Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Confessions and Forgiveness

By Susan Esther Barnes

Because our congregation is so large, we have two services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One is at the local Civic Center auditorium, and the other is in the sanctuary at the synagogue.

It has become the custom at the sanctuary service on Rosh Hashanah for congregants to write down, anonymously, things they have done about which they feel guilty. A selection of these confessions is read aloud by other congregants ten days later at the sanctuary service on the morning of Yom Kippur.

This is a particularly moving, and sometimes brutal, part of the service. It is heartrending to hear of members of one’s community berating themselves for feelings which are only natural, or confessing to alcoholism, or blaming themselves for being molested as a child.

I can’t say I’m immune. Sometimes I catch myself beating myself up for things which, intellectually, I know are not my fault. This public reading of confessions on Yom Kippur certainly places my petty self-grievances in stark contrast to those that deeply matter.

It also reminds me that even though we might feel it’s appropriate sometimes to say, “There is nothing you need to be forgiven for,” there is great importance and power in transcending logic and engaging in an annual time for us all to hear, simply, “You are forgiven.”

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