Neviim Tovim/TheHaftarah Circle Gillian Gould Lazarus

Posts Tagged ‘Ashamnu

כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטֹאתיכם לפני ה’ תטהרו

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.

Leviticus 16:30

Five times on Yom Kippur, we say the Ashamnu, the shorter prayer of confession. As a community, and with musical accompaniment, we read out a list which might be considered slanderous if attributed to any of us by another person. However, we freely admit to all of the sins on the list.

What have we really done? What do we think we have done? What do others think we have done?

There are generalized sins which we admit to, because that’s how the liturgy goes.

There are the sins we think of in private prayer.

There are sins we don’t know about which somebody else thinks we have have committed.

Certain hurts, like being snubbed or bullied – it’s easier to know when we suffer from them than it is to know when we do them.

What I’d like us to discuss, the bottom line, is how we feel when we say the prayers of repentance; whether we can identify with the words or if they don’t feel right. The print out is about the prayer beginning Ashamnu, We have sinned and it lists quite specific types of sin.

There is a prayer (Days of Awe pp644 – 645), written by Rabbi Lionel Blue, z”l, which includes a confession of insincere confession.

Apology, confession and repentance – how far do they overlap? Can apologies and confessions be insincere? Repentance, which, perhaps, takes place in the heart, seems less likely to be insincere.

Does gratitude have any common borders with repentance? And – perhaps more likely – does forgiveness?

Then there are the unfair things which are leveled against us, sometimes by strangers eg, a driver in a hurry or a zealous tweeter; sometimes by our nearest and dearest, eg ‘You never listen,’ ‘You don’t help.’

We admit our shortcomings to a person unlikely to judge us: a therapist, or a counsellor or God.

Is the sense of guilt an index of wrongdoing or is it a personality trait?

We live in a society where there is sometimes a requirement for a public apology, even for historical events. The American House of Representatives issued an apology for slavery, as well as an apology to Native Americans and to Hawaii for the overthrow of their kingdom. Tony Blair is often pressed to apologize for the war in Iraq. If a nation apologizes for an historical wrongdoing, is it worth anything unless they pay reparations?

We say sorry to each other, especially ahead of Yom Kippur. I know of one case when the person receiving the apology was on the point of gracious acceptance when he realized it was Shabbat Shuva and then interpreted the apology as an act of flagrant passive-aggression.

There is a view that an apology should have three components, regret, which means owning one’s deed and not evading responsibility;  compensation, which means doing one’s best to put it right, and a promise that one will at least try not repeat the offence

Let’s look at the sins listed in the Ashamnu. We should note that, unlike the Al chet shechatanu lefanecha, the Ashamnu is specific about different typs of sin or wrongdoing. But the prayer is introduced by a reference to sin: aval anachnu v’avotenu chatanu.

Edith Piaf declared in her moving song, ‘Je ne regrette rien,’ that she regretted nothing. So, is there something to be said for regretting nothing? Is it as authentic recognition of the good and the bad in one’s life? The metaphor of sweeping away has something in common with our own prayer, taken from the prophet Isaiah (44:22): ‘Behold I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.’

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The discussion took place on Yom Kippur 5778 while the Mussaf service was in progress in the main synagogue hall.. Most people felt that apologies could occur for outward form, without genuine repentance. Being on the receiving end of an apology was valued; regarded as a healing experience. Gratitude and forgiveness were discussed. Institutional apologies were discussed and the view was expressed that they too had a healing effect.We noted that the Ashamnu prayer was translated in Yamim Noraim in a way which kept the acrostic form of the prayer but was very free with the line by line translation. There was discussion of the sin of gossip/lashon hara in particular. A distinction was made between gossip and betrayal.

Although the Ashamnu lists sins we have committed, there was an interest in what would be a proper response to perceived injuries against us.

As always, the point of the discussion was not to reach conclusions, but for its own sake.

We returned to the main hall in time for the Minchah service.

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