The strangest, most perplexing confessional prayer — and perhaps the most beautiful — comes immediately after Yom Kippur has ended.
Here’s the scene: we’ve spent a full day in fasting, prayer, introspection and confession. We’ve spent the days since Rosh Hashanah in self-examination and t’shuva, returning to our best selves and to God. We’ve recited s’lichot prayers, perhaps starting nearly 40 days ago when the holy month of Elul began. Moments ago we imagined the gates of heaven closing as the sun set. And as Yom Kippur ended, we heard one last blast of the shofar.
Those who stay to recite Ma’ariv — the evening prayer for the new day that has begun with the ending of Yom Kippur — will yet again say prayers for t’shuva and s’lichah, brief daily versions embedded in the bakashot section of the evening Amidah.
This is amazing. What could I have possibly done, between the end of Yom Kippur and the evening Amidah, that would require yet another confessional. According to the traditional metaphor, only moments ago the gates of heaven shut. I haven’t even left my seat. And we all confess again. It’s odd, perplexing and beautiful.
What does this confessional provide, the moment after the gates of heaven have shut, that the other confessionals don’t? It suggests a powerful idea: self-reflection and personal improvement are ongoing processes. This is an affirmation that, as long as I live, my cheshbon hanefesh — my accounting of my soul — is incomplete.
This odd little confessional also offers a reminder that although Yom Kippur is over, God continues to want and wait for us to repent and to return, even until the day of death. It’s also a reminder that some of my sins are hidden, even from me. It tells me that my life will always be a work in progress.
The confession of the post-Yom Kippur Ma’ariv Amidah reminds me of the beauty of my humanity. For me to become the man God intends, the work of t’shuva must always be an unbroken process.
So, I confess this: During that moment of prayer — the confession inside the Ma’ariv Amidah after Yom Kippur — I also chuckle just a bit. It does, each year, continue to feel silly after a full day of petition, penance and prayer in synagogue. Perhaps, then, this moment is also a reminder to bring some humor into our prayers, our lives, our relationship with each other and our relationship with God.
I stand before You this day
G-d of Old,
To offer my sins
As tribute to my humanity,
To offer my repentance
As tribute to my holiness.
Teach me to cast off these sins,
To make space for Your radiance and light,
To make space for my humanity and this holiness
To meet in the core of my being,
So that my soul may shine brighter.
So that the works of my hands
Will praise Your creation.
So that my life will be a blessing
In heaven and on earth.