Jonathan's Little Corner : Torah : Shorter Confession

The Vidui Ashamnu (the shorter confession)
Chayei Adam chapter 143
tr. Jonathan Baker, Yom Kippur 5760

[In the interest of making people's Yom Kippur more meaningful, I translated the Chayei Adam (R' Avraham Danzig of Vilna, early 19th century) explanation of the twenty-four terms in the Vidui Ashamnu, the shorter confession of sins.  This effort is particularly necessary for users of the Birnbaum machzor, in light of its poor translation of this section (it only translates half of the verbs). This can easily be reformatted in a word processor to fit two sides of a single sheet.  --J. Baker]
The confessor must at least understand what he is saying and say the confession slowly. It is better to say the Ashamnu once with intent than to say it thrice quickly without intent. Furthermore, the words of the confession as decreed by the earlier ones appear redundant and are not clearly understood by every person. Therefore I have written their meaning as I have gathered from the books of the medieval authorities. This confession, the Ashamnu, was ordained by those poskim who decided that one need not enumerate each of his sins. Therefore they decreed to say the categories of evil acts which have been categorized by the children of Israel as derogatory. Since the sinner is negatively affected in attributes described by all 22 letters used in the Torah, it was constructed alphabetically, so a person will describe each sin under each letter, as in "Ashamnu [we have been guilty]: Achalti davar isur [I have eaten nonkosher food], and similarly for all of them.

ASHAMNU: we have been guilty, as is written (Hosea 5) "until they are made guilty and seek My face", using the language of "that soul became guilty" The Ramban explains the word in the Torah as a word of desolation, that the soul is worthy of being desolate and destroyed. We should also include here that I ate forbidden things, carcasses, nonkosher meat, bugs, worms (and it is known that in this world, no person can avoid having eaten bugs, or he may have eaten meat and then realized afterwards that it was nonkosher, or eaten wormy vegetables - this is tantamount to eating them intentionally. It is also known, and easily seen. that meat or fish may be stored in wormy bins, so one can take care to rap the food on the table prior to eating so as to knock out the worms; also the hanging baskets which may be hanging several days in the store can get wormy, as can food in the house); I ate food without saying the blessings before and after.

BAGADNU: we have betrayed, as is written (ibid.) "they have betrayed God..." The word "betrayal" denotes a person who has done good things for his neighbor, such that he deserves to have good things done for him, and they are not done - this is evil, and when he doesn't reciprocate this is called a Great Betrayal. We betray God in that he has done good for us in the world and given us life and wealth. (We have betrayed, between one person and another, when we have repaid bad for good. And if a man God-forbid has forbidden relations, he should say, "I have had forbidden relations." I have written elsewhere that it is good for a man to say this, for his soul may have done this in a previous incarnation.) I have wasted time while studying Torah. I have made a vain blessing, an unnecessary blessing, a blessing without proper intention, I have interrupted (without resuming) a positive mitzva in order to say the Shma on time. I have neglected positive and negative commands.

GAZALNU: we have stolen, as is written (Malachi 3) "for you have established Me..." this verse refers to stealing from one's parents, which our Sages have taken to refer to: stealing from the father is stealing from God, stealing from the mother is stealing from other people. (And we don't have to elaborate on this sin as they say, who will prosecute a bushel of sins, theft will prosecute them first.) I have become proud (ga'eiti), as is written, all who raise the heart are an abomination of God.

DIBARNU DOFI: we have spoken falsely, as it is written (ibid.) "your words have militated against me...and you have said it is vain to serve God", and this is speaking falsely. We have said one thing aloud and another in our hearts. (as the commentators say that falseness involves two mouths, one in the mouth and one in the heart. We have said pointless things; evil speech; lies; rebellious words; flattery; insults; talked of work on Shabbat and holidays) (Behold, the mouth, the tongue, the lips and the teeth are comparable to the four garments worn by a priest. As we know, dirty priestly garments are disqualfied from Divine service. If so, if the mouth has become impure how can one open one's mouth to pray and to ask things of God? No mouth that accuses can defend one.)

HE'EVINU: we have caused others to sin, as is written in many places. This is actualized when we cause someone who was upright to sin, as one who causes his neighbor to sin (machti et chaveiro). (This also happens if some earlier reincarnation of the soul had been repaired, and was reincarnated again, and was caused to sin in that way again which had necessitated the repair, so the soul is again spoiled). I have given mistaken halachic rulings and caused the multitude to fail. I have been mashchit zera. I have made myself impervious to new knowledge. I have had thoughts desirous of evil. I have stared at private parts. I have stared at women to enjoy them. I have raised my hand to strike my neighbor. I have embarrassed my neighbor in public.

V'HIRSHANU: we have caused others to do evil. This too is found in many places. This too occurs when we cause others to do evil who had *already* become evildoers. (see above).

ZADNU: we have had evil hearts, as is written, "you bear the intentional sin of your hearts." I have scorned the honor of Shabbat and holidays. I have scorned the honor of my parents.. I have scorned the honor of Torah teachers.

CHAMASNU: we have become violent, as is written, "the violent stands below the evildoer." This is like an armed robber, where one's friend has an object which he doesn't want to sell, and one takes it from him forcibly, and compensates him monetarily for its value, or even if he sells it reluctantly, this is violence. I have descrated the Shabbat and holidays. I have desecrated the Name.

TAFALNU SHEQER: we have attached lies. as is written (Ezeq. 13) "they have attached to it a coating that does not last [relating tefel to thefel]. For the image is always distinct from the real substance, and this is one of the gifts of He-whose-name-is-blessed, that they do not attach themselves to accuse one, as is written, "all actors of evil will be separated." But in our sins, the acts of lying cover us. Further, "we have attached lies" indicates that we have attached ourselves to sinners. The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan say: one who cleaves to sinners even though he does nothing like them, is punished like them. (so too the Mishnah in Maccot 1).

YA'ATZNU RA: we have advised evil, as is written, "they advise evil for God." Sometimes we advise our friend in such a way that he will be ashamed before other people, or we give hin advice for his personal benefit that will cause his neighbor a loss. I have isolated myself with women [other than my wife] (gentile or Jewish, even if she's single, even more so with another man's wife or a close relative).

KIZAVNU: we have lied, as is written, "they have spoken lies about me". That is, we have lied whether for a good reason or not. (The enormity of the sin is as written, "the liar will never be prepared before Me.") I have been angry. (as the Sages say, one who is angry is as if he worshipped idols, and is written, "the angry man is great in iniquity", similarly in many verses.)

LATZNU: we have scoffed, as is written, "we have heard scoffers". (And the category of scoffers do not receive the Divine Presence), They say, all who scoff will fall into Gehinnom. I have worn shaatnez, mingled wool and linen. I have not paid a laborer on time and thus violated the negative command of "do not let a laborer's wage sit overnight" and the positive command of "on his day you shall pay him his wage".

MARADNU: we have rebelled, as is written, "the rebels and the sinners against Me." Rebellion is the most serious matter for there are those who do a sin out of desire, since his inclination has overcome him, but the rebel sins because he does not believe in the mitzva at all.

NI'ATZNU: we have been scornful, as is written, "they have scorned the Holy of Israel", that is, that we have caused, through our sins, that God has become angry with us, as is written, "and God saw, and was filled with anger at his sons and daughters. Woe to the servant who angers his Master!" I have sworn falsely. (Due to our many sins, most of the world fails in this as they swear even if they don't have to. They swear and say "So help me God", knowing that this is like swearing in the Name, and sometimes even when he casually converses with his friend and tells a lie, and in order to verify his remark he says "So help me God" because it's what he always says. One thus gets all the afflictions that come upon one who swears falsely...) I have vowed but not fulfilled the vow (and transgressed against two negative commands, 1) that one who vows is like one who builds an altar outside the Temple and 2) for not having fulfilled the vow). I have benefitted from this world without blessing God for it.

SARARNU: we have been disobedient, as is written, "atonement turns away", and also, "you have turned from the path", that is, our hearts have turned from the service of the Creator (as is written, "this people has had a stubborn and rebellious heart", that is, disobedient in not doing positive commands, and rebellious in violating negative commands).

`AVINU: we have been perverse, that is, intentionally doing a sin to fulfill an appetite.

PASHA`NU: we have transgressed, which is comparable to rebellion (some say that there are two kinds of rebels, one who believes in God and His Torah and even so rebels and does not want to fulfill the mitzvot, and the second, who rebels because he denies all of Judaism).

TZARARNU: we have persecuted, as is written, "a spirit of persecution under his wings" (that is, we have made trouble for one person with his friend).

QISHINU `OREF: we have been stiff-necked, as is written, "a stiff-necked people", that when a person is worthy of listening to rebuke, or when he sees that he is being punished by poverty or illness, God-forbid, certainly he or his children are worthy to understand and to return to God, but we are stiff-necked and we have not repented, and we rely on this having just "happened" on its own, not as Divine providence.

RASHA`NU: we have been lawless. We have done things through which we have become known as wicked, such as raising a hand against one's fellow, as is written, "Wicked one, why do you hit...?" Similarly, the thief and the armed robber are called wicked in Scripture, and other things as well.

SHICHATNU: we have corrupted, as is written, "your people is corrupt," and "corrupt children." Corruption is matters of forbidden sexual relations and idol-worship, that is, that we have engaged in forbidden sexual relations, and not just in intercourse, but in hugging & kissing people who we are forbidden to marry. Included in this is one who is mashchit zera` even incidentally through hirhurim, and even more so if he does so intentionally, God-forbid, and things similar to idol-worship: anyone who exhibits pride is as if he worships idols. One who looks away from one who needs charity, and one who lets himself be angry, is as one who worships idols, and there are many things similar to this.

TI`AVNU: we have committed abominations, that is, we have done evil things through which one is called an abominator, as is written, "do not eat any abomination", and similarly idolatry is called abomination as is written, "do not bring any abomination into your house.

TA`INU: we have gone astray. This is the general confession, that is, as is written "all we like sheep have gone astray" because we have not walked in the straight path. Therefore even You have not helped us to return, as our sages say, one who comes into impurity, an opportunity is made for him [to do so], that is, they do not guard him from Heaven to aid him to return until the person takes it into his own heart to return, and then the one who comes into purity, he is helped to do so, and thus when we say...

TI`TA`NU: we have been led astray, it means that You have left us to our free choice to stray.

SARNU: we have turned away from Your mitzvot and it has not helped us, and if we had chosen something which is comparable to Your mitzvot, it wouldn't have been so bad, but since we chose something which is *not* comparable for us, therefore "you are just to all who come to you, and you have done the true thing and we have become wicked."