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New year, new Selichot

A Yom Kippur prayer for when prayer is not enough

Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, dibarnu dofi…rashanu, shichatnu, tiavnu, tainu, tiatanu.

We have abased, betrayed, cheated, disparaged…regressed, skewed, tormented, victimized, wandered.

Dear God,

Each year on Yom Kippur we recite this prayer to You, listing our sins in alphabetical order, begging and supplicating. We ask for forgiveness for all of our sins, those of which we are aware, and those of which we are unaware. We stand before you as serial sinners – with sins that can be alphabetized.

Each year I wonder whether You hear our prayers. Do You listen to the alphabetical list and wonder: How come they moved from bet to gimel so soon, when there are at least four more sins beginning with bet? Why do they bother to arrange their sins so neatly? Sins are disorderly, destructive, and chaotic.

Do you wonder in Your heart: “Why are they singing about their sins from such a remote distance, hiding behind a list, while true remorse requires digging down to the minutest details, crawling into the basement to root out evil and mediocrity? This list of selichot does not honestly or sufficiently speak to their sins.”

Dear God,

This year I do not want to pray for Your forgiveness. I’d rather gain it by the difficult path of Teshuva — repentance. Indeed, ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu….We are full of shame and disgrace. We are insolent, we are obstinate, we are full of vice, and it is time that we change our ways.

I have sinned this year, but my gravest sins were to my fellow human beings. When I pray, it is for Your forgiveness. But You taught us that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between people. Prayer is not enough. I must appease my fellow human beings and earn their atonement. For sins against You, it is in Your power to erase them all at once, for You are compassionate and gracious, and we are guaranteed that at the end of the day You will say: “I pardon, as you have asked.” But for sins committed against our fellow human beings we must repent for each one separately.

Dear People of Israel and the World,

We have sinned against you by hardening our hearts. Our hearts, which should have been wide open to everyone, open to listening, open to respecting, open to solidarity, were open instead only as wide as the eye of a needle. We did not hear, we did not sympathize, we did not respect. We closed our hearts to the suffering of others, did not make a place for their aspirations. We hardened our hearts. We changed the channel, instead of watching and listening.

Dear People of Israel and the World,

We have sinned against you with speech, by things that we said and by things that we did not have the courage to say. We did not speak to every person as befits one created in the image of God. We spoke words of racism, we spoke rudely, we spoke nonsense, and we spoke angrily and untruthfully. We locked ourselves behind walls, walls that close us to those who are other and different.

We refrained from speaking when we should have spoken. We did not criticize ourselves and our country in times that demanded and cried out for words – words about who we ought to be, words about our dreams and our core values.

Dear People of Israel and the World,

We have sinned against you by our strong hand. The hand, servant of the heart and the mind, overpowered its masters. A strong hand is a blessing, but it may also be a curse. The hand – the hero’s weapon – defended us. But we forgot that a hero is also he who overpowers his inclination and withdraws his hand. A hand is not just a weapon, but also a means of peace. A hand outstretched to the other, inviting him or her to walk together. Indeed, our hands were strong, but they were not used to embrace.

Dear God, our sins toward You were many, as well.

We have sinned against You through the desecration of Your name. You commanded us to sanctify Your name. You taught us that the commandment to love God is fulfilled when we cause Your name to be beloved. You taught that to walk in Your ways means to be aware of the way our actions are perceived and judged by others.

Yet we desecrated Your name. We tied Your name to xenophobia, to unbridled nationalism, to contempt for those who do not share our faith, to disrespect and intolerance, to arrogance, self-aggrandizement, self-love, and bloodshed.

Dear God, People of Israel and the World,

We have indeed sinned against you by these and more. But enough for today, enough for this year. For these I am ashamed and disgraced. Hear our voice, Lord our God. Do not pardon our iniquities and remove our transgressions from your sight. This year give us strength. Plant within us a perceptive heart, eyes which can see, and hands and legs which pursue Teshuva.

May it be Your will, that this year will be a year of Teshuva, a year of transformation, a year of growth, a year of health, a year of peace for us and the entire world.


Read and download Donniel Hartman’s new Selichot prayers in Hebrew.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is President of the Shalom Hartman Institute and author of Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis, and religious and lay leaders in Israel and North America. He is a prominent essayist, blogger and lecturer on issues of Israeli politics, policy, Judaism, and the Jewish community. He has a Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy from Hebrew University, an M.A in political philosophy from New York University, an M.A. in religion from Temple University, and Rabbinic ordination from the Shalom Hartman Institute.
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