I would say the most important tefilah of Yom Kippur is not said on the day itself, but rather is said immediately beforehand. I am talking about tefilah zakah, and in particular about the lines where we grant mechila to others. The halacha of piyus, of asking for forgiveness, is probably one of the most difficult halachos in shulchan aruch. No, I don’t think posting “Please be mochel me” on your facebook wall, or sending a bulk chain e-mail that says, “Please be mochel and pass to three others,” quite does the trick. Superficial and shallow acts like these stand worlds apart from true and meaningful empathy with others. I seriously dread facing a din v’cheshbon in this area, which is probably why I have it on my mind today.
We read in the newspapers about the financial crises being caused by the unwinding of all kinds of complex financial trades involving credit default swaps and derivatives and all kinds of other exotic instruments, and we marvel at the time and difficulty involved in first understanding and then restructuring the balance sheets effected by these tangled transactions. A human being in exponentially many times more complex than a balance sheet. Kal v’chomer to unwind a bein adam l’chaveiro issue may take months and years of reflection and effort and is not to be taken lightly.
So what is one to do with such a daunting task in these hours before Yom Tov? How can one translate such a gargantuan obligation into something meaningful? I certainly am not qualified to give advice in this area and don't pretend to have answers, but a few thoughts that occurred to me:
1) Accept the fact that a “Do you be mochel me?” e-mail doesn’t cut it. Human relations are not so shallow and simple and pretending they are is silly. Piyus should be about getting to the heart of what divides us, not about putting a thin coat of plaster over differences to be “yotzei.” Pretending it does good only circumvents ever achieving real forgiveness.
2) Don’t pour good money after bad. If a relationship has soured, odds are it can’t be repaired in a few moments on Erev Yom Kippur. A person can, however, at least commit to not doing more to make things worse. At times, this itself is a major step forward.
3) Look beyond where things are now. One may not be able to make amends on Erev Yom Kippur for various reasons. There are faults that a person really does not feel ready to overlook and faults that others may not want to forgive. Yet, keeping in mind the hope of eventual reconciliation under even theoretical terms that right now seem out of reach is itself I think a meaningful step. You never know what may happen.
4) Aspire to do better. We all step on others toes more often than we would like. One may not be able to fix all the errors of the past, but one can certainly commit to try to do better in the future.
I know I have much to improve on myself in these areas. Hopefully our tefilah zakah mechilos will be real and accomplish at least a little something to draw us all closer together on this Yom Kippur.