Posts Tagged 'Yom Kippur'

Al Cheyt. It’s Not a Sin.

This post is very late. Or perhaps very, very early. It has to do with the Jewish High Holidays. During Yom Kippur the congregation recites a confessional – all the sins that have been committed by someone/anyone/everyone in the community. For those of you who don’t click through on links, I’ll post a little of that confessional here. (taken from the middle of the prayer – there is much more before and after).

For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating and drinking.
For the sin which we have committed before You by usury.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a haughty demeanor.
For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a glance of the eye.

Many congregants dislike this confessional intensely. There is a feeling that you the individual are confessing for things that you did NOT do, would NEVER do, and why should *I* be held accountable for someone else’s sin????? I mean “usury”? Really? I’ve felt like that some years. Other years I look at the “sins” and think “I KNOW I’m going to do that one again and not feel all that sorry about it, so why am I wasting my breath?” I’m sure as you look at the tiny excerpt above you can get a flavor of what the prayer is like and how you might react to these sins.

This year I attended services at the Hillel of Rutgers University. The assistant rabbi gave his d’var on the Al Cheyt. D’var means “word” and it’s used to denote a teaching or learning. You can say “sermon”, but to me sermon sounds like “preaching” and has a connotation of admonishment. D’vrei are more like class lectures – an insight or observation. Anyway, you never quite know what the rabbi is going to say on the High Holidays. In my youth it was always an exhortation to donate. Now that I am an adult, and drift about to many different services, I find that often the rabbi’s talk is very much a learning and explanation of the text of the service. This year’s d’var was right on the money for me. Perfect. It turned the Al Cheyt into something more personal and accessible.

The rabbi said that the prayer books translate “cheyt” as “sin”, but that’s not really the connotation of the word in Hebrew. Cheyt, he said, is much more like “missing the mark”. It’s not that we are sinning – such a judgemental word – but that we are striving and falling short. Think about that a moment. Whereas I might argue that I am NOT doing those sins, I certainly would not argue that I am falling short of “perfection”. We all fall short of perfection. We’re not actually expected to be perfect. We’re asked to be the best that we CAN be. That’s hard, and we often fall short. Miss the mark.

It’s curious, but hearing him give that description lifted a weight off my shoulders. I am part of the community and I accept my responsibility to atone for myself and the community as a whole. I suppose there are people out there who are deliberately doing wrong and I would probably say that is “sinning”. For the most part, however, I think the vast majority of us do try to do the best we can, sometimes under extremely trying conditions. On occasion, maybe many occasions, we miss the mark. The Al Cheyt has become a positive statement for me, despite the confessions of wrong-doing. We’re trying and we will keep trying and we will try yet again. For all these missing-the-marks, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.


The High Holidays are coming. That means Yom Kippur. Introspection. The time to atone and ask forgiveness. The time to start fresh, cleansed of old vows, resolving to “do better”. I love Yom Kippur. I do believe in its power to clear my slate, as it were. But. Have you ever noticed there is ALWAYS a “but”? There are certain “wrong” behaviors of mine that I know, no matter WHAT I try to resolve, I know that I will fail at improving them. I can’t improve my behavior until I resolve my inner attitude.

There are 2 people out there with whom I have major grievances. One of them both wrongs me and is wronged by me. And if I am honest, probably she is more wronged by me than I by her. Because *I* recognize my erroneous behavior while she is oblivious. I’m not being unkind. It’s simply the truth. And raging against who and what a person IS is a foolish course of action for anyone else. Only WE can change who and what we are. Until she thinks that she needs change, it’s up to me to accept who she is. I know who and what she is. I love her anyway. I don’t like her very much. That’s my problem. I should let my love rule me and not my dislike. I try. But I fail. Repeatedly. I can give you lots of reasons why, but mostly it’s because I’ve not resolved my inner anger and so I fail. I’ll recite the litany and the prayers and the resolutions, but even as I do I am already despairing and failing. I do wonder if that invalidates everything. I suspect that what it really means is that I’m human and I’m still evolving.

The other person? I should not even go here, I’m sure. First, I’d be willing to bet he doesn’t know that I think he wronged me. Second, in the big picture, this person is really not someone who matters (should matter) in my life. Isn’t it curious how emotions have absolutely no consideration for reality? P!nk has a song out now, Try, with the phrase “Why do we fall in love so easy, Even when it’s not right”. Substitute any emotion for “love”. Sometimes it takes a long time for our logic to …. control? balance? right-size? our emotions. When this person hurt me, wronged me (and yes, I believe it was more than hurt, it was wrong), I was so damaged that I was ashamed. Now THAT is just foolish. *grin* And wrong. It took me several hours, but once I was able to “admit” to someone else what happened, the healing began. Aren’t humans curious? This really leads to a different post I want to write. One about how voicing anger, expressing our feelings, is NOT always healthy. But certainly burying them deep inside ourselves doesn’t work all that well either.

So. It’s been awhile, but it’s still in this year cycle. I still hurt. In Judaism you are supposed to go to anyone you’ve wronged and ask for their forgiveness. They can refuse to forgive you. You are required to go to them 3 times. Sincerely. With TRUE contrition. MEAN IT. Ask forgiveness for any wrong you have done them. They can refuse you twice. But after the 3rd time, assuming your atonement is sincere, well, my understanding is that the ‘sin’ is on the person refusing to forgive.

I believe truly that I was wronged. I believe that the person who wronged me has no idea the depth of my feeling. I suspect that if he knew, he’d apologize and ask forgiveness. I even think he’d mean it. And I believe that he’d wrong me again in some similar fashion. The hardest thing that I will do this Yom Kippur is to forgive someone who has not asked forgiveness. I will forgive him for being who he is. I will forgive him for hurting me so deeply when it was within his power to heal, not hurt. More importantly, I will work on forgiving myself and clearing my slate. I will try yet again to accept people for who and what they are. That includes myself. I will accept that my emotions run deep. I will accept that I often want what is unreasonable, and that I often want people to be something that they are not.

Wikipedia says that “Forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offence, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.” Ahuva, it’s time to forgive. And if you can’t listen to Yoda, then listen to P!nk. Try, try, try.


It’s the new year – 5772. I’m glad to say goodbye to 5771. 5771 was not the worst year of my life. It’s probably not even in the list of the five top contenders for that dubious honor. But as years go, it wasn’t very good, either. From little annoyances like windows shattering during the dark depths of winter to the scorching heatwaves, earthquakes and flooding hurricanes and ceaseless rain of the summer (/me waves bye-bye to the basement) through the year-long economic issues to the true tragedy of death in the family, 5771 does not have many happy high points. It wasn’t all gloom and doom, of course. There were LOTS of joyous occasions, love and laughter and friends. Even so, I’m not going to miss 5771.

Here’s to 5772! I resolve to do all that I can to make it a year of change for the better. Yom Kippur is this weekend. It’s customary at this time to try to clear the slate with anyone I may have hurt or harmed in the past year. I perform this ritual with most of my close friends and family. But this year I’d like to reach out to all of you who are a major part of my life, even if we do not interact daily, or even regularly.

I apologize if I have hurt you by what I have done, or have failed to do, by what I have said, or what I have failed to say, in the last year. I promise to improve my ways and I ask your forgiveness as we enter this new year.

May you be sealed in the Book of Life!

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