Is it Worth the Embarrassment?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
As Rosh Hashana approaches something is weighing on my conscience. I happen to know that a friend of mine, who is now a wonderful person, has a very checkered past that they are not proud of. I once mentioned this to a mutual friend. I know I shouldn't have spoken bad, but I did. Now I have a quandary: If I ask forgiveness from the person about whom I spoke, I will feel much better, but it will embarrass them immensely, because they don't know that I know. So what am I supposed to do?
When we have wronged another human being, even if they do not know about it, the only way we can make amends is by apologizing to that person. G-d can forgive us for sins we do against Him, but He cannot forgive a wrong committed against a fellow human being until we have asked the hurt party to forgive us.
This request should preferably be made in person, not via a message. The sages of the Talmud felt that a what's app message is too flippant to qualify as a sincere apology. True forgiveness happens in the discomfort of a face-to-face encounter. The awkwardness of facing up to the one you hurt is itself a cleansing of your soul for the wrong you did.
And yet, if the act of asking forgiveness will itself be a cause of pain to the person being asked, it is wrong to do so. You have no right to allay your own guilt at the expense of another person's dignity. Asking forgiveness is not about bringing a sense of closure for yourself, it is about doing the right thing. You said hurtful words, and that cannot be fixed by saying more hurtful words.
There is a possible solution. Ask the hurt party for general forgiveness for "any wrong I may have done to you," without specifying the embarrassing details.
This is not ideal. They don't know what they are forgiving you for, and you are getting away with not owning up to the misdeed. But you will have to live with that, rather than unburdening yourself by humiliating someone else.
We can't take back our words. But we can counter negative talk by increasing in its opposite. Speak good about people, catch them out doing the right thing, expose their better side. Talk is not cheap. Use it wisely.