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14 Sep, 2013

On Yom Kippur, Rabbi Michael Lerner Pens a Prayer for Jews to Atone for their Sins

A Prayer by Rabbi Michael Lerner, Network of Spiritual Progressives

Many people report feeling that the sins listed in traditional prayer books don’t really confront what people need to confront, and that even many of the alternative religious communities end up avoiding the most controversial and provocative issues (which are often where the issues about which we are in denial often reside). So we invite you to use this list and you are welcome to download it, send it to your friends, parents, family, community, and bring it to Yom Kippur services (or, bring it to whatever church, mosque, ashram or wherever else people are interested in thinking seriously about how they may have “missed the mark” (the real meaning of ‘sin’ in the Jewish tradition). — Rabbi Michael Lerner 

FOR OUR SINS—a Yom Kippur supplement

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. This is not the time we seek balance by saying what is wrong with others—on Yom Kippur we take responsibility for our own issues, without seeking to blame others for their issues.

In doing this, we affirm our fundamental interdependence and interconnectedness with all human beings and animals and life on this planet. 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.

Sin is not about some ontological evil in us. We are created in God’s image, and our fundamental yearning is for a world of love and kindness and generosity. But we have gotten off the path, missed the mark, and so we need this yearly spiritual tune-up and path adjustment so we can come back to our highest selves.

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, including targeted assassinations by drones of those who have never had the opportunity to face a jury and explain their actions;

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

For the sin of not supporting democratic forces in Egypt and Syria when that support might have made a difference before violent suppression led to counter-violence;

And for the Sin of not joining the International Criminal Court or creating other international institutions that would be empowered to intervene in non-violent ways to stop human rights violations–before struggles erupt into violence;

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 but instead prosecuting the whistle-blowers who informed us about abuses of our privacy by the government and other destructive and/or illegal acts by those who hold power;

And for the sin of not demanding that our elected representatives provide affordable health care and prescription drugs for everyone,

For the sin of not demanding a “minimum wage” that is actually a “living wage” (in 2013 terms, that is about $22/hr) and a guaranteed annual income for everyone;

And for the sin of supporting liberal candidates who end up pursuing militarist policies and policies that serve the 1% (the super-wealthy) and the powerful corporations  at the expense of the middle class and the poor—and then saying “we have no choice because the other side is even much worse”—rather than mounting a challenge to these liberal centrists;

For the sin of ignoring the plight of the immigrants, the non-violent prisoners in our prisons, the people denied the vote because they were convicted of possessing marijuana or other non-toxic mind-expanding drugs;

And for the sins of allowing racist harassment of African Americans to continue in our society, and to covertly wink at policies enforced in a racist way (like Stop and Frisk policies);

For the sins of allowing fracking and other policies that destroy our environment;

And for the sins of allowing the exploitation and abuse of women’s bodies in rape, sexual harassment, advertising, international traffic in girls and women and much more;

For the sin of not demanding dramatic changes that are needed to save the planet and lessen the power of big money to shape our democratic process,

And for the sin of not becoming active in the campaigns for a Global Marshall Plan and/or for the ESRA—Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment so that our political system would no longer primarily serve 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 not vigorously opposing forms of globalization and U.S. trade agreements  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;

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 and not allowing ourselves to recognize the way we are directly entangled in and benefit from the global system that causes this global suffering;;

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, for the air and land to be polluted, and for poisons to be used in our foods;

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, the aging, both in the U.S. 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 or the Left;

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 blaming the entire Palestinian people for (inexcusable and murderous) acts of violence by a handful of terrorists—and then cutting off water, food, and access to medical care for more than one million people;

And for the sin of bulldozing Palestinian homes, killing Palestinian children, and torturing, assassinating, and oppressing the Palestinian people;

For the sins that Israel committed by creating the checkpoints that make travel an unbearable hassle for many Palestinians and by creating a separation wall that effectively grabs up more portions of Palestinian land;

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 teaching hatred about Palestinians and Muslims, and then claiming that it is only they who teach hatred;

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

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 insisting that there is no “moral equivalence” between the deaths of innocent Israeli civilians and the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians;

For the sin of buying goods produced in the Occupied Territories, thereby strengthening the hands of settlers whose communities exclude non-Jews and which sometimes act in violent or discriminatory ways toward Palestinians;

And for the sin of not supporting those Jews who stand up to critique the Occupation;

For the sin of thinking that all the problems in the Middle East (or anywhere in the world) are the fault of Jews or Israel without acknowledging the ways that Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have also acted in hurtful and destructive ways;

And for the sin of not approaching both the Jewish people and the Muslim people with a recognition of how they have both been victims who are still in need of empathy, compassion and support to recover from their PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

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, 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: www.spiritualprogressives.org. Read the Global Marshall Plan, The ESRA—Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Spiritual Covenant with America, all at www.spiritualprogressives.org

Composed by Rabbi Michael, rabbi and founder of Beyt Tikkun and editor, Tikkun magazine, for  Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls. If the kind of approach to Judaism represented in this prayer appeals to you, help us build it by subscribing to Tikkun at www.tikkun.org.