This piece by Boulder’s Yonatan Malin appeared in The Forward on September 25, 2019.
The high holidays are a time of personal and communal reckoning. These are the sins we have committed, we recite. Before the beginning of Yom Kippur, even before Kol Nidrei, the prayer leader or shaliach tzibbur recites “with the consent of God … we allow ourselves to pray with transgressors.” We are in this together.
My rabbi in Middletown CT, Seth Haaz — now Senior Rabbi at Temple Zion in Penn Valley, PA — used to take the tradition of the fist thumping on the chest with each phrase of the viddui — the confessional — and suggest adding a gentle circular motion. It is not about punishing ourselves, he would say, it is about realizing our mistakes, softening our hearts, and changing course.
If nothing else, Yom Kippur is about realizing the consequences of our actions. What we do, what we say, and how we act in the world matters.