Ashamnu: We Have Sinned
Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, debarnu dofi…
These are words that appear throughout Jewish prayer, but that are particularly powerful and meaningful on Yom Kippur. We stand as a community before God, cleansing our souls of our deepest sins and pleading for a favorable inscription in the Book of Life.
Yet the Yom Kippur liturgy, and the confession in particular, always bothered me. As someone who knows Hebrew can tell you, this particular piece is written all in the first–person plural. “WE have sinned.” “WE have betrayed.” “WE have stolen.” “WE have gone astray.” Why did I have to say these things? “I haven’t stolen anything this year,” I thought. I hadn’t become violent or been scornful or corrupted others. Why was I forced to get dragged down by the sins of those around me?
The answer, I can now clearly see, is that as much as we are being judged individually on Yom Kippur, we are also being judged as a community. How did we as a community, in this past year, help those around us? How did we keep one another from going astray? How did we deter corruption and lying by refusing to be complicit in these acts?
These are conversations that are always present in the halls of the RAC, where we spend much of our days thinking about how we as Jews can play our part in the broader community around us. We are all responsible for one another—if one member of our community fails, we all fail.
This Yom Kippur, we certainly have much for which to repent. As a nation, we have failed in many ways this year: We have failed to provide food for everyone. We have failed to lift everyone out of poverty. We have failed to welcome the strangers, to heal the sick and to protect the vulnerable.
Yom Kippur is certainly a time to reflect on these shortcomings, and to vow to do better next year. But it is also a time to realize that as much as we fail together, we also succeed together. Within our community, we have the people and the power to create change. Hopefully next year at this time, we can look back and feel proud of the accomplishments we have achieved together for our communities.
Image originally found here.