Why Do We Forgive? / Mechol LaAvonoteinu

What does it feel like to forgive someone, and what does it feel like to be forgiven? The theme of forgiveness reverberates throughout the Yom Kippur service. The section below is recited multiple times during the day, as a piece of the Amidah (prayer of silent devotion). Everything we have done wrong is like a cloud or a mist, obscuring something about our true selves, and we pray to have all our wrongdoing stripped away so that we can start over in the new year.

אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ. מְחֹל לַעֲו‍ֹנוֹתֵֽינוּ ...בְּיוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים הַזֶּה. מְחֵה וְהַעֲבֵר פְּשָׁעֵֽינוּ וְחַטֹּאתֵֽינוּ מִנֶּֽגֶד עֵינֶֽיךָ. כָּאָמוּר אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא מוֹחֶה פְשָׁעֶֽיךָ לְמַעֲנִי וְחַטֹּאתֶֽיךָ לֹא אֶזְכֹּר: וְנֶאֱמַר מָחִֽיתִי כָעָב פְּשָׁעֶֽיךָ וְכֶעָנָן חַטֹּאתֶֽיךָ שׁוּבָה אֵלַי כִּי גְאַלְתִּֽיךָ: וְנֶאֱמַר כִּי בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה תִּטְהָֽרוּ:

Our God and God of our ancestors, forgive our iniquities...on this Day of Atonement. Blot out and remove our transgressions and sins from before Your eyes, as it is said: “I, I [alone] am He Who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and your sins, I will not recall.” And it is said, “I have swept away like a thick cloud your transgressions, and like a mist your sins; return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” And it is said, “For on this day He will make atonement for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins, before Adonoy, you will be cleansed.”


  • This is a dramatic account of what forgiveness looks like: a totally clean slate, symbolized by the sweeping away of clouds. But forgiveness doesn't always work that way, because it can be hard to forget what came before. When do you think remembering what you did wrong might be important? How do you think having done something wrong in a relationship alters your connection to the other person, even when the mistake is forgiven?
  • This prayer draws on a sentence in the book of Isaiah (43:25), which says that God "blots out" our sins, for God's own sake. Sometimes we forgive because it is meaningful for us, even if the other person doesn't really deserve it. Can you think of a time in your life when you forgave for your own benefit? How might it sometimes help us to forgive others?
  • Clouds and mist are very evocative ways of speaking about sins. In this prayer, the things we do wrong build up and obscure something about ourselves. Does this analogy resonate with you? What image would you use to describe the effect of wrong doing on your own personality?