Q: I’m writing from abroad regarding an issue that has been bothering me for a long while.
Years ago, as a 13-year-old boy, I offended a member of our shul. On a regular basis, my friends and I would publicly poke fun of this man, who was a little strange, and dressed differently.
When we matured and realized what we’d done, we approached him to ask for forgiveness, but he refused to pardon us. This has been on my mind ever since. Over the years I’ve tried calling him to ask for forgiveness, but he wouldn’t speak to me. Even when I went up to his house on Erev Yom Kippur, I didn’t manage to appease him. At a later time, I sent him a gift along with an apology letter. When I called his family to ask how he accepted my gesture, I heard that in spite of all my efforts and though he understands my anguish, it is difficult for him to forgive me because he was so deeply offended.
What is halachically correct to do in this case?
A: According to halachah, one should ask mechilah three times, in the presence of three people, (there are opinions that contend that with regard to a public offense, as in this case, one should do so in the presence of 10 people). After asking for forgiveness three times the offender has no halachic obligation to ask again. Nevertheless, one may, and it is commendable to do so.
In this case, it would be advisable before or after your appeasement efforts, to find out who is the man’s Rav or spiritual mentor, who could wield influence on him, and ask the person to assist you in your efforts. You can even offer monetary compensation for his assistance. The Rav will approach the offended and explain the teachings of the Shulchan Aruch that a person shouldn’t be cruel but rather work on forgiving, and also explain the Mateh Ephraim that says that the Yom Kippur prayers of one who doesn’t pardon his offenders will not be heard. He can also be told about the benefits to one who forgives, that he merits that Hashem forgives him for all his sins, and that the greater the offense and the more difficult it is to forgive, so too the merits in Heaven are so much greater. It is worth his while to forgive in order to merit forgiveness from Hashem.
If the offended still refuses to pardon you, then you certainly have no further obligation to appease him. However, you can always wait for another opportunity. Perhaps as the years go on, and the pain of the offense eases up, he might find it within him to forgive you.