Maybe you’ve noticed: The High Holidays are kind of a big deal to the Jewish people. They’re a time to dig really deep and consider our actions over the past year: What kind of person was I? What actions did I take to better the world for others, animals, and the earth? And what has prevented me from becoming my best self?
These and other questions consume the holy days of Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement); the intermediary days between the two are known as the Days of Awe or Aseret Yamei Tshuvah (10 Days of Returning). During this season, we take stock of our behavior and offer apologies to those whom we have wronged.
But how exactly does we do this? The Mishnah (third-century Rabbinic text) teaches that “for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.” (Mishnah, Yoma 8:9) Over time, this has come to mean that we approach our friends and family face-to-face and ask for their forgiveness as the new year begins.
As history moved forward, we added snail mail apologies, followed by phone call apologies. Fast-forward to our current culture, where nearly everything is online: Now, each holiday season, we see generalized “I’m sorry” blasts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other popular social media platforms.
In the 21st century, time and space simply do not allow us to speak face to face with everyone to whom we wish to apologize. Thus the power of the Internet. Apologizing online is both convenient and accessible, as practically everyone’s online nowadays – and such apologies may inspire others to do the same.
Several times during Yom Kippur, we recite the Vidui, an alphabetized list of misdeeds. Interestingly, this prayer is said publicly, as a whole congregation, and not privately to one another. Why not do the same with our apologies, too?
Apologizing says a lot about a person – in a good way. The fact that he or she has thought about this apology and taken the time to craft it and post it says he or she is seriously thinking about the season of reflection and change. And you never know who may be responding positively to your post; someone who is holding a grudge against you – unbeknownst to you – may feel forgiveness toward you after being on the receiving end of your online apology.
With all that said, I do think there is one important consideration to online apologies: What is the point of your posting? Is it to gets likes and admiration? To solicit comments? To garner appreciation? To start a conversation? If you use social media on the High Holidays just to see how many emoticon reactions you can get, that won’t cut it.
But if posting an apology online serves as a starting point and a door-opener for follow-up conversations with family and friends, I say go for it. How could that ever be a bad thing?
Want to hear the other side of this argument? Rabbi Jason Rosenberg explains why social media is no place for the difficult work of repentance.