Reflections on Al Chet

As we move inexorably toward Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, I have been struggling with the concept of forgiveness, and all it means to me.  Reciting the Al Chet prayer multiple times over a 25-hour period has become less meaningful to me.  Someone close to me told me a story in which she was advised, upon suddenly becoming ill, to “forgive everything.”  I was profoundly struck by this, and began reflecting all the different meanings of “forgive.”  Starting from Roget’s Thesaurus, I explored synonyms of “forgiveness” and “forgive,” which led me to write this poem:

This is the season:
  to atone, apologize, ask forgiveness, clear the air,
  compensate, correct, extend an olive branch…to repent.

This is the season:
  to absolve, exonerate, let go of, let bygones be bygones,
  make peace, show forgiveness…to pardon.

This is the season:
  to cleanse, expunge, purify, wipe the slate clean…to renew.

Words. All words. Just words?
Too many words. Too many meanings.
Too few meanings.
Too many words with no meaning.
Where is the meaning?

Every year, we dutifully recite the Al Chet
as we beat (or gently tap) our chests
express our sins in community
take responsibility even for those sins we have not committed
because, as Jews, we are responsible, in some small way,
   for all Jews’ actions
(forgive me God for we have sinned…).

Do we think about the sins we recite?
Do we understand what we repeat in Hebrew,
   year after year after year?
These words had meaning to our ancestors.
Now?  Some resonate, some do not.
Now?  I don’t know…

I belonged to a congregation in New York City
  that wrote down its sins
on S’lichot; its up-to-date, up to the minute, sins
about not recycling
about overeating, undereating, overindulging.
The Rabbi read these at Yom Kippur, during the Al Chet.
A beautiful intention.  A meaningful Kavanah.
One that didn’t work, for me.

Here is where I am this Yom Kippur:
Forgive everything. Forgive all. 

Forgive myself…for everything
  for not treating my body as sacred
  for not honoring life, even as I choose it
  for the part of me wanting to die on a weekly,
    if not daily, basis
  for my failures; for my kavanot gone by the wayside
  for my intentions not moved ahead; or moved ahead
    and then abandoned
  for pain I have caused others; for pain I have caused myself
  for the times I have not been available to myself;
    for the times I have not been available to others
  for not understanding or accepting that to be human
    is to be fallible.

Forgive others…for everything
  for the pain they have caused me;
    for the pain they have caused themselves
  for their unavailability; for their over-availability
    (which allowed me not to feel what I needed to feel)
  for their anger; for their rage
  for their letting me down; for their letting themselves down
  for their weakness in not confronting injustice
  for their acting out instead of acting up. Forgive.
Know that I am forgiving.
Know that I am asking forgiveness.
And know why. 

Mindful forgiveness.
Forgiveness that heals
Forgiveness that brings peace
Peace to self and to other; to the other self within
(even if not to the one being forgiven,
  or from whom forgiveness is sought)
Forgiveness that brings the light of God inside
that opens up heart and soul
that allows movement
  forward
  upward
  inward.

And…finally…
Ask forgiveness of God.
And forgive God:
  for letting me down; for not being present
  for not seeming to heed my prayers;
     for not heeding my prayers
  for deaths caused; for deaths averted
  for suffering; for illness
  for war; for false peace.
For Everything. 

V’al kulam Eloha s’lichot, s’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu.

About armsakimbobook

I'm a mother, a lawyer, a feminist, a writer, a potter, and an inveterate and unapologetic New Yorker. My book, Arms Akimbo: A Journey of Healing, tells of my journey of healing over a number of years, learning to live a full life after I was molested by my father at a very young age. I live in Medford, MA, part time with my 11 year-old daughter and full time with our dog, Toast, and our cats, Samson and Hercules.
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4 Responses to Reflections on Al Chet

  1. Beautiful and thought provoking post. Thank you.

    Like

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