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What’s the point of an apology?

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According to the Mishnah, a person’s offenses against other people cannot be atoned for until she gains forgiveness directly from the victims of her wrongdoing. This involves making what in modern Hebrew is termed an apology, hitnazlut, which the Academy of the Hebrew Language defines as “expressing regret for a mistake, or for causing inconvenience, or for tardiness, and so on.” But does the essence of apology lie in the sense of regret, or in its expression?

To answer this question, we must first say something about the circumstances in which an apology is expected. These are circumstances in which the relationship between two people is damaged by the harmful actions of one of them. The damage may be financial or physical, though not necessarily. At its core lies a message of disrespect conveyed from the offender toward the offended. This can be inferred by the fact that in the case of financial damage incurred through no fault of the offender, there is no sense of offense, nor any expectation of an apology. On the other hand, an apology may be expected even when no financial or physical harm is caused, for example, when a person offends another, or simply ignores her.

How, then, is an apology supposed to repair the damaged relationship between the offending and the offended parties? According to the first option mentioned above – apology as the very experience of regret – it does so via an internal change in the offender’s heart. The offender understands that her offensive behavior was uncalled for. From now on, her internal attitude toward her former victim will be respectful, and their........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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