As one of the signature prayers of the High Holy Day season, we come before God declaring: “Avinu Malenu, “Our Father our King – aseh imanu tzedakah vachesed, relate to us with justice and lovingkindness … ki ayn banu ma’asim, for we plead little merit.” The literal translation means “we have no good deeds to our credit.” What we do have – abundantly – are chataim – sins, misdeeds, failures, and regrets. And the consideration of our failings is, of course, a core feature of our High Holy Day season.
The Hebrew word, Viddui means “confession.” On Yom Kippur, we recite the Viddui, the public confession of sins, no fewer than three times, each appearance being an alphabetical acrostic that we all recite together. Aleph – Bet – Gimel – Dalet: “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, dibarnu dofi: We are guilty. We have betrayed. We have stolen. We have spoken falsehoods.”
The inspirational first chief rabbi of Israel, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, taught that just as there is great meaning and value which comes from the confession of sins, there might also be great meaning and value that comes from the confession of mitzvot – our positive deeds! Rav Kook wrote that the act of recalling our mitzvahs, “gladdens the heart and strengthens the holy paths of life!”
In the High Holiday Prayer Book recently published by the Reform Movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, a supplemental reading is included titled “Hakarat Ha-tov” – recalling the good and positive acts from the past year. It appears alongside the long listing of our misdeeds. But instead of “Al Chet She-chatanu – for the sin we have committed,” there also appears a recollection of our favorable deeds as well, based on Rav Kook’s innovation and inspiration.
“Let us affirm the good we have done,” the prayer begins. “Let us acknowledge our acts of healing and repair.” Every stanza begins “For the good we have done” and then continues with a lovely and affirming listing of mitzvot we have to our credit.
In this spirit, then, I’ve composed such a Vidui Mitzvot as an alphabetical acrostic in English for your consideration:
IN THE YEAR NOW PASSED:
We Advocated for justice.
We Brought comfort to the lonely.
We Cared for the infirm.
We Delivered good tidings.
We Elevated sacred times.
We Found our way.
We Gave to the needy.
We Helped lighten a burden.
We Ignored vicious gossip.
We Learned some Torah.
We Mounted an effort for a meaningful cause.
We Never gave in to despair.
We Overlooked another person’s flaws.
We Questioned our assumptions.
We Rebounded from letdowns.
We Sang at the top of our voice.
We Told stories of previous generations.
We Understood more than before.
We Valued the concerns of others.
We Worked to improve our world.
We eXemplified the good.
We Yearned for a better day.
We Zeroed in on what’s most important in our lives.
At this season, even as we recall our failings, our transgressions, the ways in which we missed the mark, I encourage us also to think of the good deeds, the kindnesses, generosity, compassion, and commitments; the ways in which we have truly lived up to our ideals. And then we might use the recollection of those occasions as inspiration to continue pursuing the path leading to our highest selves.
Rabbi David J. Meyer is senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead.