Friday, September 25, 2020
Seventh Day of Tishrei 5781
The second confessional prayer on Yom Kippur is called, “Vidui Rabbah,” Aramaic for “The Long Confession.” This prayer is commonly referred to as the “Al Cheit” for its first two words.
The Al Cheit is really just an elongated version of Ashamnu. Instead of just one word for each sin, there is a full sentence in which we say, “For the sin we have sinned against You by…” At three points through the list of sins, there is an interlude in which we pray, “For all these, God of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.”
The Al Cheit is recited at all the services of Yom Kippur except for Ne’ilah, the closing service. During that service, our prayers become more urgent and compressed. At Ne’ilah, we recite only the short confession, Ashamnu.
You may have noticed that many people hold their hand over their chest while reciting Ashamnu and the Al Cheit, tapping or thumping on their heart as they name each sin. Sometimes, people think of this as a form of self-flagellation, as if we are punishing ourselves for our sins. But this is not the best way to think about the gesture. Judaism does not teach us to punish ourselves for our misdeeds. In fact, we believe the opposite – we believe in the need for self-forgiveness.
Rather, you can think of the gesture as a way of “knocking on the door” of your heart. Each tap is a wake-up call to your conscience, stirring yourself to feel remorse for your misdeeds. Reciting the confession should be an experience that encourages and motivates you to think deeply about the things you have done that have hurt others and yourself, and to resolve to change your behavior. As we have seen, we are required to say out loud the remorse we feel and our determination to change. Ashamnu and Al Cheit are prayers that are intended to motivate us in that process.
Practice for this day:
The tapping or thumping that we make on our hearts during the confessional prayers may help us to feel remorse and the need to change, but it is not the only thing we can do to elicit that feeling. What other things do you want to try to do to help you remember and to stay motivated to change for the better