A Forward Thinking Al Chet (Confession)?

“For all these sins, may the force that makes forgiveness possible, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.”

The Al Chet is a list of sins Jews recite as many as 10 times over the 24 hours that make up Yom Kippur.  You can read a translation of the traditional Al Chet in various places online.  I like this one at Aish.com because it includes commentary and questions to get you thinking about your personal relationship to these trangressions.  We confess as a community to all 44 sins on the list, regardless of whether or not we believe we are guilty of them or not for as the prayer suggests – we commit some sins consciously and others unconsciously.

Years ago, I heard a Rabbi at Yale University speak of the tradition of pounding one’s fist against one’s chest during the Al Chet.  His wife, he reported, had suggested that perhaps this mild form of self-flagellation was inappropriate.  Rather than punishing ourselves for our transgressions, shouldn’t we be trying to heal ourselves as we entered the new year?  Afterall, the spirit to which we ask pardon is of one of eternal forgiveness, not eternal damnation, right?  Since then, I have always rubbed, rather than pounded on, my heart during Al Chet.

At our Tashlich service last week, we read an alternate version of Al Chet (see below) as we cast breadcrumbs (our sins) into Delaware Run.  You can find other alternate Al Chet readings online as well like this one from the Velveteen Rabbi (great name, right?).  I mentioned to the group assembled that I like the following list because it includes things we are sorry we didn’t do in the past year.  In so doing, it suggests how we can change our behavior in the coming year.  Can you choose a few things from the list to commit to doing in 5771?

Al Chet (2006)
Judy, Stew, and Jessica Albert

We have sinned

By yielding to confusion and falling into passivity

By indulging in fear

By giving into anger

By not standing up for ourselves

By thinking about Jewish values only on holy days

By tolerating global warming, global disease and global poverty

By being cynical about repairing the world

By not defending Israel

By not defending Palestine

By not standing up to fanaticism, terrorism, rape, and torture – no matter who the perpetrators are

By not rocking the boat

By not being grateful for our blessings

By no loving enough

By being indifferent to the rich getting richer and the poor staring miserable

By allowing greed, in others and in ourselves, to go unchecked

By not opposing laws that promise false security and deprive us of our freedoms and civil liberties

By not oposing ballot measures that deprive us of basic rights

By building fences on our borders

By not actively opposing war and invasion of soverign nations

By being paralyzed by paranoia and hatred

By living in the past and the future but not in the present

By forgetting that we are co-creators of the Universse

By not visiting the sick and the dying

By not making the most of the limited time we hae

By speaking lashen hara

By forgetting how to smile

By hiding from our wrongdoings

By putting a stumbling block before the blind

By not searching for the truth, wherever it lies

By not recognizing the divine spark that dwells at the center of our being

By not forgiving and asking God for forgiveness

For all these sins, may the force that makes forgiveness possible, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.

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