Acknowledging the Good

Originally published in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Every year during the High Holidays, Jews recite a litany of ways we have fallen short, in a confessional prayer, known as viddui, that is a centerpiece of our Yom Kippur liturgy.

This year, we will again reflect on our shortcomings. But one takeaway from the year just past is that even when we do our best, it may not be enough.

So many of us joyously awaited the return to in-person High Holiday services, only to have our plans undermined by the threat posed by the Delta variant of COVID-19. Our congregation, Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, is planning only a handful of in-person services, all outdoors — and we know that this may not be the final arrangement.

Against this backdrop, we recognized that our community would benefit from a communal expression of encouragement, comfort and balance. We saw that the work of preparing our hearts, minds and souls for the holiday season, as well as the work of dealing with our disappointment in the unpredictability and uncertainty of this pandemic, require intentional efforts to create space for optimism. 

So together, we crafted a positive viddui for our congregation that we are sharing here. In our version, worshippers praise themselves — perhaps giving themselves a pat on the back instead of a beating on the breastbone — for inspiring, for maturing, for trying.

We are not the first to craft a viddui that inverts the traditional liturgy. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of what would become Israel, once said that Jews should celebrate our good deeds as much as lament our sins. Inspired by that, Rabbi Binyamin Holtzman wrote a wonderful complementary confession in 2014 that is available on OpenSiddur (translated from Hebrew to English by Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler). And five years ago, Avi Weiss, the Modern Orthodox rabbi, shared his “opposite recitation” with Jewish Telegraphic Agency readers

Our version adds to that tradition. Ours is different because we composed it in English, so it functions as an alphabetical acrostic in English the way the traditional counterpart does in Hebrew. It also references the pandemic era in its last line, when we confess that we have “zoomed and zoomed in.”  

With much turbulence and trauma still unfolding, let us be reminded that it is OK to give ourselves a break and also focus on the helpful ways that we are navigating these unprecedented times. Despite a global pandemic, an unstable world and a planet hurting because of human choices, by acknowledging the good in addition to all the ways we missed the mark, we aim to remind ourselves of all the things that not just keep us afloat, but lift us up, allow us to keep going and offer hope. We hope you find this meaningful.

We’ve acted authentically

We’ve blessed

We’ve cultivated compassion

We’ve delighted

We’ve engaged empathically

We’ve favored fairness

We’ve galvanized

We’ve harmonized

We’ve inspired

We’ve joined

We’ve kindled kindness

We’ve laughed

We’ve matured

We’ve nurtured

We’ve offered optimism

We’ve persevered

We’ve questioned 

We’ve released 

We’ve sympathized

We’ve tried

We’ve uplifted

We’ve vivified

We’ve welcomed

We’ve x’d out excess

We’ve yearned

We’ve zoomed and zoomed in

For all these, Source of Life

inspire us, encourage us, 

Sustain our hope.