‘For the sins we have committed...”
So the question is this: Does recitation in the plural of the “Al het” Yom Kippur confession deepen our sense of mutual responsibility, as intended, or, alternatively, does it allow us to elude responsibility for our actions altogether, a prospect so much more enticing?
If the sins I am asking forgiveness for are those of the community, I’m not necessarily guilty of having committed any of them myself. That, in turn, allows me to declaim a litany of moral shortcomings with ne’er a thought as to personal accountability.
But that, of course, would be missing the point. And quite contrary to the emphasis on introspection and soul-searching leading up to this most momentous day, which, in turn, is meant to engender resolve to alter our wayward behavior.
The question is particularly pertinent this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many of us will be praying alone, apart from our congregations of fellow sinners. Ironically, in our seclusion, I have no doubt that we will be marking the day with a heightened sense of the individual responsibility each and every one of us bears for the well-being of the society we are a part of. And, in the case of Israel, for the country as a whole. More than that, for the success or failure of the Zionist enterprise altogether.
I mean that seriously. With all the recrimination, allegation, reproach and blame being carelessly cast about, tearing our society apart, I fear, as this New Year begins, that we may well be approaching a point of no return, a juncture beyond which it will no longer be possible to forge a society unified in purpose even if not in thought.
It is with this eventuality in mind, and the trembling it elicits, that I offer this Zionist “Al het,” a confession of the shortcomings of a people returned to its land. Surely there is much to be proud of in the epic story of our national revival, but Yom Kippur is not about pride, it is about acknowledging our failings and mustering the determination to rectify them. In that spirit, then...
For the sins we have committed by forsaking the ideals that brought us hither, and on whose altar we have sacrificed so many, And for the sins we have committed by abandoning the values championed by those who inspired our homecoming, bequeathing our children a society less just and less cohesive than that with which we were entrusted.
For the sin of casting out in their old age those whose strength has failed them, And for the sin of inattention, allowing so many to die before their time.
For the sin of shunting aside survivors of the
vilest cruelty humankind has ever contrived,
And for the sin of adding to their suffering through institutionalized neglect.
For the sin of not feeding and clothing the malnourished and poor,
And for the sin of putting a third of our children to bed hungry at night.
For the sin of insulting the deaf and causing the blind to stumble,
And for the sin of indignity inflicted on those challenged and disabled.
For the sin of closing our gates to those yearning to return, barred due to pedigrees deemed deficient, And for the sin of turning away those who,
of their own free will, would choose to join their fate with the Children of Israel.
For the sin of prohibiting those in love to marry,
And for the sin of discrimination on the
basis of sexual orientation.
For the sin of not eradicating sexism
and gender-based degradation,
And for the sin of not excoriating
the violation of women.
For the sin of domestic violence,
excessive force and abuse of power,
And for the sin of neither lifting up the downtrodden nor comforting the fallen.
For the sin of dismissing the gravity of
bribery and exploitation of trust,
And for the sin of making light of
falsehood and fraud.
For the sin of not remembering that once we were strangers in a strange land, And for the sin of maltreating those seeking refuge
within our borders, deporting children from
the only home they have ever known.
For the sin of hardening our hearts
to the disenfranchised,
And for the sin of causing the marginalized to experience daily the humiliation of feeling unequal.
For the sin of false promises, leaving our brethren to languish in faraway lands, And for the sin of broken promises not to discriminate
on the basis of race.
For the sin of contempt in underpaying our
teachers and social workers,
And for the sin of unfair demands imposed upon those looking after our health.
For the sin of egoism and selfishness in disregard
of the public good,
And for the sin of pandemic indifference to the
welfare of others.
For the sin of callousness toward those
whose lives have been shattered
and livelihoods lost,
And for the sin of not sharing fairly the burden
For the sin of baseless hatred and the failure to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, And for the sin of harboring hatred even when it emerges not without cause.
For all these, there is none to pardon us, forgive us or atone for us.
For all these, there is only us.
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh.
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh.
Two renditions of the verse, one advising us that all of Israel are responsible for one another, the other reminding us that all of Israel are in this together. Both commanding mutual responsibility. Who shall live and who shall die? As individuals and as a collective, we in part shall decide.
May we, and the State of Israel with us, be inscribed for a year of healing, and may we all be sealed in the Book of Life.
The writer serves as deputy chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency.