So, I just watched Tiger Woods’ speech. I wasn’t going to comment (I try to remind myself that I’m a Rabbi, not a pundit), but I found myself with a few thoughts, which I might as well share, especially since they do relate to Jewish teaching.
First of all, I have absolutely no opinion about Tiger’s sincerity. I’m sure that many people will be chiming in, praising him for how clearly he meant what he said, and offering this and that “proof.” Others will find it completely disingenuous, and believe that it was nothing more than a desperate PR attempt. As I often try to remember, acknowledging our own ignorance is often a good place to start. No one, with very few exceptions, has any idea whether Tiger really meant what he said. Certainly, no one reading this blog.
Maybe that’s why I did appreciate one thing he said very early in his speech – the real apology is not contained in his words, but rather in his future deeds. Maimonides, one of the greatest teachers in Jewish history, famously taught that a sin is truly forgiven when, and only when, you have a chance to commit it again, and you choose not to.
I also very much appreciated his almost total lack of the use of the term “mistake;” he only used it once. It’s an enormous pet peeve of mine when public figures issue an apology for their “mistakes.” These weren’t mistakes – they were transgressions. They were, if you like the term, sins. They were failings. And, he said that. Again acknowledging that I have zero idea if he meant what he said, he took complete and total responsibility for what he did. He blamed his actions entirely on his own character flaws and shortcomings.
To Maimonides, and to Jewish tradition, the last step of teshuvah (repentance) is indeed changing our behavior. But, the first step is acknowledging what we did wrong. It seems to me that that has to mean more than just saying, “I did it.” To truly acknowledge our transgressions, we have to acknowledge that we alone did them, and that we are totally responsible for them. No other people, forces or factors share the blame.
In the end, Tiger will probably be the only one who ever really knows if his repentance was (actually, will be) true and sincere. But, in the mean time, my initial reaction is that his speech gives us a fairly good starting point for talking about what true teshuvah looks like.