Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sixth Day of Tishrei 5781
At each of the services of Yom Kippur, we recite confessional prayers called Selichot. In these prayers we admit that we are arrogant and stubborn people who spend much our lives thinking that all of our mistakes and misdeeds are somehow justified or unimportant. In the Selichot prayers, we back down from this position and admit that we have done wrong and that we have to reconcile ourselves with the people we have hurt and we have to reconcile ourselves with God. We admit that without such reconciliation, we will lead futile and meaningless lives in which we will just continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
The focal point of the Selichot prayers are the two confessional prayers. Today, we will consider the first of these prayers, called Vidui Zuta, Aramaic for “The Short Confession.” It is also called “Ashamnu” for the first word of the prayer.
Ashamnu is recited by the entire congregation while standing. The prayer is really a list of words that begin with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order. We begin with the letter aleph and say, “Ashamnu,” meaning, “We have been guilty.” We continue with the letter bet and say, “Bagadnu,” meaning, “We have betrayed.” Next, we say, “Gazalnu,” which begins with the letter gimmel and means, “We have have robbed,” and so on through the entire Hebrew alphabet.
Now, you will notice that not everyone in the congregation will have committed each of these sins. Some person might say, “Why should I say ‘Gazalnu’ if I never robbed anyone in my entire life?” It’s a good question. The point of the prayer, though, is not that we have all done all of the sins listed. It’s not even that the list of twenty-four sins (three for the letter tav) is comprehensive and exhaustive. Rather, with this prayer we stand together in solidarity with all the other members of the congregation in confessing our communal responsibility.
Think of it this way. You may not have robbed anyone, but somebody has. In reciting the prayer, you accept that person, accept their confession, support them in their striving for t’shuvah, and accept your responsibility for making sure that it doesn’t happen again. None of that is easy, but it is a necessary part of t’shuvah. It is a way of recognizing that none of us can make t’shuvah without the strength and support of everyone else to help us.
Practice for this day:
Is there a misdeed or mistake for which you feel particularly guilty or ashamed? Can you identify why that one hurts you more than others? Does it help to know that other people support you in your quest for forgiveness, even if they don’t know specifically what you did? Do you feel that your support helps others?