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A Rabbi on How to Atone for Our Digital Sins This Yom Kippur

About a year ago, I made friends with a tech-savvy Hasidic rabbi named Mordechai Lightstone on Twitter. Every so often, he would slide into my DMs to invite me to Shabbat dinners in Brooklyn, which I unfortunately was never able to attend. (I have a complicated relationship with my Judaism—or lack thereof.) But I kept following Lightstone for his tweets, like the one below, which deftly mix his knowledge of both internet and Jewish culture:

Even though Lightstone practices what he calls “powering down” for the Sabbath, the rabbi is all about the internet both personally and professionally. Case in point: He’s the social media editor for Chabad.org, the oldest and largest Jewish website and the founding director of Tech Tribe, an organization dedicated to creating events and experiences for Jews in tech and digital media. (All of which explains his interest in me.)

“The internet definitely is an active presence in a lot of what I do,” he says. “It’s how I communicate, work, teach and have fun. The internet is like anything else—it has its higher pursuits and its dark side. My goal is to elevate the web, social media and the rest for that higher purpose of good.”

Tomorrow, of course, is Yom Kippur, a day dedicated to atonement. Basically, it asks Jews to apologize to everyone they’ve wronged in the previous year. Shit on someone’s lawn? That’s easy: Send flowers. But what about the more complicated scenarios, like viciously subtweeting someone you don’t know?

So I figured this was the perfect time to ask Lightstone (over email, obviously) how I can apologize for behavior near and dear to both of our hearts: digital sin. Though there are no hard-and-fast rules about this stuff, Lightstone has got you when it comes to blocking assholes, ignoring someone’s email and fighting with trolls.

What is the role of atonement in Judaism and Yom Kippur specifically?
We all strive to do good in this world, but at times, we can fall short. Atonement is how we can make amends between our fellow humans and with G-d. It’s a chance to tap into our better, truer selves and bring down the power we need to do even more good in the future. Even if the past year was amazing, Yom Kippur offers a chance to strive even higher, to connect with ourselves, others and the world in an even more transcendent and G-dly manner.

Do you think people should atone for their digital sins?
No matter where it took place—in the workplace, the street, on Instagram or in someone’s DMs—if you hurt someone, you need to make it right.

The code of Jewish Law breaks down the transgressions we must atone for before Yom Kippur into two groups — those between a person and the Creator; and those between one person and his or her fellow. Transgressions between a person and his or her fellow are subject to the varied nature of human emotions and experiences, and thus, our apologies must be given in a way that are properly received by the one who was offended.

When I seek forgiveness, I need to make sure that my words are properly received. How we communicate effectively is a deeply personal matter. To some, that may mean meeting face-to-face before Yom Kippur in order for the one offended to consider it a serious, honest form of asking forgiveness. To others, the very thought of meeting in person—or even a phone call—would be considered unnecessary and even socially awkward.

To those today who find a snap, a tweet or a text a meaningful form of communication, then asking forgiveness on those platforms would seemingly be perfectly acceptable. If I’m able to truly convey my heartfelt remorse with a few emojis and a gif, and I know that the person receiving it will be fully comforted, then I’m happy to do so.

How would someone go about apologizing for a… subtweet?
If the person knew about the subtweets, I’d check with them in person. If they felt others clearly understood who the subtweets were about, I’d see if I should make the apology public. If the person didn’t know, I imagine it would be best not to mention it to them. Why suddenly hurt them?

…dragging on Twitter?
Make a clear resolution not to do it again.

…fighting with a troll?
I suppose it depends on what kind of troll. Your average troll? Learn to be strong and not to feed him. A Nazi? Block and move on.

…blocking?
If the person was truly hurting you or causing you pain, I don’t think blocking them should be considered a sin. If it was petty on your part, then unblock them.

…ignoring someone’s email?
Reply now. There’s no time like the present. That said, if this is a sin, I’m going to have to start repenting big time.

…sliding into DMs?
If the other person is okay with it, you do you. If the other person isn’t? Delete your account.