Guide to Repentance and Transformation

Click here to download our 2015/5776 High Holidays Repentance Workbook and click here to download a PDF of the Al Cheyt Prayer.

For the Ways We Have Missed the Mark and Gone Astray—Al Cheyt Prayer, Meditation, and Spur to Transformation

A Supplement to the High Holiday Prayer Book (not a replacement)

On Yom Kippur, we invite you to use the following supplement along with the traditional confessional prayer, Al Cheyt. Bring this supplement along with your own list to Yom Kippur services. Don’t just go through the rote reading the traditional “sins,” many of which actually reach to the ways we “miss the mark” in our contemporary reality. If you are not Jewish or aren’t attending any High Holiday service, use this supplement at your home or with your friends at any time during these ten days of repentance!

READ OUT LOUD IN YOUR SYNAGOGUE OR REPENTANCE GROUP:

On the Jewish High Holidays, or whenever we are doing repentance work, we take collective responsibility for our own lives and for the activities of the community and society of which we are a part. We affirm our fundamental interdependence and interconnectedness. We have allowed others to be victims of incredible suffering, have turned our backs on others and their well-being, and yet today we acknowledge that this world is co-created by all of us, and so we atone for all of it.

While the struggle to change ourselves and our world may be long and painful, it is our struggle; no one else can undertake it for us. To the extent that we have failed to do all that we could to make ourselves and our community all that we ought to be, we ask God and each other for forgiveness—and we now commit ourselves to transformation this coming year, as we seek to get back on the path to our highest possible selves. Our intent is not to beat ourselves up. Rather, by acknowledging where we have “missed the mark” (the true meaning of the word cheyt, which gets mistranslated as “sin”), we commit ourselves to changing our individual and collective behavior!

Chant: Ve-al kulam, Eloha selichot, selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.

For all the ways we “miss the mark” and betray our most loving and holy aspirations and the call of the universe for us to evolve into more conscious, ethical, environmentally sensitive and joyous human beings, may the Force that makes forgiveness possible forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

PERSONAL LIVES

For the sins we have committed before You and in our communities by being so preoccupied with ourselves that we ignore the larger problems of the world;

And for the sins we have committed by being so directed toward outward realities that we have ignored our inner spiritual and psychological and ethical development;

For the sins we have committed by not forgiving our parents for the wrongs they committed against us when we were children;

And for the sin of having too little compassion or too little respect for our parents or for our children or our friends when they act in ways that disappoint or hurt us;

For the sin of not adequately supporting our children to develop in ways that they choose rather than trying to make them in our own image;

And for the sin of not giving guidance and sharing our own wisdom with our children so that they can learn from our strengths and also from the mistakes we are willing to acknowledge to them;

For the sin of not sharing responsibility for child-rearing;

And for the sin of not taking time to help singles meet each other in a safe and emotionally nurturing way, and instead making them fend for themselves in a marketplace of relationships;

For the sin of cooperating with self-destructive behavior in others or in ourselves;

And for the sin of not supporting each other as we attempt to change;

For the sin of being jealous and trying to manipulate those we love;

And for the sin of being judgmental or listening to (or even spreading) negative stories about the personal lives of others;

For the sin of withholding love and support;

And for the sin of doubting our ability to love and get love from others;

For the sin of insisting that everything we do have a payoff;

And for the sin of not allowing ourselves to play;

For the sin of not giving our partners and friends the love and support they need to feel safe and to flourish;

And for the sin of being manipulative or hurting others to protect our own egos.

For the sin of seeking to control our loved ones, friends, children, parents, or others

And for the sin of not finding gentle and loving ways to encourage others to change behaviors that we could see were self-destructive or hurtful,

For the sin of always wanting to have it be our way,

And for the sin of not standing up for what was really, really,  really,  important to us and then later feeling resentful that we didn’t get what we wanted,

Chant: Ve-al kulam, Eloha selichot, selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.

For all the ways we “miss the mark” and betray our most loving and holy aspirations and the call of the universe for us to evolve into more conscious, ethical, environmentally sensitive and joyous human beings, may the Force that makes forgiveness possible forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

SOCIETAL ISSUES

For the sins of all who became so concerned with “making it” and becoming rich that they pursued banking and investment policies that were destructive not only to their investors but to the entire society;

And for the sin of being so concerned about our own personal tax benefits that we failed to oppose tax cuts that would bankrupt social services;

For the sin of not taking the leaflets or not opening the emails of those who tried to inform us of what was going on in the world that required our moral attention and instead allowing ourselves to be too easily overwhelmed at the suffering on this planet so that we justified closing our ears to the cries of the oppressed;

And for the sin of not demanding that our elected representatives provide affordable health care and prescription drugs for everyone, and for not demanding dramatic changes that are needed to save the planet and lessen the power of big money to shape our democratic process so that it no longer primarily serves the interests of the corporations and the wealthy;

For the sin of allowing our elected leaders to continue to affirm the notion of economic growth as progress rather than repairing the damage economic growth has already done to our planet;

And for the sin of allowing military spending and tax cuts for the rich to undermine our society’s capacity to take care of the poor, the powerless, the young, and the aging, both in the United States and around the world;

For the sin of being cynical about the possibility of building a world based on love;

And for the sin of dulling our outrage at the continuation of poverty, oppression, and violence in this world;

For the sin of being “realistic” when our tradition calls upon us to transform reality;

And for the sin of being too attached to our own picture of how our lives should be—and never taking the risks that could bring us a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

For the sin of not noticing who is suffering in the global system that provides us with the cheap commodities that we can buy at bargain prices because people in other countries are working at less than subsistence wages;

And for the sin of creating endless new products to consume more of the world’s resources, and then buying them and thus reinforcing the whole system;

For the sin of not being vigilant stewards of the planet and instead allowing the water resources of the world to be bought up by private companies for private profit;

And for the sin of allowing our air to be polluted by carbons that have caused climate change, and then not forcing our elected leaders to give emergency priority to saving our planet;

For the sin of allowing new areas in the Arctic to be opened to drilling for gas and oil instead of insisting that these stay in the ground;

And for the sin of not protecting our oceans from being devastated by pollution and garbage and so overfished that many species of fish may soon disappear;

For the sin of allowing military spending and tax cuts for the rich to undermine our society’s capacity to take care of the poor, the powerless, the young, and the aging, both in the United States and around the world;

For the sins committed in the name of the American people through our invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and the violence we continue to use to achieve our ends;

And for the sin of not rebuilding what we have destroyed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Pakistan, and elsewhere;

For failing to prosecute those in our government who enabled the torture of prisoners around the world and in American detention centers, and then denied those prisoners habeas corpus and other fundamental human rights;

And for the sin of allowing military spending and tax cuts for the rich to undermine our society’s capacity to take care of the poor, the powerless, the young, and the aging, both in the United States and around the world;

For the sin of not doing enough to challenge racist, sexist, and homophobic institutions and practices;

And for the sin of turning our backs on the world’s refugees and on the homeless in our own society, allowing them to be demeaned, assaulted, and persecuted;

For the sin of tolerating ongoing racist violence by police forces around the US and by random racists who assault overtly or discriminate covertly against people of color, particularly Native Americans, African Americans and Latino Americans;

And for the sin of not responding to the call of Black Lives Matters or other movements that are pleading with us to not return to business as usual while racism against Blacks continues to destroy the hopes of African Americans for a normal life for themselves and their children;

For the sins of tribalism, chauvinism, and thinking our pain is more important than anyone else’s pain;

And for the sins of not speaking out more clearly against the horror of violence from Muslim extremists like Boko Haram and the Islamic State, or against the denial of human rights in Iran and Saudi Arabia;

And for the sins of blaming all Muslims for the extremism of a few and ignoring the extremism and violence emanating from our own society, which continues to use drones to kill people suspected of being involved in supporting terrorism;

For the sin of not supporting the efforts of our own government to postpone the development of nuclear weapons in Iran while others in the Jewish world attempted to undermine the accord that the UN reached with Iran;

And for the sin of piously opposing Iranian nuclear ambitions while not opposing the nuclear arsenals of the U.S., France, UK, Pakistan, India, China, Russia,  Israeland other countries;

For the sin of missing opportunities to support in public the political, religious, spiritual, or ethical teachers who actually inspire us and whose teachings would help others;

And for the sin of being passive recipients of negativity or listening and allowing others to spread hurtful stories, lashon ha’rah (evil talk);

For these ways we have missed the mark, we ask the Force of Healing and Transformation to give us the strength to forgive ourselves and each other as we commit to rectifying our behavior;

Chant: Ve-al kulam, Eloha selichot, selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.

For all the ways we “miss the mark” and betray our most loving and holy aspirations and the call of the universe for us to evolve into more conscious, ethical, environmentally sensitive and joyous human beings, may the Force that makes forgiveness possible forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

THE JEWISH PEOPLE AND ISRAEL

For the sins we have committed by not publicly supporting the Jewish people and Israel when they are being criticized or treated unfairly, and for not challenging the unfair singling-out of Israel for criticism by our allies in the progressive movement for sins that we in the U.S. or other countries are doing at much greater levels than Israel;

And for the sins we have committed by not publicly criticizing Israel or the Jewish people when they are acting in opposition to the highest principles of the Jewish tradition;

For the sin of not taking anti-Semitism seriously when it manifests around the world, among our friends, or in our community;

And for the sin of seeing anti-Semitism everywhere, and using the charge of anti-Semitism to silence those who raise legitimate, if painful, criticisms of Israeli policies;

For the sin of allowing Israel to call itself “the Jewish state” when it is overtly violating the values of the Jewish people and the commands to “love the other/the stranger” that is the most frequent command in the Torah;

And for the sin of allowing others to think that they are being pro-Israel when they support the Israeli government in racist or oppressive policies that actually weaken and isolate Israel and may lead to a growing and always unjustified anti-Semitism around the world;

For the sin of allowing the Jewish community to portray itself as the innocent victim and for allowing Holocaust trauma to legitimate oppressive treatment of others;

And for the sins of allowing Judaism to be represented by the most wealthy and powerful rather than those most closely aligned with God’s injunction to pursue justice and peace and love, not only for Jews, but for all humankind;

For the sin of letting the entire Jewish people take the rap for oppressive policies by the most reactionary and human rights-denying government the State of Israel has ever had;

And for the sin of being so disheartened that we stopped paying attention to the details of what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza—thereby ignoring the massive suffering that a self-described Jewish state imposes on others, and the unhealed destruction of Gaza in 2014 that still leaves so many families without homes or sustenance;

For the sin of knowing in our hearts that what Israel has been doing is morally wrong but refusing to say this in public;

And for the sin of not also saying in public what is positive about Israel and the Jewish people;

For the sin of allowing some (Jews and non-Jews) to blame the entire Jewish people or Judaism for the (inexcusable and murderous) acts of daily violence of Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank and its repressive measures against the people of Gaza;

And for the sin of discounting the ethical responsibility of those Jews and non-Jews who belong to institutions or political organizations and political parties that give blanket support to Israeli policies no matter how repressive;

For the sin of blaming the entire Palestinian people for inexcusable acts of violence, kidnapping, and murder committed by a handful of terrorists;

And for the sins that Israel committed stealing West Bank Palestinian land and access to West Bank water, creating settlements of ultra-nationalists who regularly harass Palestinian children or uproot olive trees and otherwise intensify the evils of occupation, imposing checkpoints for Palestinians and building West Bank roads that are only available for Jewish Israelis, taxing West Bank Palestinians while not allowing them to vote in Israeli elections, and then pretending to be on a higher moral plane than the Palestinian people;

For the sins that were done in the name of the Jewish people by the State of Israel in killing teenagers at the average rate of one every third day for the past twenty years;

And for the sins of turning our heads and “not knowing” when gangs of Israelis roamed the streets of Israel, harassing and beating up random Palestinians in what could only be called a “pogrom,” and for not publicly protesting when West Bank settlers burnt alive a toddler and his father in the summer of 2015—though we could have known had we been reading the communications from Tikkun or the daily news from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz;

For the sin of teaching hatred about Palestinians and Muslims, and then claiming that it is only they who teach hatred;

And for the sin of insisting that there is no “moral equivalence” between the deaths of innocent Israeli civilians and the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians;

And for the sins that American Jews have committed by giving blind loyalty to the Israeli far-right lobby and believing that the critics of that lobby are being disloyal or alienated from the Jewish people or from Israel;

For the sin of insisting that politics has no place in our synagogues, thereby creating a division between the ethical and the spiritual—a division which Judaism came into being to challenge;

For the sin of spirituality that does not lead to action to heal and transform the world;

And for the sin of religiophobia and other ways in which social change movements do not adequately nourish the spiritual and psychological needs of their participants;

And for the sin of giving lip service to tikkun olam, but then never engaging in the demonstrations, conferences, and organizing that are part of the process of transforming our world;

And for the sin of allowing religious and communal institutions, colleges and universities, government and politics, the media, and the entertainment industry to be shaped by those with the most money, rather than those with the most spiritual and ethical sensitivity;

For the sin of not putting our money and our time behind our highest ideals;

And for the sin of not learning the Jewish tradition; for not studying Jewish history, literature, and holy texts; and for not learning the depth, wisdom, and meaning for our lives that can be found in Jewish spirituality and prayer or in some other equally rich spiritual path;

For the sin of thinking that our path is the only path to spiritual truth;

And for the sin of allowing conservative or insensitive leaders to speak on behalf of all American Jews;

For the sin of not providing public support and financial backing to the few Jewish leaders, organizations, and publications that do actually speak our values;

And for the sin of not recognizing and celebrating (with awe and wonder) the beauty and grandeur of the universe that surrounds us;

For the sin of not seeing the spirit of God in others;

And for the sin of not recognizing and nurturing the spirit of God within ourselves;

For the sin of not praying, meditating, keeping a twenty-five hour Shabbat, or giving adequate attention to the needs of our soul;

And for the sin of only paying attention to Judaism on High Holy Days and not showing up for Sukkot or the many other spiritually deep Jewish holidays, or for Torah study and Shabbat celebrations;

For the sin of expecting Jewish spiritual institutions to be there for us when we need them at childbirth, bar or bat mitzvah, weddings, sickness, death and burial, but doing little to help sustain them when we aren’t actively needing them;

And for the sin of focusing only on our sins and not on our strengths and beauties;

For the sin of not being able to adequately give ourselves empathy for the moments in which we may not have been as fully wonderful as we could be;

And for the sin of not forgiving others and giving them empathy for the moment in which they are suffering or in pain or missing the mark and not being as wonderful as they could be;

For the sin of not transcending ego so we could see ourselves and each other as we really are: namely, as part of the unity of all being, manifestations of God’s loving energy on earth.

Chant: Ve’al kulam Elohai Selichot, selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.

For all these, Lord of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

Repentance is not meant only as an exercise to help us feel better, but also as the beginning of organizing our personal and communal lives to begin the process of changing. To join with others in this sacred work, please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives and the Tikkun community at spiritualprogressives.org. If you live in the Bay Area, please join Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls at www.beyttikkun.org. And feel free to form your own Jewish spiritual community around the values implicit in the above prayer/meditation/guidance-for-change.

Composed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, for Yom Kippur 5776. RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com.

 

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, co-chair with Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. He is the author of eleven books, including two national bestsellers—The Left Hand of God and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation. His most recent book, Embracing Israel/Palestine, is available on Kindle from Amazon.com and in hard copy from tikkun.org/eip. He welcomes your responses and invites you to join with him by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives (membership comes with a subscription to Tikkun magazine). You can contact him at rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com.
 
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