The other day, I was mulling over the puzzle of the music of the ma'ariv service for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What puzzle? It's sweet, beautiful, and exactly the same for both nights. That's the puzzle! It is musically identical, but on these days that are so different from each other in their spiritual journeys, how can it be the same?
The thought then came to me that, of course, they are not the same. They have to say different things with the same words and music. But what are they saying?
On Rosh Hashanah, the music opens its arms wide and says, "Welcome home! Please, come in and make yourself comfortable. Stay a while. Let's catch up."
On Yom Kippur, the same sweet music sits down, takes our hands tenderly, looks us soberly in the eye, and says, "Wow. So much has happened since you've been home. Wanna talk?"
We are then launched into a series of prayers of confession and forgiveness seeking. So much has happened for each of us since we were last here, some of which we are not proud of. As the pivotal 5th step of the 12 Steps of recovery puts it, we now get the opportunity to stand together in communal anonymity and "admit to G8d, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." Not an easy thing to do.
We are fortunate to have a liturgy that spells out for us, in multiple alphabetic acrostics, lists of ways in which anyone may possibly have gone astray in the last year. The words are given to us, and we know which apply to us and which don't in the privacy of our own hearts. We ask for forgiveness repeatedly in a variety of ways - selicha, mechila, kappara - and hope that we may be granted a clean slate - kappara - for the year we are entering.
At this vulnerable moment let us remember that our liturgy tells us again and again, not just during these Days of Awe, but each day throughout the year, that G8d (whatever G8d may be to you) guarantees us forgiveness. We are taught that the loving Source of Blessing desires only that we turn again and again towards our True North if the winds (external or internal) have blown us astray - teshuva. Isn't that what we all hope for for ourselves, after all? It may take work, but we have already begun through this powerful act of honest speech.
It may be easier to imagine that G8d forgives us than it can be for us to forgive ourselves. There is a tradition of striking our hearts as we chant these confessional prayers. I have seen and adopted an alternative to this practice in the form a gentle massage over the heart. If this is a new idea to you, I invite you to give it a try and see how it feels.
May your journey through this day be deep, honest, and gentle.
Gemar chatimah tovah.