Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur

For the week ending 30 September 2017 / 10 Tishri 5778

Yom Kippur - Repetitive Reflection

by Rabbi Moshe Borger
Become a Supporter Library Library

Every year we bang our chests, declaring all of our misdemeanors of the previous year. We say “al chait” for this sin, and “al chait” for that sin. We cover all the areas one could conceive of, and with a contrite heart we attempt to return to G-d, asking for His forgiveness. If you count the number of times we perform this ceremony in all of the Standing Prayers and the repetitions, beginning with the afternoon of the eve of Yom Kippur until the repetition of the Afternoon service on the day itself, it is no less than nine times that we go through this unchanging list.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus asked: Why do we need to confess so many times? Seemingly it would make more sense to do so only once — either at the beginning, when we feel the novelty of the declaration, or at the end, as a culmination of our repentance. Why repeat these words so many times? He answers with a parable:

Imagine rushing into your local Synagogue on Yom Kippur night and accidentally slamming the door into an elderly man, sending him flying. After the man gets up, you apologize and quickly retire into your seat. As you do so, your neighbor tells you, “By the way, you do realize that elderly gentleman is the founder of this Synagogue and personally paid for the building, don’t you?” You feel a little bit more foolish when you hear that. Later that evening somebody tells you that he's actually the “Scholar in Residence”, and you then hear a powerful sermon from him all about the topic of “Negligence”. You now feel a bit worse. Then, the next morning somebody tells you that he actually was your grandfather's best friend before the War, and personally arranged visas to save him and your entire family. Now you feel terrible. Then a bit later in the day someone tells you how he supported your family for years, and was personally responsible for taking care of each of their career paths, making sure they ended up in the right jobs. At this point your apology seems really underrated, and you feel a need to ask him again for a true forgiveness. Finally, you hear that this special man was actually the godfather at your circumcision, and paid for all of your schooling that led to your financial success. That's really awkward, but not as bad as when you find out that he was the one who suggested your wife for you, and helped your parents pay for your wedding in full. Right now you feel downright horrified and pathetic!

As far fetched as this parable may seem, it encapsulates our relationship with G-d. How could we “knock Him flying” carelessly, many times purposefully ignoring his requests of us that are so pitiful in comparison to the magnitude of goodness He does for us. As the day of Yom Kippur goes on, the feeling of regret should deepen, and our declarations become more and more meaningful and heartfelt, as we begin to internalize throughout the day what He means to us and how treacherous were our rebellions against Him. The repetition of the vidui confession on Yom Kippur allows us to think and repent more sincerely, as this realization will hopefully truly set in.

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