VIDUI - Yafa Chase for Liturgy Class-May-2009


I chose to do this presentation on the Vidui because I had studied the vidui that is said before someone dies in Codes class and I was curious to explore whether there is anything in common with the different viduis that are said in our tradition. What I found is that Vidui means "Confession." The verb used, l’hitvadot means "to confess" Confessions are said on Yom Kippur - ashamnu and al chet, before a person dies and during tachanun. I have written about all three but will speak today only about the confessions we say on Yom Kippur. According to Lawrence Hoffman in the canonization of the synagogue service, The vidui did not always have connotation of confessing one’s sins. A prominent usage of the word in the Mishnah, for example, regards the bringing of the second tithe to Jerusalem and making a vidui to the priest there, and it is quite clear from what the pilgrim says that he is confessing no sin, but affirming his proper conformance to the Torah. The vidui is positive and celebrative here and it is atoned to remind G-d that He too has a covenantal obligation to fulfill. On the other hand the term also appears when one is admitting one’s failings under the term of the covenant. After 70, when the Temple-based rituals disappeared the positive vidui ceased, and by amoraic times it was vidui as confession of sin that because predominant. A variety of such confessions are recorded by the amoraim. At first, confession was a personal thing-people confessed only to whatever sins they were conscious of doing. By the end of the second century, confessions had become liturgical formulas, which people recited even if they had not personally committed any of them. Still, personal confession of one’s actual misdeeds was highly regarded, even demanded in addition, and the Talmud (Yoma 87b) provides the individual confessions of many revered Rabbis. At some point-it is hard to say exactly when-alphabetic acrostics like our current long and short confessionals developed; they recount sins not because anyone had actually done them, but because they began with successive letters of the alphabet, so were a sort of formal categorization of sin in general. According to Ishmar Elbogen, the confession starts with elohenu velohei avotenu, tavo lefanecha tifilatenu and ends with aval anahnu hatanu, for indeed we have sinned is the essence of the confession. (yoma 87b) Parts of this were written by the 3rd century sages Rav and Mar Samuel. J.L. Magnes explains this as follows- Our Rabbis have said that the first man was driven from Eden because he did not know how to yield and to confess his sin. In our liturgy each individual is confronted with a whole category of wrong-doings, and it is a great thing that the individual and the congregation together are forbidden to say before G-d, We are righteous and we have not sinned." They must say, "We have sinned and we have cause others to sin’

There are two structures of confession, the abbreviated confession (????? ????) and the elongated confession (????? ?????), with both including a list of sins that a person confesses to- in the order of the Alephbet; the abbreviated confession lists one sin per letter and the elongated lists two.
The (????? ????) the ashamnu says "We have been guilty, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have spoken falsely, etc.", ("?????, ?????, ?????, ?????? ????, ???"). An early form of this confession is found most directly in Daniel 9:5-19; We have sinned; we have been iniquitous; we have done evil; we have rebelled; and we have deviated from your commandments and your ordinances. One commentary on the ashamnu by Chaiyei Adam goes through each word of the ashamnu and connects it with biblical references. So for example according to him: Gazalnu: Based on the verse (Malachi 3:8), "You rob me continually" and on the verse (Mishle 28:24), "He robs his father and mother". The Sages have explained (Berachos 32b) that "father" means Hashem and "mother" means the Jewish People. (There is no need to dwell at length on this sin for the Sages have said, "Among all the sins, the sin of robbery prosecutes first..."

As I mentioned before Al Chet consists of 44 verses, two for each oof the 22 letters. Although the order of the sins varies a bit from version to version, the differences are slight and the sins are the same. Rabbi E.E. Dessler notes that the introductory paragraph, ata yodea razi olam, you know the secrets of the universe, deals with the subconscious underlying causes of sin. Given this context, he interprets the sins enumerated in al chet litany not primarily as individual acts, but as the personal flaws that lead people to sin. Each verse begins with al heyt Shehatanu lefanecha- - where the word heyt is used in conjunction with other words for sin, such as avon and pesha, it refers to unintentional sins that could have been avoided. Where heyt appears alone, as it does in the al chet, it is a general term for sin. For a translation and explanation of each line, the back of art scroll goes through al chet and ashamnu line by line. I just want to point out the verse that is repeated 3 times during the prayer, val kulam eloha slihot, sla lanu, mihal lanu, kaper lanu. This is a progression from a smaller to a greater degree of forgiveness, slah, forgive us ie give up the right to punish us, mihal lanu, pardon us ie do not even harbor resentment or ill will against us, and kaper lanu, atone for us, remove any effects of our sin, as if we had never committed them. With each confessed sin, a person touches his fist to his chest opposite his heart. According to Klein - It is customary to beat one’s breast both during ashamnu and al het. This is based on a Midrash: "And the living will lay it to his heart" (Eccles. 7:2) Rabbi Meir said: "Why do people beat their hearts? Because the heart is the seat and source of sin" Eccles. Rabbah.

The two confessions are in the first person plural --"We have sinned" --and the misdeeds are listed in alphabetical order. In this way the congregation takes collective responsibility for undoing all the misdeeds of its members and in a broader sense for all the Jewish people., all the sins from A to Z --even those it does not think to mention. Arthur Waskow The first time ashamnu and al het are said is during the mincha service before erev yom kippur however the shaliah Tzibur does not recite it. This confession is said considerably before the beginning of Yom Kippur, for fear that one may become fuzzy (due to excessive eating and drinking before the fast. And consequently unable to make confession on yom kippur itself (yoma 37b)

The confessional/viddui is recited during every service on yom kippur (Strassfeld) including the silent and repetition of the amidah. It is said 10 times on Yom Kippur. There are many beautiful and meaningful creative modern renderings of Ahamnu and Al Cheyt. Michael Lerner, Marcia Prager, Rabbis for Human Rights, Arthur Waskow, Marian Wright Edelman, Daniel Jezer, Noah Golinkin, Diane Cohen, Rachel Barenblat have written compelling and powerful Al Chets.

My Dvar Tifillah on Al Chet


During the month of Elul we came together to begin our journey as individuals and community to explore that which gets in the way of our being what G-d knows we can be. During slihot we made lists of all the ways we missed the mark. We used blue, red, white, and green cards to name the wrongs we did to ourselves, to our families and friends, to the larger community, and to the earth and the world itself. Holy One, as we now go through our own lists and lists that our great sages compiled for us, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement. May our sincere atonement blow open the channels, clearing away everything in its ways, so that once again we may see more clearly, experience more deeply and know with greater intensity your love and will for us.