Last week, I received an extraordinary phone call from an acquaintance with whom I attended elementary and middle school. She had run into my father on a recent visit to my hometown. He told her how I was doing, so she looked me up and gave me a call.
We had a pleasant conversation, catching up on the last 25 years or so. About ten-minutes into the conversation, she said, “I actually have an ulterior motive for calling you.” “Okay,” I replied, wondering what would come next.
She explained that my father had reminisced with her briefly about the school that we’d both attended. He said I didn’t like the school very much because of a clique that had given me a hard time, and he mentioned the name of the group.
However, my father didn’t realize that she was part of the clique that he mentioned. In the fifth grade, a number of girls formed groups. Each group staked out different parts of the playground, and no one who wasn’t part of that group was allowed to walk in their territory. I wasn’t in any of these cliques, and therefore had only one or two friends during those years.
“I wanted to call and apologize.” She said. She explained that now that she is a mom, she looks back with regret at the way she had behaved as a child. “I don’t believe in a retributive God,” she said, “but with the High Holidays coming up, I figured that I should call and say that for everything I know I did, and anything I didn’t know that I did, I’m sorry.”
I was blown away by her words, which were entirely unexpected. I certainly would never have anticipated that I’d receive such a phone call. “We were kids,” I said. I offered my forgiveness, and told her that I appreciated her words. We agreed to keep in touch.
Although I hadn’t thought about that school in years, her call did give me a measure of healing. I felt like my childhood feelings were honored in retrospect — even if they weren’t at the time. My pain had been heard.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses approaches his death, and he offers a poem to the people as they are poised to enter the Promised Land. The portion is called Ha’azinu (Give ear). The poem begins:
Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter.
May my discourse come down as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew.
Moses compares words to precipitation that bring life to plants. The poem’s theme is that repentance can ultimately lead to reconciliation between God and the people. The reading is appropriately read on Shabbat Tshuvah — the Sabbath during the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
Like Moses’ poem, this phone call reminded me of the power of words to bring healing — even many years after a hurt. Imagine how much renewal would result if during these ten days, each of us made just one phone call to ask for forgiveness.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.