Artist: John Michael Rysbrack
Forgiveness is at the heart of the High Holy Days. We seek forgiveness for our own actions and we find it within ourselves to grant others forgiveness for theirs. Here, the artist depicts the biblical story of Joseph reuniting with his brothers with beautiful softness and sensitivity. We recall that Joseph’s brothers treated him with unspeakable cruelty. If even those actions can yield forgiveness, how might we find it in our hearts to forgive ourselves and forgive others this year?
At the core of our Yom Kippur experience is the vidui, or confession. We speak in the plural as we enumerate all of the collective wrongs we have committed over the past year. Although every individual may not have participated in these transgressions, we take communal responsibility for the ways our society has missed the mark.
Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, p. 293
All of us have made mistakes this year and we have also made excuses. We have acted selfishly and we have behaved callously. We yearn to be better, to walk through this world in accordance with the values that we hold in our hearts. We begin that process by admitting where we have missed the mark and praying for the strength we need to return to a righteous path.
Because I was angry Because I didn't think Because I was exhausted and on edge Because I'd been drinking Because I can be mean Because I was reckless and selfish Because I was worried about money Because my marriage was dead Because other people were doing it Because I thought I could get away with it Because. . . I did something wrong. Because I'm in pain Because I wish I could undo it Because I hurt him Because I lost her trust Because I let them down Because I was self-destructive Because I was foolish Because I'm ashamed Because that's not who I am Because that's not who I want to be Because. . . I want to be forgiven. God, bring down my walls of defensiveness and self-righteousness. Help me to stay in humility. Please - give me the strength to do what's right.
Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.
Psalm 51:3-6, 17-19
Have mercy upon me, O God, as befits Your faithfulness; in keeping with Your abundant
compassion, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity, and purify me of my sin;
for I recognize my transgressions, and am ever conscious of my sin.
Against You alone have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are just in Your
sentence, and right in Your judgment.
Adonai, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise.
You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings;
True sacrifice to God is a remorseful spirit; God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed
חָנֵּנִי אֱלֹהִים כְּחַסְדֶּךָ כְּרֹב רַחֲמֶיךָ מְחֵה פְשָׁעָי׃
הרבה [הֶרֶב] כַּבְּסֵנִי מֵעֲוֺנִי וּמֵחַטָּאתִי טַהֲרֵנִי׃
כִּי־פְשָׁעַי אֲנִי אֵדָע וְחַטָּאתִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד׃
לְךָ לְבַדְּךָ חָטָאתִי וְהָרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עָשִׂיתִי לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶךָ׃
אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ׃
כִּי לֹא־תַחְפֹּץ זֶבַח וְאֶתֵּנָה עוֹלָה לֹא תִרְצֶה׃
זִבְחֵי אֱלֹהִים רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה אֱלֹהִים לֹא תִבְזֶה׃
Tormented by the guilt of his sins of murder and adultery surrounding his pursuit of Bathsheba, King David authors this psalm seeking mercy and forgiveness from God. The text creates the imagery of sin as a stain; a mark that, with proper prayer and repentance, can be removed from the individual. The second half of this psalm begins with the familiar verse we use to open the Amidah, as we pray for the ability to authentically express our deepest, most heartfelt emotions in prayer. David believes that true t’shuva is found not through prescribed and perfunctory sacrifice, but through the pain and acknowledgment of one who has done wrong and seeks to make right.