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Sermon for Yom Kippur 5780 (10/9/2019): The Vidui (Confessional)


Yom Kippur Sermon

We have transgressed, we have acted perfidiously, we have robbed, we have slandered. We have acted perversely and wickedly, we have willfully sinned, we have done violence, we have imputed falsely. We have given evil counsel, we have lied, we have scoffed, we have rebelled, we have provoked, we have been disobedient, we have committed iniquity, we have wantonly transgressed, we have oppressed, we have been obstinate. We have committed evil, we have acted perniciously, we have acted abominably, we have gone astray, we have led others astray. We have strayed from Your good precepts and ordinances, and it has not profited us. Indeed, You are just in all that has come upon us, for You have acted truthfully, and it is we who have acted wickedly.

We are all familiar with the Vidui, the confessional, that we chant on Yom Kippur. We are acknowledging all our sins. It is meant to encompass anything we can do just to make sure we are covering all the bases.

It is fitting that this week’s Torah portion is Ha’azinu, which is Moses’ last address to the Israelites. This is the generation born in the wilderness; a hearty people who will conquer the holy land and sanctify it to Hashem. They will be examples to the rest of the world how to act humanely to each other and all other peoples, with mercy and justice.

But Ha’azinu, like we Jews, is written is a very precarious pattern. The wording is in the form of two pillars. As such, there is no support. Although pillars are good to hold up buildings, any slight movement or push in any direction and they lose their footing and the building comes crashing down. Just ask Sampson the judge.

So it is with us, G-d’s chosen people. Hashem knows that when we’re at our best, we accomplish great things. When we forsake Torah, we bear the consequences, which can be severe. That’s part of being G-d’s chosen people: we’ve accepted the yoke of living righteous lives, so we’re held to a higher standard.

The Vidui keeps us on track. It also keeps us humble. How many of us have read this during Yom Kippur and said, “Oh, no, that’s not me”! Yes, it is. This is our arrogance.

It’s also our ego and our self-esteem. The two are very related. We grow up in a culture which at times can be very unforgiving. Many people are not understanding, and we make a mistake, we’ve vilified. That makes it very hard to admit our shortcomings.

But G-d knows. One of the main lessons of Torah is that even though we go through life putting our best efforts towards accomplishing things and growing and making our lives better, it is ultimately up to Hashem. And while our efforts certainly help us get to our goals, very much like rowing a boat, it ultimately up to G-d to arrange our lives so that we have more successes than failures, and that we are rowing our boat with the current.

Mitzvot and commandments are important. They keep us on track to do what is right, even when we don’t want to. That is the hardest part of observing the commandments.

G-d tells us to honor Him by loving our neighbor as ourselves, being honest in our business dealings, and showing mercy and justice to our fellows, even when we don’t want to. In this portion, G-d reminds us that “Vengeance is Mine”. We just go along with commandments and don’t mind what else happens.

That’s easier said than done. We always want to take vengeance, take revenge on those we believe have wronged us in some way. It’s our nature to want Justice and not wait for any karma. We want our retribution and we want it now!

Each year we remind ourselves how flawed we are. No, we’re not attacking our self-esteem and admitting that we’re just pitiful little creatures with no hope of redemption. Think of the Vidui as a starting point. It’s our once-per-year year-end review. We take stock of what we’ve done. Not who we are, what we’ve done. There’s a big difference there. We’re taking stock of our actions.

G-d knows we’re up to the task. That’s why He chose us to lead the way in this world. He wants us to show everyone how great our species can be and that when we set our minds to a task, when we evaluate what we do, we are always looking to do better. And we can.

May you all be sealed in the book of life for a healthy, prosperous and fulfilling year.

#YomKippurSermon #Vidui

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