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“Moichel me?”

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Reviving a High School High-Holiday Tradition

09/11/2012

Paul Wieder photo2

First, let me clarify that the word in the title is not “mohel” or some version thereof. A “mohel” is a person who performs a brit milah (circumcision). No, the word in question comes from a different Hebrew root altogether, “mochel,” and means “forgive.”

In the week before Rosh Hashannah, the halls of my Orthodox Jewish high school rang with the voices of students repeating these words: “Moichel me?” Several times a day, I would be approached by one student or other, some of whom I hadn’t interacted with in months, who asked me, “Moichel me?”

He (it was an all-boys school) was asking me— in a combination of English and Yiddish accent and grammar— if I would forgive him for any affront or hurt he had caused me since the previous Rosh Hashannah. Of course I said yes, and asked if he were “moichel me,” in return.

Jewish tradition holds that God can only forgive us for sins we have committed against, well, God. If we have sinned against our fellow human, only that person can forgive us. (Some restrictions apply; please see your local rabbi for further details.)

Now, I may have hurt someone without knowing I was doing so. Or I may have knowingly hurt someone, but that person never knew it was me. It is even possible that neither of us knew, and yet damage had been done.

In order to cover all possible bases, then, the only thing to do was to approach, individually, each and every person we had encountered over the year and ask for forgiveness. Given the enormity of that task and the shortness of time, the question “Are you moichel me?”— roughly, “Are you forgiving of me?”— was condensed to just the last two words.

Around this time of year, I miss this process. It is nice to have a tradition that encourages you to get back in touch with everyone in your life, once a year, and say, “Hey, sorry if I did anything to upset you last year. If I did, I’m really sorry. Are we cool?” And then have them ask you the same. It’s more than just a note saying, “Happy Rosh Hashanah”; it’s “And if it’s not happy, and if I am the reason why, let’s talk about that.”

A blog is a forum for spouting opinions, often in reaction to something recent, without the benefit of having chewed the matter over for a week or so. A blog post (let alone a Facebook post or Tweet), with its insistence on immediacy, almost demands this unblinking, unthinking response.

In the past year, I may have said something (or some things) that upset people, and if I did, I sincerely apologize. I never mean to offend, and I’m sorry if I have.

So... moichel me?

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