Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Al Cheit – For the sins which we have committed…

Yom Kippur is upon us, and, of course, the dominant theme of the day is teshuvah – repentance. We are supposed to consider our sins and then (ideally, having already apologized to those whom we have wronged, and done our best to make restitution) confess them.

In addition to whatever private confessions we might be making, the liturgy contains repetitions of two communal confessionals. The longer of the two is the Al Cheit – it’s a long list of sins which we have committed*. Very often, that list feels a bit – this isn’t quite the right word – generic. It’s just a laundry list. Some of the sins resonate, while some don’t. Some I know I’ve committed. A few I know I didn’t. Many – well, I guess it depends on definitions and such. Anyway, the point is that, very often, for some of us, these public confessions feel a bit pro forma.

* It’s an interesting aside about what it means to confess in the plural – what it means to confess that, for example, we have gossiped, or that we have been stingy with tzedakah. For another time…)

In an attempt to get us to approach the vidui (the confessional prayers) with a bit more kavannah (focus and intention), The Forward, a Jewish magazine, asked various Jewish thinkers to propose some new sins to add. What sins should we be thinking about, as we prepare to ask God for forgiveness? It’s an interesting list, and well worth looking at before Yom Kippur begins on Friday night.

There’s a pretty good range of ideas here. The sin of pigeonholing other Jews:

Were all of us to make an effort to truly see one another — not challenge or change or even “bring closer,” but simply see, in the light of good will and ahavat yisrael — and connect in whatever way we can, we would begin to atone for a dangerous blindness that has plagued the Jewish world for too long.

And the sin of Tolerating Intolerance:

We belong to a small minority, once reviled for our beliefs. In our not so distant past, some Americans wanted to deny us the right to worship where and how we wanted. We had to plead our case to the larger public to win what we now assume to be our non-negotiable entitlement.

And more. Which of these speaks most strongly to you? What would you have added, had you been asked to contribute?

G’mar Chatima Tova – may you be sealed in The Book of Life.

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