Al chait shechatawnu l'fawnecha b'OHnes uv'rayzon
We have sinned against You willingly and unwillingly.
Al chait shechatawnu l'fawnecha b'SEE ach siftowTEInu.

We have sined against You by idle gossip.
Al Chait shechatawnu l'fawnecha b'chiLUL Hashem.
We have sinned against You by desecrating Your name.

Every year during the High Holy Day services I chant this prayer in Hebrew, this confession of sins, and you, the congregation, respond in English.  Judaism teaches us that we pray the confessional together because as a community we are responsible for each other.  Also, by doing so, no one is singled out for their sins and thereby made to feel ashamed or embarrassed.  That's all well and fine, but how effective is the prayer when we recite so many sins in a monotone litany?  The sins written in the machzor span 3 pages.  I shorten the list in an effort to keep every one's attention; so the prayer does not become a meaningless rote exercise.  Even so, do we take the confessional to heart? do the words truly reach and resonate within our inmost soul?

Our Torah commands us to observe "Yom Hakipureem", a day of atonement.  Is our attendance in shul and participation in prayers enough of an observance?  Can one 24 hour period possibly cleanse us of our sins?  Do we fulfill our obligatory pardon just because in a fleeting moment we ask forgiveness of what may be an horrific flaw of character?  The answer is no; it is foolish to believe that in the blink of an eye all the harm we have done to ourselves and all of the harm we have done to others will be forgiven, and that there will be a 180 degree turn around in our future behavior.

Our sages recognized that true repentance is a journey we must take.  They ascribed the entire month of Elul for self reflection upon the past year, a time to address, and redirect negative energy channeled to errant behaviors.  They incorporated this penitential Selichot service to aid in our own discoveries and help us bring to light what are sometimes hidden or buried realizations.  Should one still not be convinced that repentance is the right thing to do, our sages stepped up the intensity.  Torah commands us to observe the first day of the new year as a day of rest, a day to remember the shofar blasts.  We know that on Rosh Hashanah we hear the sounds of the shofar; we listen as commanded.  But Rosh Hashanah has been designated as the beginning of the Yamim Nora'eem, the days of awe, the 10 days of repentance.  We recite the Al Cheit, the confessional I chanted earlier, on Rosh Hashanah as well as on Yom Kippur.  We beat our breasts with every sin we confess.  We are warned that in 10 days the Book of Life will be sealed with our fate for the coming year, and that seeking a pardon from those whom we've wronged, and ultimately from The Almighty, will temper G-d's Divine decree.

Finally, in a last attempt to humble one's self to full contrition, Talmudic rabbis established a group of laws and practices to help enable us do the right thing.  The Torah commands us to observe "Yom Hakipureem", a day of atonement, and the Torah further states "v'ineetem et nafshoteychem" and afflict your souls; some translations use the words "deny your souls".  The rabbis asked that we deny ourselves on Yom Kippur that which gives us pleasure:  no marital relations, no bathing or washing, no wearing of perfumes or lotions, no wearing of shoes made of leather.  During this 24 hour period the rabbis asked that we afflict ourselves by not eating or drinking.

Every Jew should observe the penitential period in a manner that is meaningful to him or her, whether it be 6 weeks long or for just one day.  One should not be castigated for the level of observance.  Some, such as all of us here tonight,take the journey.  For others, going to temple and reciting prayers sometime during the High Holy Days is sufficient.  For some, it is the hardship of fasting on Yom Kippur that cleanses the soul.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who feel no need to be with others in communal prayer, who may not set foot in a temple, yet recognize that they have a problem or a sin to confess.  For them, there is a plethora of self help books, there are support groups is they need more than a helpful read, and there are therapists who will listen to their confessions.

Whether communally confessing in temple, or sitting depressed all alone at home out of shame, guilt or fear, we are linked wit the realization that we need G-d's help.  We need to call upn HasShem.  We need to have our talk with The Almighty, the One who already knows what we've done, the One from whom we cannot hide.  we need to ask G-d our questions, address our concerns, as we would when we talk with family and friends.  If nothing else, it feels good to get worries off of our chests.  But greater still is the potential for hearing Divine answers and guidance, for Hashem hears our voices and answers our prayers.  We may need to become more aware of that wich surrounds us to hear and to understand The Almight.  Don't expect Biblical-like miracles to appear before us, but realize that all the world isconnected, all universal energy is connedtec, and G-d has the power to move mountains and move hearts.

It is aksed "where is G-d", and the answer is "where ever we let G-d in".  It is asked "how effective is the 'Al Cheit'"?  The answer is "as effective as we make it".  May our sins be foregiven, and our judgment be merciful as we are written and selaed in the Book of Life for the coming New Year.  G'mar chatima tovah, and let us say "Amen".