Over the pandemic, one of my sins has been personifying COVID. I have found myself saying COVID has taken away opportunities to be together, to mourn together, to gather in large groups safely. I have found myself saying COVID brings out our selfish natures and COVID is divisive. COVID has caused so much food insecurity and brought out the inequalities within our community. COVID has decreased our synagogue membership. COVID has brought our healthcare workers to exhaustion. COVID has made it impossible to feel carefree around those who do not live with us.
COVID has sinned, COVID has missed the mark! It has caused betrayal of science, stolen moments of togetherness, scorned mask-wearing, acted perversely- creating different variants, cruelly, killed the weak and the strong, caused us to scheme and hoard, violently took its course through the human body, caused leaders to slander each other, and exposing itself inadvertently or advertently.
The Hebrew word for “sin” is חָטָא or “to miss the mark, to go wrong, to miss the way.” Sin in Hebrew implies that we have lost something, and that we are not as close as we could be. Throughout the Torah, the word “sin” is used to describe the relationship between us and God, other people, and our community. When we make mistakes and sin, it often feels as though we have lost something.
Where do we put our extra anger, rage, disappointment, sadness, and sense of loss from COVID? COVID has sinned against us.
The section of our service that includes the long lists of sins is called the confessional, or Viduii. At the heart of the confessional service there can be found the Ashamnu in our Yom Kippur liturgy. You may recognize it in our Yom Kippur Morning Services by the “lai, lai” it starts out with, and the repetition of lines.
This poem is an acrostic that was in a prayer book of the Amram Gaon (8th century). While we recite this in a singsong fashion every Yom Kippur, this prayer is also said by traditional Jews on a daily basis. The thought is that we could fully expunge our sins by going through an alphabet of “woe.” We traditionally beat our hearts with our hand for each sin, which is so very cathartic and somewhat self-flagellating.
Looking more closely at the Ashamnu prayer we realize that it allows us the opportunity to say out loud a list of sins and to say them in the plural- “we” have committed these sins together. We must be careful not to personify or blame one person or thing for sins. In fact, our tradition teaches us that saying this list out loud (and twice!) is important, and even if we have not committed all of these sins, we confess the list together. We will get through this together as well. We will pull each other back to find the way.
COVID has created its own alphabet of woes, and it is challenging not to personify it. Perhaps if we say out loud the sins of COVID against us, we will have the opportunity to release its personal aspect and join as a community who will be stronger because of what we’ve learned and how we have helped each other. Rabbi Sussman and I came up with these alphabetic sins of COVID. We now release these sins of COVID against us:
When we connect with our community in this way and stop isolating each sin and scapegoat, we have the opportunity to realize what is meaningful to us. We have the opportunity for “t’shuvah” for return. Openness, honesty, and realizing that we are all connected will help us return.
I am praying that each one of you can return from a sense of loss, find comfort and wholeness in our community, and flourish in this year- 5782. Xo