Personally Connecting to Ashamnu

Ashamnu "on one foot":

Ashamnu is an alphabetical confession of communal transgressions that we say during the Yom Kippur Amidah. Sometimes it's called the Vidui. Some people recite it right before they die and/or before they go to sleep (just in case). We hit our hearts for each word. The prayer first appeared in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon in the 9th century CE.

אָשַֽׁמְנוּ. בָּגַֽדְנוּ. גָּזַֽלְנוּ. דִּבַּֽרְנוּ דֹּֽפִי.

הֶעֱוִֽינוּ. וְהִרְשַֽׁעְנוּ. זַֽדְנוּ. חָמַֽסְנוּ. טָפַֽלְנוּ שֶֽׁקֶר.

יָעַֽצְנוּ רָע. כִּזַּֽבְנוּ. לַֽצְנוּ. מָרַֽדְנוּ. נִאַֽצְנוּ. סָרַֽרְנוּ. עָוִֽינוּ. פָּשַֽׁעְנוּ. צָרַֽרְנוּ. קִשִּֽׁינוּ עֹֽרֶף.

רָשַֽׁעְנוּ. שִׁחַֽתְנוּ. תִּעַֽבְנוּ. תָּעִֽינוּ. תִּעְתָּֽעְנוּ:

We have trespassed [against God and man];

We have betrayed [God and man];

We have stolen;

We have slandered.

We have caused others to sin;

We have caused others to commit sins for which they are called רְשָׁעִים, wicked;

We have sinned with malicious intent;

We have forcibly taken others' possessions even though we paid for them;

We have added falsehood upon falsehood; We have joined with evil individuals or groups;

We have given harmful advice;

We have deceived; we have mocked;

We have rebelled against God and the Torah;

We have caused God to be angry with us;

We have turned away from God's Torah;

We have sinned deliberately;

We have been negligent in our performance of the commandments;

We have caused our friends grief;

We have been stiff-necked, refusing to admit that our suffering is caused by our own sins.

We have committed sins for which we are called רָשָׁע, [raising a hand to hit someone].

We have committed sins which are the result of moral corruption;

We have committed sins which the Torah refers to as abominations;

We have gone astray;

We have led others astray.

A Second Translation

We abuse, we betray, we are cruel, we destroy, we embitter, we falsify, we gossip, we hate, we insult, we jeer, we kill, we lie, we mock, we neglect, we oppress, we pervert, we quarrel, we rebel, we steal, we transgress, we are unkind, we are violent, we are wicked, we are xenophobic, we yearn to do evil, we are zealous for bad causes.

This is the prayer "Ashamnu", so called because the first word is "Ashamnu".

​​​​​​​1. Why might we be saying our transgressions out loud instead of just thinking them?

2. Why might it be in alphabetical order?

3. Each of the alphabetical words ends in "nu", here meaning "we". If each person is saying this, why might the words end in "we"?

4. Why might we hit our hearts for each alphabetical word?

5. Translators walk a balancing line. The first translation gets at the literal meaning of the words. The second translation gets at the general idea but preserves the alphabetical nature. Do you have a preference between these versions?

אָהַבְנוּ, בֵּרַכְנוּ, גָּדַלְנוּ, דְּבַּרְנוּ יֹפִי

הֶעֱלִינוּ, וְחַסְנוּ, זֵרַזְנוּ

חָמַלְנוּ, טִפַּחְנוּ אֱמֶת

יָעַצְנוּ טוֹב, כִּבַּדְנוּ, לָמַדְנוּ, מָחַלְנוּ

נִחַמְנוּ, סָלַלְנוּ, עוֹרַרְנוּ

פָּעַלְנוּ, צָדַקְנוּ, קִוִּינוּ לָאָרֶץ

רִחַמְנוּ, שָקַדְנוּ

תָּמַכְנוּ, תָּרַמְנוּ, תִּקַּנּוּ

A Positive Vidui, by Rabbi Avi Weiss

We have loved, we have blessed, we have grown, we have spoken positively.

We have raised up, we have shown compassion, we have acted enthusiastically,

We have been empathetic, we have cultivated truth,

We have given good advice, we have respected, we have learned, we have forgiven,

We have comforted, we have been creative, we have stirred,

We have been spiritual activists, we have been just, we have longed for Israel,

We have been merciful, we have given full effort,

We have supported, we have contributed, we have repaired.

Context: Rabbi Avi Weiss is a major figure on the left end of Orthodox Judaism. Among other things, he founded Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) in 1999. This is his take on an accompanying text for the traditional Ashamnu.

What is your reaction to the idea of reciting the things that we did right as a community alongside the things we did wrong?

The Evolution of Ashamnu (per Entering the High Holidays, by Reuven Hammer, p. 134-138)

According to the Torah (Lev. 5:5 and Num. 5:7), one should verbally confess what one does wrong. By the time of the Mishnah, the custom developed that not only should the High Priest make confession on everybody’s behalf (Yoma 6:2), but each person should verbally confess their wrong-doings the afternoon right before Yom Kippur, so that one went into Yom Kippur with a clean slate (Tosefta Yoma 4:13). This is still done today, in the Mincha Amidah before Yom Kippur, though it is not repeated by the leader. From there, the custom evolved to also confess one’s wrong-doings during the 5 Amidahs on Yom Kippur, both in the personal prayer and then in the communal repetition (Arvit, Shacharit, Musaf, Mincha, and Neila). There was no standard text in the time of the Gemara (Yoma 87b:5-7). During the time of the Geonim (589-1038), two versions of “confession” solidified, both alphabetical acrostics. One was longer and became known as “Al Chet”, and the other was shorter and became “Ashamnu” (that one borrowed from Daniel 9:5). When Rav Amram Gaon included Ashamnu in his first siddur in the 800s, that spread it from Baghdad to Spain and helped solidify it as an “official” piece of liturgy. By the time of the Machzor Vitry (1340), we had basically the same text for Ashamnu that we use today.

Why is the tune cheery?

Ashamnu’s tune is considered a “MiSinai tune”, so old that it’s as if it came down with Moses on Mt. Sinai (though in reality they are from the 1100s-1400s in the Rhineland). Because it is so old, it predates minor music (which dates to the 1500s).

Why Is It Alphabetical?

The Ashamnu prayer in the HHD liturgy is sometimes seen as a comprehensive list of sins, stated in the first person plural, so that ALL sins will be covered (with the whole community taking responsibility for individuals and joining with them in teshuvah). This is like how the alphabetical acrostic nature of most of Eicha can be seen as a way of describing the totality and comprehensiveness of the destruction and consequent mourning. Additionally, being alphabetical makes it easier to remember, particularly at a time before the printing press when all written copies of texts had to be done by hand (and thus were rare and expensive).

Why Do We Hit Our Hearts?

וְלָמָּה כּוֹתְשִׁין עַל הַלֵּב, מֵימַר דְּכֹלָּה תַּמָּן.

Why do they pound their hearts? It is to say that everything is there.

Context: This is from a book of midrash, Rabbinic interpretation, on the Book of Kohelet / Ecclesiastes. Another explanation for hitting our hearts comes from Song of Songs 5:2, where it says “My heart awakens: it is my beloved, knocking on it”. Given that Song of Songs is seen as an allegory for G-d’s love of the Jewish people (which is how the X-rated book made it into the Bible at all), this suggests that G-d wants our hearts to open in order to return to the proper path of behavior. A third explanation is that hitting our hearts is a bit like self-flagellation, showing how truly repentant we are.

Which explanation works best for you?

Why Do all the Words End with “nu”?

"Our Sins? They're Not All Mine!" by Rabbi David Teutsch, PhD

From We Have Sinned, Ed. Lawrence Hoffman, pp. 134-138

Jewish tradition holds that reconciliation with God must be preceded by reconciliation with other people. The month of Elul and the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are designated as a time to accomplish that task, which requires not only apology but also a concerted effort to repair the damage to others that has resulted from the transgressions. Yom Kippur focuses on the relationships between people and God. If the confession is the individual's effort to return to God, why does it repeatedly say "we" rather than "I"? There are several answers to this question, and they are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes, sins are not simply between one person and another; they entail complicity across an entire community. A communal confession allows for the possibility that any single wrong may well have occurred in part because of invisible sins of silence when tochecha [rebuke] should have been offered.

Another function of communal confession is its emphatic statement of behaviors the community considers unacceptable. We can understand this as a general form of admonition, by which the community proclaims its expectations to its members. "We" affirm the standards of our community together.

Confession of Sins - Moments of Transcendence, ed. Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

The two prayers Ashamnu and Al Chet constitute the Jewish confession. You will observe that each of these confessional prayers is followed by prayers in which we seek forgiveness.

Atonement is more than a wish for forgiveness; it is the desire to be at-one with God. To be at-one with God implies a desire to “bend our will to God, to observe God's precepts and to revere God's law in truth!”

Confessions in Judaism, you will notice, are always in the plural: “We have sinned, we have transgressed,” etc. They are always meant to be said by the entire congregation, even by those individuals who feel that they themselves have not been guilty of the sins enumerated.

The reasons for the use of the plural and the recitations of the confessions by the entire congregation are manifold. When one Jew sins, it is as though all Jews have sinned. This is in accordance with the principle that all Jews are responsible for one another. The confessional prayers for the High Holidays are constructed to intensify our feelings of responsibility for one another.

When an individual Jew celebrates, the whole community rejoices; when he weeps, the community shares his grief with him; when he sins, the whole community shares his sin.

The group recitation of the confessional is intended to remind us that the failure of the individual is very often the result of the shortcomings of the society or community in which one lives.

According to Judaism, the individual and the group make their confessions directly to God. There are no “priests” in the synagogue. The whole house of Israel is looked upon as a kingdom of priests and each Jew can turn directly to God without the assistance of an intermediary.

Ashamnu - The Recitation of Sins (Yom Kippur Liturgy)

Ashamnu– we have trespassed; Bagadnu– we have dealt treacherously; Gazalnu– we have robbed; Dibarnu dofi– we have spoken slander; He’evinu–we have acted perversely; V’hirshanu– we have done wrong; Zadnu– we have acted presumptuously; Hamasnu– we have done violence; Tafalnu sheker– we have practiced deceit; Yaatsnu ra– we have counseled evil; Kizavnu– we have spoken falsehood; Latsnu– we have scoffed; Maradnu– we have revolted; Niatsnu– we have blasphemed; Sararnu– we have rebelled; Avinu– we have committed iniquity; Pashanu– we have transgressed; Tsararnu– we have oppressed; Kishinu oref– we have been stiff necked; Rashanu– we have acted wickedly; Shichatnu– we have dealt corruptly; Tiavnu– we have committed abomination; Tainu– we have gone astray; Titanu– we have led others astray.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement (1972)

Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (1996)

“...morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:

[Hillel also] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?

How do these texts shed light on the question of why Ashamnu is worded in collective wrongdoing?

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

עֲבֵרוֹת שֶׁבֵּין אָדָם לַמָּקוֹם, יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר. עֲבֵרוֹת שֶׁבֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, אֵין יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר, עַד שֶׁיְּרַצֶּה אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ.

For transgressions between man and God Yom HaKippurim effects atonement, but for transgressions between man and his fellow Yom HaKippurim does not effect atonement, until he has pacified his fellow.

Context: This is from the Mishnah, Masechet (Tractate) Yoma, which is about Yom Kippur. In Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, he has a whole section dealing with repentance. In Chapter 2 of that section he says that in order to sincerely repent, one must admit that one did something wrong and then resolve sincerely in their heart to act differently. The true test of repentance is when you are in the same situation and make a different choice. Once you have repented of your actions, then you can seek forgiveness from whomever you have hurt. It is incumbent upon you to try to seek forgiveness 3 times, bringing friends along if necessary. If after 3 times the person still won’t forgive you, then at that point they are seen as the guilty one.

One more thought about this is that when you let somebody bug you, you are letting them live in your head rent-free.

Have you ever successfully sought or given forgiveness?

Dealing with Ashamnu When You have a Critical Parent

The idea of "cheit", which is usually translated as "sin", actually is an archery term that means "missing the mark". Judaism assumes that people are inherently good, and that people miss the mark on what they were trying to do.

It may help to shift your thinking from G-d being like your personal parent to G-d being like the parent you are or a parent that you know whom you admire. When your child messes up, you want them to do better next time and you still love them regardless. If you think of G-d in that fashion, then you may find that it works better for you.

Other things that might work for you include the idea that Judaism (and G-d) assumes we're going to mess up, simply because we're human. Judaism also has the idea of repentance, of admitting that we messed up, resolving to do better, and then making a different choice when we are in that position. If Judaism (and G-d) thought that we were lost causes, there wouldn't be the idea of repentance.

A third thought is the story of the Hasidic rabbi, Reb Zusya. When he was dying, he seemed very nervous. His students asked him why and he said "I'm not worried that G-d will ask why I wasn't more like Moses, because I'm not Moses. I'm not worried that G-d will ask why I wasn't more like Abraham, because I'm not Abraham. I'm worried that G-d will ask why I wasn't more like Zusya". Under this story, G-d doesn't want you to measure up to some unattainable version of perfection. Instead, G-d wants you to measure up to your best self, which includes all your imperfections.

A fourth thought is that while nobody knows what happens after we die (because nobody has been dead for a long time and then come back and told us what happens, so it's all conjecture), one thought is that our wrong choices are weighed against our right choices. Therefore, while our poor choices need to be acknowledged and wrestled with, our positive choices need to be acknowledged also. Here's a "positive Ashamnu" to go along with the Yom Kippur prayer where we say what we did wrong:

Finally, if any prayers just aren't working for you this year, you don't have to say them, and in fact you can find something else in the prayer book to read instead during that time.

Musical Versions of Ashamnu

How do these versions make you feel?

This is the traditional “MiSinai” tune, done a little faster than usual.

This is a kids’ version of Ashamnu, from singer-songwriter Eliana Light (from 2016).

This is a common variation on the traditional tune. It works well for choirs.

This is the traditional tune, with a guitar and lots of harmony.

This is from “Shabbatish”, a synagogue band at Temple Sholom of Cincinnati. It’s their take on Ashamnu.

This is a Sephardic version of Ashamnu.

Unclear if this is an original composition for Ashamnu or a tune from somewhere in the Jewish world.

With appreciation to Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi Debra Rappaport, Rachel Kasten, Rabbi Adrienne Rubin, Sydney Danziger, Rabbi Lenette Herzog, David M. Rosenberg, Melissa Buyer-Witman, Rabbi Eli Freedman, Rabbi Rebeccah Yussman,

Appendix A: A Meditation on Each Word

Viddui/Ashamnu Meditations

by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Vidui / Ashamnu Meditations, by Rabbi Debra Orenstein, abridged

Ten times during Yom Kippur, we recite the confessional (in Hebrew, Viddui, sometimes also called the Ashamnu prayer). In this familiar acrostic, the first letter of each sin named corresponds to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with the final letter of the alphabet repeated, for a total of 23 sins. It’s as if to say, “God, we know our shortcomings run from a to z.; please forgive us.” The Ashamnu, together with the Al Chet (a longer recitation of sins), gives us common wording, spoken repeatedly in community. We list our sins in the plural because we pray corporately, taking responsibility for the society we have jointly created, and supporting our fellows and comrades. Using the plural insures that no one is embarrassed by being singled out. The repetition insures that no one is able to ignore the call or retreat into denial. Ten times over, the liturgy asks us to consider: how does each of these sins apply in my life?

Rabbi Max Artz wrote of the Viddui: “These confessions are prompted by the belief that sin distorts and diminishes the divine image in which man was created.” Over the course of Elul and the Days of Awe, may the words of the prayers resonate in your heart, call to your awareness what needs to be healed, and inspire you to make positive changes. Let the divinity in you that is now encumbered be released, in all its glory.

Ashamnu is often translated as “We are guilty.” That translation may be misleading, because “guilt” for American Jews can signify an over-weaning or inappropriate sense of responsibility. Worse yet, guilt can be understood as “that which others unfairly ascribe to you, as a manipulation.” Ashamnu means “we are culpable.” We have, indeed, done wrong this year. Let’s not shy away from that or excuse it too readily. If we are to heal our wrongs, first we have to acknowledge them.

Bagadnu means we have betrayed. The word for garment or robe has the same root – b.g.d. The noun and the verb have the idea in common of covering – covering our bodies with clothing, or covering our true intentions and hence acting treacherously. How have you been disloyal – and to whom – by covering things over this year?

Gazalnu means we have robbed. The root can mean to rob, seize or tear away. Poignantly, in Job 24:9, g.z.l. is used to describe tearing away an orphan child from the breast. Ask yourself, how can I replace, restore, mend?

Dofi means blemish or fault. Dibarnu Dofi means “we have spoken slander,” but with the implication that we are looking to find fault and perhaps even relishing the blemishes of others. Even if the blemish or fault we observe in someone is real, we are guilty of lashon hara (harmful speech and gossip) when we speak about it to others. Blemishes must be met with understanding or, occasionally, with loving, private rebuke to the person in question– not with shame or advertising.

He’evinu comes from the root a.v.n. meaning trouble, sorrow, or suffering, as well as sin, wickedness, or idolatry. This verb is in the causative form: we have caused avon. Sometimes, it is translated as “we have acted perversely” or “we have caused perversion,” because of the deliberate nature of avon. Ish avon in the Bible is a trouble-maker or noxious person.

Vehirshanu The Hebrew word ra is usually translated as evil or wickedness, but it can also mean harm. This verb is the causative form, meaning “we have caused evil and/or harm.” How have I caused harm this year – by omission and commission, willfully and accidentally, to those close to me and to strangers?

Zadnu means to behave arrogantly, proudly, or presumptuously. It comes from a root which also means to boil or to seethe. We think, in English metaphors, of seething or boiling over with anger, but in the biblical image we seethe or boil over with pride, which may lead to anger. What is boiling up inside me?

Chamasnu means “we have been violent.” It can refer to physical violence or to ethical wrongs we commit. Zephaniah 3:4 talks about doing violence to the Torah, in a spiritual sense. Are there people or values have I done violence to during this past year — in deed, in word, and in thought?

Tafalnu sheker means “we have smeared with lies” (see Psalms 119:69). The root t.f.l. can mean to smear or plaster over. So we are alluding to lies that don’t just contradict the truth, but attempt to cover up or smother it. What lies beneath the lies I have told this year?

Ya’atznu ra means “we have counseled/advised evil/harm.” We may have given harmful advice, intentionally or unintentionally. We may have egged someone on, reinforcing their worst instincts. What does my inner Counselor say? And what is your good counsel about my evil counsel?

Kizavnu means “we lied” or “we were false.” Its most famous use in the Bible is in Psalms 116:11: kol ha’adam kozev, everyone is false. The literal translation of that verse is: the whole person is false. Most of us don’t lie on the witness stand or perpetrate other heinous falsehoods. Nevertheless, there is a way in which, for each of us, our whole personhood is false. So often, we are simply fake. We try to please people by saying what we think they want to hear. In the name of protecting ourselves, we fail to be true to ourselves or fully honest with others. It’s time to admit that this “protection” is hurting more than helping. Most people see through our masks anyway. God knows all. Falsehood wears on the soul. That may be why the noun form of the root k.z.v. means disappointing, as well as deceptive. The reflexive verbal form also means to disappoint. Truth is God’s seal – and a better way. How might I be more true?

Latznu means we have scorned or mocked. Proverbs 9:12 teaches: “If you scorn, you alone shall bear it.” By mocking, we intend to diminish the object of our scorn. We may (sadly) achieve that, but we certainly diminish ourselves.

Maradnu means “we have rebelled.” In the Bible, it refers both to political rebellion and to rebellion against God. Job talks about mordei ohr, those who rebel against the light (24:13). That is a fair description of most of us, at one time or another. Just as our ancestors were afraid to be present at Mt. Sinai, we resist basking in God’s light and Presence. Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have rebelled against rightful authority.” Pause and notice what comes immediately to mind. Make a note about it. Then write, “I have resisted the Light.” Again, notice what immediately comes to mind and record it. You have planted a seed with this meditation, and it will bear good fruit.

Niatznu means “we have spurned or shown contempt.” When we spurn or show contempt for what is holy, we lack the strength to bring forth our dreams and birth a better world. Having made it through one more year, we are the remnant who are left. Let us spend our time and energy in gratitude, not in contempt.

Sararnu, like maradnu, can be translated, “we have rebelled,” but m.r.d. refers more to the act of rebelling, while s.r.r. connotes the quality of being rebellious and stubborn. Consider what stubbornness has cost you. Sit quietly and see if you can be flexible with your stubbornness. Can you be patient with it? Stubbornly attacking your stubbornness will not heal it . Awareness, action, and forgiveness will.

Avinu In the Bible, the word avon refers to three things: iniquity, guilt for iniquity, and punishment for iniquity. The illusion or miscalculation of the sinner in the crucial moment of choice is that s/he can derive immediate gratification from the sin, but avoid guilt and punishment, or postpone them indefinitely. It is built into Biblical Hebrew that iniquity cannot be separated from its consequences.
Pashanu means “we have transgressed,” and it implies a serious transgression. In modern Hebrew, one translation is “felony.” Like avon, pesha refers not just to the sin itself, but to the guilt or punishment that follows from it. Pesha can even refer to a sacrifice made in atonement for a transgression, letting us know that repentance is intimately tied up with sin, and that sin holds the seed of repentance in it. On a blank page in the notebook write: “Repentance is embedded in even the worst of my sins.” Take a few moments to list some of your many options with regard to teshuvah. In what ways is repentance accessible and available to you?

Tzararnu The noun tzar means “adversary” and the verb tzarar means “to treat like an adversary”: specifically, to oppress, vex, show hostility to, compete with, or be sharp to. On a blank page in the notebook write: “How do I treat others, myself, and God as adversaries?” Sit with the question, and give some time and thought to all three parties. Take a few moments to remember times when you treated others, yourself, and God as allies and friends. What can you do today to be a better friend and ally? May your intentions bear good fruit.

Kishinu oref literally means “we have stiffened our necks.” Figuratively, it means we have been inflexible and stubborn. On a blank page in the notebook write: “How am I rigid and stubborn, particularly in persisting with bad acts or destructive thoughts?” Take a few moments to consider if there is any way your inflexibility can serve a positive purpose. Could you be stubborn and inflexible about your own teshuvah, for example? May even your negative qualities be mobilized to serve your highest good. And may your awareness yield supple fruit.

Rashanu means “we have done evil” or “we have done harm.” Wickedness is by its nature destructive. In this sense, there are no victimless sins. “How have I done evil or harm?” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Close your eyes and relax. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. Breathe deeply through any defensiveness or pain. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the question you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Is there any repair you can make? Is there anyone of whom you need to ask forgiveness? If you are unsure or skeptical, is there anyone who might advise you about what you could do to heal any harm you have caused or to help an offended party feel whole? Take the appropriate steps to ensure that this meditation bears good fruit.

Shichatnu In this causative form, the root s.h.t. means to ruin, destroy, spoil, corrupt or pervert. Proverbs 6:32 is a prime example: “Whoever commits adultery lacks understanding (chasar lev). Anyone who does so perverts/corrupts/destroys his soul.” “What understanding or heart knowledge am I lacking (chasar lev) that could prevent me from ruining, destroying, spoiling, corrupting, perverting? What do I need to know?” What do you know now, in this moment – from this meditation or from before – that can help you reverse and heal destructive patterns?

Ta’ainu means “we have erred” or “we have wandered.” When Hagar wanders in the desert, physically and spiritually lost, this is the Hebrew root that describes her movement (Genesis 21:14). In what regards have you lost your way? Take a few moments to consider being lost and being found – here and now. As you move and walk today, imagine that every step you take is helping you move spiritually in the direction you need to go. Baruch ata Adonai eloheynu melech ha’olam hamechin mitzadei gaver. Blessed are you, God, Ruler of the universe, who guides our steps.

Titanu is a causative of the same root as ta’inu, and it means “we have caused (or led) others to go astray.” Just as someone who prompts others to give tzedakah is considered even more praiseworthy than someone who simply gives, anyone who causes others to sin is more culpable than someone who strays on his or her own. “To whom am I a teacher and example?”

May your awareness and intentions bear good fruit.

Appendix B: A Contemporary Take

The Ashamnu is an alphabetical acrostic of different sins we have committed. It is said in first-person plural, because while each individual may not have committed these specific sins, as a community we surely have, and our fates are intertwined on this day. There are many modern interpretations of Ashamnu - this one is entitled "An Ashamnu for the Mindset of Privilege" from Fringes: A Feminist Havurah

We have abandoned, we have appropriated, we have analyzed, we have arbitrated
We’ve belittled, we have broken faith, we have turned our backs, we have believed the unbelievable

We have grown numb, we’ve given too little, we’ve given too late, we have given up
We have denied, we have distorted, we have hesitated, we have held our tongues

We have victim-blamed, we have zoned out, we have chided, we have chastised
We have taken, we have turned away, we have yielded, we have yet to act

We have kept to ourselves, we’ve been complicit, we have laughed off, we have relied on the law,
We’ve made excuses, we have minimized, we’ve made light of, we have mocked

We have not noticed, we have neglected, we have negated, we have sent our regrets
We’ve averted our eyes, we have forsaken, we have pitied, we’ve failed to imagine new possibilities

We have explained, we’ve criticized, we have rationalized, we’ve refused responsibility
We’ve shamed the innocent, we have silenced, we have suppressed, we have failed to support

We have talked, we have talked, we have talked, but we have not listened
We have not sought the truth, we’ve theorized, we have told ourselves lies, and we have believed them

Appendix C: An Environmental Ashamnu

By: Leah Palmer

The “ashamnu” prayer from the Ashkenazic Yom Kippur service is once of the most iconic moments of the High Holiday prayers. The congregation stands in silence, beating their chests in regret for a list of sins which appear in the book in front of them. A list canonized several centuries ago. A list containing a number of words I’d need to look up in a dictionary- which themselves are a translation of Hebrew words normally considered to be synonyms of each other.

Many a rabbi has explained that even if you personally have not committed each of these sins (personally, I’ve not spent a lot of time trespassing this last year, but that’s just me), we are repenting for the Jewish people as a whole. Whilst this is a nice explanation, I know that I’m far from perfect, and would like to spend some time on Yom Kippur repenting for the things that I actually have done.

Whilst reading this prayer in preparation of Yom Kippur I was surprised to find myself relating line after line to by regrets over my poor stewardship of the environment, so I started keeping track of these ideas alongside the original prayer. I’ve printed this out and have tucked it in my Machzor for Yom Kippur in the hope that it will make this part of the service more meaningful for me. If you connect to these ideas, I invite you to do the same.

(Thank you to The Metsudah Machzor, via Sefaria, for the Hebrew and transliterated text).



We have sinned against man and God, we have trespassed onto land which is not rightfully ours and stolen from it its beauty and its goodness.



We have betrayed God and man by not recognizing the good in the natural world and the need to preserve its grandeur, instead destroying it as if only we are of importance. We have actively destroyed His creations by driving thousands of species of animals, insects and plants to extinction every single week. If we could just stop this devastation this week, and not next week, the life salvaged would be immeasurable. And yet we continue with no end to the destruction in sight.

גָּזַֽלְנוּ. דִּבַּֽרְנוּ דֹּֽפִי.


We have stolen from future generations by devouring resources that will never be restored. And we have slandered those that accused us of this. We know that no generation after us will allow themselves to consume resources in the way that we do, or to produce waste on the scale that we do, and yet we continue to do so without any thought. Not because we are more deserving than they are, but because we less directly suffer the consequences of our behavior than they will.



We have caused others to sin by creating a warped societal norm where unsustainable consumer habits are the only acceptable option, and not sufficiently supporting those trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.



We have caused others to commit sins for which they are called רְשָׁעִים, wicked, by drawing arbitrary lines between acceptable consumption of resources and gluttony. We must realize that we are in fact on the wrong side of a very real line.



We have sinned with malicious intent, knowing that what we were doing was wrong, but pretending not to know, acting as if we are too busy to care, having the arrogance to think that our Western wealth will protect us from the consequences of our actions.



We have forcibly taken others’ possessions through extortion, unfair trade and labor practices and through child labor. We have not been conscious enough of buying only ethically sourced products and not given the time to take a stand about corporations with such practices.

טָפַֽלְנוּ שֶֽׁקֶר.

tah-fahl-noo sheh-kehr

We have added falsehood upon falsehood to justify ourselves; We have joined with evil individuals or groups as they make claims that we know not to be true. We have not been sufficiently vocal in our support of those speaking the truth about climate change and the human impact on our planet.

יָעַֽצְנוּ רָע.

ya’atznoo rah

We have given harmful advice by advising friends and family to act in our best interests but against the interests of mankind as a whole by protecting our planet from additional damage.

כִּזַּֽבְנוּ. לַֽצְנוּ.

kee-zahv-noo lahtz-noo

We have deceived others by making greening pledges and not keeping to them; we have mocked others who have kept to them, or committed to actions that we consider too extreme, whilst internally knowing that they are doing the right thing.



We have rebelled against God by not being the Stewards of the earth that we were commanded to be. We have actively destroyed sites of natural beauty and some of our planet’s most awe-inspiring sights.



We have caused God to be angry with us by showing disrespect for His creations, by causing a loss of biodiversity and feeling no remorse at the destruction of animal habitats for the convenience of an urban planner.



We have turned away from God’s commands to be mindful and not destructive, we have not used His teachings to lift ourselves about the rat race of 21st century living.



We have sinned deliberately by refusing to walk gently on the earth, we have chosen the easy option when we know that the right thing to do is harder, and later claimed that we didn’t even believe it to be possible.



We have been negligent in our performance of our responsibilities as a developed nation to help other nations develop in a sustainable way, whilst curbing our own emissions.



We have caused mankind grief due to extreme weather destroying their homes and possessions. And we have lacked conviction in our claims that the weather is influenced by man.

קִשִּֽׁינוּ עֹֽרֶף.

kee-shee-noo oh-rehff

We have been stiff-necked, refusing to admit that our suffering is caused by our own sins despite that all the evidence we could ask for leads us to this conclusion.



We have committed sins for which we are called רָשָׁע, wicked, as our actions directly cause other people and animals pain. We consume meat without considering the cost beyond the dollars we shell out at the grocery store.



We have committed sins which are the result of moral corruption. We have elected leaders who voice views on climate change are reversing previous progress which we ourselves worked hard for, just because their other policies benefit us in the short term.



We have given in to our most basic desires, ignoring the knowledge that certain foods and lifestyle choices are simply unethical.



We have gone off the path which we ourselves believe in, unable to keep to what we promised ourselves that we would do.



We had the chance to influence others for better this year, but we missed that opportunity by not being the personal example we could have been.

Appendix D: Clothing as Betrayal


"Rabbi Meir said: Do not look at the vessel, but rather at what it contains; there may be a new vessel filled with aged wine, or an old vessel in which there is not even new [wine]." (Avot 4:20)

Clearly, the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), and later the Mikdash (the Temple), were exceptions to this. Their emphasis was on the visual, and a key example is the Priests’ and High Priest’s sacred vestments, bigdei kodesh.
This is very unexpected. The Hebrew for “garment,” b-g-d, also means “betrayal,” as in the confession we say on penitential days: Ashamnu bagadnu, “We have been guilty, we have betrayed.” Throughout Genesis, whenever a garment is a key element in the story, it involves some deception or betrayal.

There were the coverings of fig leaves Adam and Eve made for themselves after eating the forbidden fruit. Jacob wore Esau’s clothes when he took his blessing by deceit. Tamar wore the clothes of a prostitute to deceive Judah into lying with her. The brothers used Joseph’s bloodstained cloak to deceive their father into thinking he had been killed by a wild animal. Potiphar’s wife used the cloak Joseph had left behind as evidence for her false claim that he had tried to rape her. Joseph himself took advantage of his Viceroy’s clothing to conceal his identity from his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food. So it is exceptionally unusual that the Torah should now concern itself in a positive way with clothes, garments, vestments.

Clothes have to do with surface, not depth; with the outward, not the inward; with appearance rather than reality.

The vestments of the officiants and the Sanctuary/Temple itself were to have the glory and splendour that induced awe, rather as Rainer Maria Rilke put it in the Duino Elegies: “ For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure.” The purpose of the emphasis on the visual elements of the Mishkan, and the grand vestments of those who ministered there, was to create an atmosphere of reverence because they pointed to a beauty and splendour beyond themselves, namely God Himself.

Thus there is a place for aesthetics and the visual in the life of the spirit. In modern times, Rav Kook in particular looked forward to a renewal of Jewish art in the reborn land of Israel. He himself, as I have written elsewhere, loved Rembrandt’s paintings, and said that they represented the light of the first day of creation. He was also supportive, if guardedly so, of the Bezalel Academy of Art, one of the first signs of this renewal.
Hiddur mitzvah – bringing beauty to the fulfilment of a command – goes all the way back to the Mishkan. The great difference between ancient Israel and ancient Greece is that the Greeks believed in the holiness of beauty whereas Judaism spoke of hadrat kodesh, the beauty of holiness.

I believe that beauty has power, and in Judaism it has always had a spiritual purpose: to make us aware of the universe as a work of art, testifying to the supreme Artist, God Himself

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks