During a conversation in my Sage-ing class about our responses to the Heschel piece that I wrote about last week, I had a realization that I think might deepen my experience of Yom Kippur. One of the repeated elements of our Yom Kippur liturgy is the vidui, the confessional prayer. We say it in each of the services on that day; it takes the form of an alphabetical acrostic of sins, recited in the plural. (Here's a good translation, with classical commentary, courtesy of Jonathan Baker.)
There's also a deathbed vidui, a confessional prayer said when one is dying. (The text of this traditional prayer is more personal than the vidui we recite on Yom Kippur, but both prayers are called a vidui, and they have themes in common.) Some who have encountered the experience of being with a loved one at the moment of death might link that vidui mentally and spiritually with the one we recite on Yom Kippur.
But Reb Nadya reminded us, in class, that the vidui is also part of the daily liturgy of the bedtime shema. (It's also part of the daily liturgy of penitential prayers called tachanun.) I wrote a little bit about the bedtime shema in a post about the angel song I sing sometimes to Drew; here's a solid introduction to the bedtime Shema at Chabad, and here's the text of the bedtime shema in English.
I think the vidui of Yom Kippur -- and for that matter the vidui before death -- would take on a different tone if we were accustomed to praying it (or something very like it) each night before going to sleep. If each night we tried to make teshuvah, to recognize where we've missed the mark and to release the karmic baggage of our own misdeeds and the misdeeds of others, then the work of making teshuvah during Elul and the Days of Awe would be an entirely different thing.
Here's the bedtime prayer of forgiveness which I keep at my bedside.
Bedtime Prayer of Forgiveness
You, My Eternal Friend,
Witness that I forgive anyone
who hurt or upset me or offended me -
damaging my body, my property,
my reputation or people that I love;
whether by accident or willfully,
carelessly or purposely,
with words, deeds, thought, or attitudes;
in this lifetime or another incarnation -
I forgive every person,
May no one be punished because of me.
Help me, Eternal Friend,
to keep from offending You and others.
Help me to be thoughtful
and not commit outrage,
by doing what is evil in Your eyes.
Whatever sins I have committed,
blot out please, in Your abundant kindness
and spare me suffering or harmful illnesses.
Hear the words of my mouth and
may the meditations of my heart
find acceptance before You, Eternal Friend
Who protects and frees me. Amen.
(Rendered from the Hebrew by R' Zalman Schachter-Shalomi; reprinted with permission of the Spiritual Eldering Institute.)
How might our experience of the Days of Awe (and our experience of going to sleep and waking each night and morning, for that matter) change if we tried to take on the practice of saying this prayer -- or something like it -- every night before sleep?