Saying Sorry and Forgiving

A unit approaching Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which focuses on saying sorry: the importance of saying sorry, the difficulty in saying sorry, and the command to forgive others.

Unit Ages: 9-11, 12-14 | 4-6 lessons


The process of cheshbon nefesh – soul-searching which many Jews begin from the beginning of the month of Elul through Yom Kippur includes examination of our less desirable actions – in traditional terminology – our sins. The Jewish tradition teaches that having identified these acts we need to say sorry to the person we have hurt. Do we have to explicitly articulate these sins? What is the importance of words in the act of saying sorry? Finally, why is it often so difficult to say sorry? The other side of saying sorry is forgiving. Do we have to forgive someone who has said sorry? Why is it sometimes difficult to forgive? In this unit we will explore these questions and others relating to the period of the High Holy Days, but are of course also relevant to us all, throughout the year

Desired Outcomes

Big Ideas

Holiday rituals and customs encourage/foster individual growth and positive relations between people.

Essential Questions
  • How do I grow as a result of the Jewish calendrical cycle? 
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • Students will know that the customs surrounding Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur encourage us to be better people.
  • Students will understand that the Jewish tradition is equally concerned with Jews’ relationships to other people as to their relationship with God.
  • Students will understand the viduy prayer  
  • Students will understand that the Jewish tradition commands that we say sorry to those we have hurt as well as to forgive.
  • Students will be able to utilize Tishrei motifs to frame their own reflections on their personal behavior and their relations with others.
  • Students will be able to articulate the challenges in saying we are sorry and forgiving.
  • Students will be able to identify and reflect on one action for which they need to say sorry.
  • Students will be able to relate their thinking about saying we are sorry and forgiving to artistic creations that touch on that theme.
  • Students will know how to participate in Tashlich.

Assessment Evidence

What evidence will students provide to demonstrate that they:
Know the knowledge; Can do the skills; Can respond thoughtfully to the EQs and BIs

Teacher creates authentic assessments before beginning the unit. 

Learning Experiences

Possible Unit Plan

Possible unit opener: Ask students to draw a Thought Map around the word “sorry” which includes feelings, thoughts, memories, and anything else that comes up.

Content Study: 

  • Study the text from the Mishna to explore the different processes we need to do in order to say sorry for different actions. 
  • Discuss whether apologies need to be articulated through words via the poem “Happy New Year, Ruti” and the “Viduy” prayer.
  • Explore how ancient texts and customs are reinterpreted by contemporary writers and artists, each in their own way (for example artist  Dov Abramson’s “Vidui: the Musical”, Rabbi Tamar Duvdevani’s “Tashlich”, Feliza and Or Zohar’s “Al Chet”) and invite the students to add their interpretation to one of the traditional texts or customs. 

Unit closing/assessment: 

Respond to the unit’s essential questions using the insights you have gained from your learning. For example, encourage students to think of someone they should say sorry to, think about a good way to express this, and do it!