High Holiday Repentance Workbook 2014 / 5775

If you happen to be in the Bay Area, you are invited to join us at Beyt Tikkun’s High Holiday services with Rabbi Michael Lerner (and the Tikkun band led by Achi Ben Shalom) in Berkeley, starting on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 24, and during the days Sept. 25 and 26 (Rosh Hashanah) and/or the evenings of Oct. 3 and all day Oct. 4 (Yom Kippur). Among those participating: spoken word poet Josh Healey, Spiritual Direction teacher and therapist Renna Ulvang, Israel peace activist and Code Pink leader Rae Abileah, and empathic communication trainer and executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressies Cat Zavis. You do not have to be Jewish to register and attend these spiritually deep celebrations of transformation, which this year will give special attention to the environmental crisis.

For more information, visit www.beyttikkun.org.


To acknowledge our own screw-ups is an important first step. But the High Holidays are not about getting ourselves to feel guilty, but rather engaging in a process of change. If we don’t make those changes internally and in our communities and in our society, all the breast-beating and self-criticism become an empty ritual.

In many situations and relationships, you are not the only part of the problem—but for the sake of this process, it is your part that you are to focus on, not the part contributed by your partner, spouse, parents, children, friends, etc. Begin to work on your part during these ten days of repentance/teshuvah!

On these days, our focus is not on what others did to us, but on what we ourselves did to lessen our connection to our highest possible selves and to our highest manifestation of the God-energy of the universe!

Did you show adequate respect for your body?

Did you care for your body this past year? If not, what didn’t you do that you should have done?




Clothing, Appearance, and Self-Presentation

Quiet Time or Meditation

Are you taking enough time to nourish your soul?

  • Did you care for your soul this past year? If not, what didn’t you do that you should have done? In what ways did you care for your soul this past year?
  • In what ways did you neglect your soul? Did your soul give you any messages that you ignored? What were they?
  • Did you take time to read books that would have expanded your awareness of spiritual life? If not, what do you want to read this next year? Did you give yourself alone time for meditation, for prayer, or for walks in nature?
  • Did you take the time to read other books that would have given you pleasure and joy? If not, what do you want to read this next year?
  • What courses (evening schools in liberal arts or a new profession, art programs, Hebrew, Jewish studies, studying a new musical instrument, learning about another culture or philosophical tradition) did you take to expand your horizons? What would you like to take this next year?
  • What pleasures did you give to yourself this year? Which do you want to expand or initiate this coming year? Did you allow yourself to go to art exhibits, plays, musical concerts, poetry readings, discussion groups, community political action activities, or other events that would have given you pleasure? What do you want to do in this regard in the next year?
  • In what ways did you explore your relationship with God or however you wish to name the spiritual dimension of consciousness this past year? In what ways did you ignore that dimension of life? Did you read any books, attend lectures or courses, or dedicate time to exploring the spiritual dimension of your life? Would you be willing to read (or reread) The Left Hand of GodSpirit MattersThe Politics of MeaningJewish Renewal, Embracing Israel/Palestineor other spiritually enlivening books, and make a commitment now to doing so in the course of this coming year?

Are you giving real energy to tikkun olam, to healing and repairing the world?

  • Which of our society’s political, economic, or social institutions have destructive consequences to the environment, social justice, or our capacity to be loving and compassionate human beings? Have you challenged any of them in the public arena?
  • What concrete steps have you taken to be involved? What will you personally do to change the status quo? Will you support the Global Marshall Plan or the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (both can be read at www.spiritualprogressives.org)? Another option is to urge Israel and the United States to back full membership for Palestine in the UN in a resolution that would also support Israel’s right to exist in security within recognized borders as a Jewish state that gives full equality in every respect to the religious, national, and ethnic minorities living there (the same that we ask of Palestinians). If not, what will you actually do, or what campaigns or projects will you support with your money and/or your time?
  • If you haven’t been involved, what were the reasons you gave yourself? Which of those reasons presupposed a “surplus powerlessness” (a way in which you were actually assuming yourself less able to initiate things or take leadership than is “objectively” true)? In what ways did you buy the message that “they will never listen,” or, “I can never get things to happen,” or, “I’m not powerful enough to start something so I’ll wait for someone else—like President Obama—to do it,” or, “Other people are not together enough, or too immoral, or too passive, so there’s no point in me trying to mobilize them,” or other similar messages?
  • If you tried to be involved, and had hassles or disappointments with other people in the process, what were those and what part did you have in making or sustaining them? What did you do to confront the problems directly? Would you be open to working with the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), Tikkun, Beyt Tikkun, the One Campaign, the School of the Americas Watch, 350.org, the B’Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Organization), J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Pax Christi, Zen Peacemakers, Evangelicals for Social Action, UUA, Baptist Peace Fellowship, or some other national organization doing work with ideals in which you can believe, and which one will you commit to now and actually stick with that commitment?

Did you help build a connection to Judaism and the Jewish world or to whatever spiritual tradition or discipline makes sense to you?

  • How much did you seek to deepen your knowledge of Judaism, Jewish history, Jewish texts, or the culture of the Jewish people or of Israel? Or of whatever other religious tradition or spiritual discipline speaks to you? What opportunities were there and what were the reasons you gave yourself for why this year wasn’t the right time? Will you make time for this in this New Year?
  • Did you allow yourself to take twenty-five hours out of your busy schedule each week to observe Shabbat or some similar weekly spiritual practice in a traditional way? Did you meditate, pray, say the prayer of forgiveness before going to sleep, or some other spiritual practice? How fulfilling or spiritually deep did you allow it to be? If it wasn’t, what explanations did you give yourself for why it wasn’t working? What could you personally do to make that spiritual practice or some other spiritual practice work for you on a daily or at least a weekly basis?


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

We invite you to use the following along with the traditional confessional prayer, Al Cheyt, recited on Yom Kippur. Bring this and, in addition, bring your own list to Yom Kippur services. Do not just go through the rote of 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 not going to any High Holiday service, use this at your home or with your friends any time during these ten days of repentance!


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 do 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.

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

For all our sins, may the Force that makes forgiveness possible forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

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 spiritual development;

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

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

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

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 those of us in the West hoarding the world’s wealth and not sharing with the 2.5 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day;

And for the sin of supporting forms of globalization that are destructive to nature and to the economic well-being of the powerless;

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

And 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;

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;

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 these sins we ask the Force of Healing and Transformation to give us the strength to forgive ourselves and each other.

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 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 possess and control 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.

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

For the sins we have committed by not publicly supporting the Jewish people and Israel when they are being criticized or treated unfairly; or for not challenging unfair singling out of Israel for criticism by our allies in the anti-war movement;

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 (though painful to hear) criticisms of Israeli policies;

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;

For the sin of not publicly challenging those Jewish teachers and leaders who support policies that would undermine the capacity of our government to maintain the minimal social and economic supports that have been established for the poor and to protect the environment;

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);

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;

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 and murderous) acts of violence, kidnapping, murder by a handful of terrorists—and then cutting water, food and access to medical care for a million people, or kidnapping (called “arresting” when done by the occupying police forces and the IDF) Palestinian youth, or jailing without charges and without trials tens of thousands of Palestinians, torturing, and humiliating them;

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”—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 condemning Palestinian or Muslim extremists as typical, while “understanding” our own and claiming that they are exceptions to our normal generous and kind attitudes;

And for the sin of portraying every Palestinian or Muslim as a hater;

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;

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;

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

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; not studying Jewish history, literature, and holy texts; and not learning the depth, wisdom, and meaning for our lives that can be found in Jewish spirituality and prayer and on a Jewish 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 focusing only on our sins and not on our strengths and beauties;

For the sin of not transcending ego so we could see ourselves and each other as we really are: 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 Tikkun: spiritualprogressives.org or rabbilerner@tikkun.org.  Composed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun magazine, for Yom Kippur 5775.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *