Yom Kippur – Day of Cleansing and Fist-Beating

Hey, when did it get to be the day before Kol Nidrei already?  I always think the ten days will stretch ahead of me, and instead they snap back in my face like a rubber band.

There is a part of the liturgy that’s capturing my thoughts:  the Vidui, or the “Confession”.  Ay ya ya yay…ashamnu, bagadnu..”   Confession is really not a very good translation, because we don’t actually own up to, or confess, specific sins in public.  We all say the entire list. Who did what? Who knows?  I’m sure, between the entire congregation, we’ve got them all covered:

“For the sin that we’ve sinned before You by

  • Being self-centered
  • Judging others
  • Coveting
  • Jealousy
  • Irreverence
  • Stubborness
  • Rushing to do evil, choose unwisely
  • Making promises we don’t intend to keep
  • Baseless hatred
  • Abuse of trust
  • Succumbing to despair

There’s a tradition of striking our chests as we recite each word of the Vidui.  Joseph Rosenstein, author of my new favorite Machzor (High Holiday Prayerbook), “Eit Ratzon” notes the Biblical word used is actually a reflexive verb, (hitv’a’dah) , not a noun “vidui”.  Vidui is something we have to do to ourselves, and maybe that’s why we’re striking our chests. We need to become “spiritually fit”, as Rosenstein says, and that takes action, doesn’t it?  It takes our voices and our hands. It takes our minds and our bodies.  I make a fist and make a “heart-beat”, something that resonates with each word.   I can feel the pounding my soul has received by the actions I’ve taken.

There’s another aspect to using our hands, our fists, to move through the Vidui.   In one of  this week’s articles in the Pluralist, an outstanding e-newsletter from IRAC, the Israel Religious Action Center (www.irac.org) Executive Director and activist Anat Hoffman talks about using the fist that beats one’s heart as a way to wake ourselves up:

“On Yom Kippur, the fist is a physical manifestation of self-reflection. How easy it is to raise a fist of physical might, of violence; how difficult it is to strike one’s heart with the fist of vidui [the prayer of repentance] We say it in the plural and not in the singular. Perhaps you or I did none of these things, but frequently we are silent accomplices. How often have we refrained from speaking out?

Our fists beat out the rhythm of the world’s wrongs.  They can help remind us to begin our year in strength.  Our hands complete what our minds and lips will begin.

Wishing you all an easy fast, and a g’mar chatima tovah, to be sealed for a good year.

See you in Bereshit (Genesis)!

You must read the Eit Ratzon Machzor, and its companion, the Eit Ratzon Siddur (www.newsiddur.org).  It’s traditional. It’s new. It’s profound. Go buy it, even if you’ve never thought you’d want to buy a prayerbook. And check out the IRAC website, http://www.irac.org , support them, learn and do.

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