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Yom Kippur

September 14, 2010

By Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

Ashamnu, Bagadnu, gazalnu, dabarnu dophi  ¦..

We beat our chests as we repeat this list of sins in our liturgy over and over again during Yom Kippur. It is an alef-bet listing of sins, said in the plural form, of things we might have done wrong. The rabbis felt that by reading the list collectively that no one would be embarrassed. By limited it to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alef-bet, the list would not go on and on. Still, there are years I want to rail against this. I am not that bad.

Immediately after Kol Nidre, the liturgy says Vayomer Adonai Selahti Kidvarekha, And the Lord said, I have pardoned you according to your word  (Numbers 14:20). We are told that  œFor on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse yourself of all your sins: you shall be clean before Adonai.  (Leviticus 16:30) We are told that God is a merciful and gracious, endlessly patient, full of compassion, kindness and truth ”a forgiving God. Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than God is.

David Lazar in Sh ma magazine said,  œIf we are meant to imitate God s actions, then we might consider these words from the book of Isaiah quoted in the Zikhronot section  œIt is I, I who ”for My own sake ”wipe your transgressions away and remember your sins no more.  (Isaiah 43:28). If God is willing to wipe away our transgressions and remember our sins no more, then perhaps we might do the same, both toward ourselves and towards others ”for our own sake. 

CLAL suggests that  œsacred bravery is about forgiving others and doing so because we want to, because it helps us be who we most need to be.  It not only about granting forgiveness but seeking it. It asks if we are ready to forgive; are we willing to be as brave as God?

Where is the list of things we have done right? Several years ago I attended a Panim retreat for rabbinical students on social justice and spirituality. In a transformational conversation I had with the retreat s director, Rabbi Sid Schwartz, he suggested that instead of beating myself up for the things I had not done, I do a positive heshbon hanefesh, a positive  œaccounting of the soul.  I took him seriously. It wasn t easy to do. We are so used to thinking of all the things we have done wrong or that we have not accomplished that it is hard to keep track of the positive and the good that we have done. It was an important exercise.

I am articulate, bright, compassionate, determined, enthusiastic ¦ you get the idea. It was hard to come up with something for every letter. Then came the harder part, actually writing the words, the world is a better place because ¦

This summer I tried another method of this analysis. One of my favorite movies, perhaps odd for a rabbi because it is a Christmas film, is It s a Wonderful Life. What if I wrote a Jewish version of it? In my story, there is still an angel, a bit of a schlmazel but not Clarence. First the angel shows me what would have happened if I hadn t lived at all. The world would be a very different place. Then she shows me all the people who count on me to make a difference today. Then she shows me just a taste of the future. It is really a very Jewish story, a true heshbon hanefesh. I encourage you to try both these exercises.

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is an alumna of the Academy for Jewish Religion. She is currently the principal of Congregation Beth Israel in Andover, MA and an educator at Mayyim Hayyim Community Mikveh and Education Center. She will be speaking at their upcoming national conference on the topic, A Place to Cry: Honoring Times of Sadness at the Mikveh.