Here’s how you do repentance, according to the 12th-century Jewish sage Maimonides (aka Rambam). You need the following elements: Humility, remorse, forbearance and reparation. Not so coincidentally, the same goes for apologies. Maimo (we’re tight) wrote in his Laws of Repentance: “What constitutes complete repentance? He who is confronted by the identical situation wherein he previously sinned and it lies within his power to commit the sin again, but he nevertheless does not succumb because he wishes to repent, and not because he is too fearful or weak [to repeat the sin].” With apologies, too, part of the deal is that they don’t give you a clean slate; you do not get to do the same thing again.
Furthermore, it’s not enough to be sorry in your heart. You gotta reach out to whomever you wronged. To paraphrase the big man, Teshuva (repentance) without viduy (confession) is half-assed at best.
Nor is viduy alone sufficient. “Whoever merely verbalizes his confession without consciously deciding to give up his sins is like a person who immerses in a ritual pool (mikveh) in order to cleanse himself, but is holding a dead reptile in his hand,” Maimo wrote. “His immersion will not cleanse him as long as the reptile remains in his hand.”
In other words, DROP THE REPTILE.
Neither are you off the hook if you try apologizing once and the person you wronged stays cranky at you. “If a person hurt someone’s feelings by what he said, he must placate him and approach him again and again until he forgives him,” Maimo wrote. “If he does not want to forgive him, he should approach him with a group of three friends, asking his forgiveness. If this is not enough to appease him, he should return a second and a third time. If he still does not want to forgive him, he is not required to beg forgiveness any more, and the person who refused to forgive him is now the sinner.”
Now, if you’re on the opposite end (the wronged, receiving end), think hard about blowing off a sincere apology, no matter how hurt you were. “A person is forbidden to stubbornly refuse to forgive a repentant person who seeks forgiveness for his sins,” Maimo wrote. “One should be easy to appease and hard to anger. When the person who wronged him asks forgiveness, he should forgive him wholeheartedly and willingly. Even if he was grievously wronged, he should neither seek revenge nor bear a grudge against the offender. Forgiveness is the way of the Jewish people. By contrast, idol worshipers are insensitive, and do not posses this quality.” (Sorry, idol-worshippers. We Jews are a tribal people.)