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Yom Kippur and Walking Together

A Hasidic tale. Rabbi Hayim of Tzanz used to tell this parable: A man, wandering lost in the forest for several days, finally encountered another. He called out: “Brother, show me the way out of the forest.” The man replied: “Brother, I am also lost. I can only tell you this: The ways I have tried lead nowhere; they have only led me astray. Take my hand, and let us search for the way together.” Rabbi Hayim would add: “So it is with us. When we go our separate ways, we may go astray. Let us join hands and look for the way together.”

On Yom Kippur we recount our sins. We examine our ways so that we might mend our wrongs and repair our mistakes. In fact the Hebrew word for sin, cheyt, is better translated as missing the mark. Sin implies that one is tainted by an action, that repair is nearly impossible. Missing the mark, however, suggests that repair is more a matter of getting back on the proper path. And how do we get back on that path? With the help of others.

This is why the Viddui, the confession of sins, is recited in the plural. We recite a litany of wrongs not because we believe that every one of us has done every one of these wrongs, but instead because we are strengthened by we. “For the sin we have committed…” We are lifted by the exclamation of “we.” We are weakened by I.

That is the power of Yom Kippur. We join with others in order that each of us might better repair our own individual lives.

Let us join hands and look for the way together.