous funding by The Covenant Foundation.

Study Guide by Rabbi Leora Kaye

When is the last time you genuinely apologized to someone for something you did? What makes an apology worthwhile? What steps do people need to take in order for an apology to be sincere? Do you think Judaism’s “opinion” will agree with yours?

Important note from the author and animator Hanan Harchol:

The Hebrew word for repair is tikkun (תיקון). And yet the four-step process I am describing in this story is actually that of תשובה (teshuvah) which is literally translated “to return” (to God) and is commonly translated as repentance. Why, then, did I not title the story “Repentance” and use the word repentance throughout? The reason was my personal feeling that the word repentance could be interpreted by some to have a judgmental, preachy tone, and might carry so much negative connotation that the viewer would possibly focus on the term rather than the concept itself. The essence behind teshuvah (as I understand it) is the process of fixing one’s relationship with other people and one’s relationship with God (to return to God). This Jewish teaching says that no matter how egregious the wrongdoing, one can always perform teshuvah. Further it states that the reason we are not perfect is specifically so we can then choose whether or not to go through the difficult, but nourishing, process of teshuvah. When trying to come up with a less preachy word that still embodies the essence of this process, I chose to use “repair.”

Repairing a broken relationship or trust takes work, commitment, and a desire to do what you can to fix what has been broken. “Repair” (teshuvah) is encouraged throughout Jewish teaching; in fact, it is required in most cases when people make mistakes. Judaism’s take is that repairing a mistake or apologizing for behavior is always an option, no matter the situation. The responsibility lies in your hands; the work of repair requires effort but is not impossible and has a value in and of itself.

1. Repair: Maimonides’ Four Steps

The most famous laws about repair come to us from the 12th century rabbi, philosopher, and physician Maimonides (1135-1204, Spain), or Rambam, one of the greatest Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. Maimonides wrote codes of law for the Jewish community, clarifying common Jewish practice and accepted standards of observance. He wrote for the simple “Jew on the street” as much as for scholars, and his codes have remained relevant across the spectrum of Jewish belief until today.

According to Maimonides, four of the most important steps of teshuvah are the following:

  1. Verbally confess your mistake and ask for forgiveness (Mishneh Torah 1:1).
  2. Express sincere remorse, resolving not to make the same mistake again (Mishneh Torah 2:2).
  3. Do everything in your power to “right the wrong,” to appease the person who has been hurt (Mishneh Torah 2:9).
  4. Act differently if the same situation happens again (Mishneh Torah 2:1).

The fourth concept originates in the Talmud:

היכי דמי בעל תשובה אמר רב יהודה כגון שבאת לידו דבר עבירה פעם ראשונה ושניה וניצל הימנה מחוי

§ With regard to repentance, the Gemara asks: What are the circumstances that demonstrate that one has completely repented? Rav Yehuda said: For example, the prohibited matter came to his hand a first time and a second time, and he was saved from it, thereby proving that he has completely repented.

  1. Hanan’s father is confused by the actions of his friend. He doesn’t judge him for the mistake, but does seem to judge him for his response to the mistake. He desperately wants Shlomo to have tried to enact some level of teshuvah. Is this a realistic expectation?
  2. Hanan initially believed teshuvah would be essentially impossible because Shlomo would never be able to repay the money lost. According to his father, however, money was the least of the issues. The recognition, confession, and attempt to reimburse were far more important. With whom do you agree and why? Do you see a value in completing some of the steps but not all of them?
  3. Shlomo had the chance to change his actions with every new deal he brokered, yet he didn’t. If someone repeatedly makes the same mistake, how does that affect the nature of an apology?

2. The Process of Repair

Judaism argues that there is always room for teshuvah. An early Jewish text, Exodus Rabbah, teaches:

...הַשְּׁעָרִים נִפְתָּחִים בְּכָל שָׁעָה וְכָל מִי שֶׁהוּא מְבַקֵּשׁ לִכָּנֵס יִכָּנֵס...

...The gates of repentance are always open, and anyone who wishes to enter may enter...

A similar message is taught in Lamentations Rabbah:

...נִמְשְׁלָה תְּפִלָּה כְּמִקְוָה וְנִמְשְׁלָה תְּשׁוּבָה כַּיָּם. מַה מִּקְוָה זוֹ פְּעָמִים פְּתוּחָה פְּעָמִים נְעוּלָה, כָּךְ שַׁעֲרֵי תְּפִלָּה פְּעָמִים נְעוּלִים פְּעָמִים פְּתוּחִין, אֲבָל הַיָּם הַזֶּה לְעוֹלָם פָּתוּחַ, כָּךְ שַׁעֲרֵי תְּשׁוּבָה לְעוֹלָם פְּתוּחִין...

...…Prayer is likened to an immersion pool, but repentance is likened to the sea. Just as an immersion pool is at times open and at other times locked, so the gates of prayer are at times open and at other times locked. But the sea is always open, even as the gates of repentance are always open...

  1. Why does Judaism set up such a permissive standard? Why doesn’t Judaism require the ideal behavior from the outset?
  2. Does Judaism emphasize the act of teshuvah for the good of the person doing it or for the person who was wronged?
  3. People often immerse themselves in guilt as a substitute for choosing to go through the difficult process of doing teshuvah. Both Judaism and Hanan’s father take away the “guilt” aspect of repair, instead focusing on the opportunity which the process of teshuvah provides us to be human, make mistakes, and learn from them. How does this framing feel? Is there any value to the “guilt” you feel when you do something you wish you hadn’t?
  4. If the process of teshuvah is never-ending, always allowing for mistakes to be made and corrected, how do you avoid becoming lazy about your actions? Why try to be the best friend, partner, child, parent, etc., you can be if there is always room to apologize when you fall short?

Along with laws about repair, Maimonides also teaches that the recipient of an apology should be open to offering forgiveness and receiving the apology.

...וּבְשָׁעָה שֶׁמְּבַקֵּשׁ מִמֶּנּוּ הַחוֹטֵא לִמְחל מוֹחֵל בְּלֵב שָׁלֵם וּבְנֶפֶשׁ חֲפֵצָה. וַאֲפִלּוּ הֵצֵר לוֹ וְחָטָא לוֹ הַרְבֵּה לֹא יִקֹּם וְלֹא יִטֹּר...

...when a sinner implores him for pardon, he should grant him pardon wholeheartedly and soulfully. Even if one persecuted him and sinned against him exceedingly he should not be vengeful and grudge-bearing...

  1. Hanan’s father did not invest in the pyramid scheme. If he had, do you think he would have been as gracious about what he hoped for Shlomo?
  2. Are you as forgiving with people when there is a financial mistake made as you are with an ethical mistake?

Hanan Harchol, the author and animator believes that the most important exchange in the script is between Hanan and his father when he asks:

HANAN: …if we’re not able to fix the mistake, then what are we ultimately repairing?!?

His father answers:

DADDY: Well, that’s simple: we’re repairing ourselves and our relationships with other people….That’s what it’s all really about

  1. is father is speaking about repair, but what is the deeper meaning he implies? What is the most compelling line to you?
  2. What does Hanan’s father mean when he says the following?

DADDY: Even someone who has committed an unforgivable crime has the opportunity to go through the process of repair

According to Jewish law, murder is unforgivable because the person is unable to give forgiveness. How could a person do teshuvah for an unforgivable crime?

Jewish Food For Thought: The Animated Series was created with generous funding by The Covenant Foundation.