On the Eve of the Day of Atonement
"As I live," declares ADONAI,
"I will do to you as you have spoken to me."
Most Holy One, in the midst of deep awe
At this most solemn hour
Our lips open to you in prayer—
At this hour that marks the beginning
Of the great Day of Atonement.
At this moment, your entire people
Rush toward their holy gathering places,
And our songs and prayers rise up to you
From contrite hearts.
Just as on the great Day of Judgment,
When those who have already returned
To the eternal journey of light
Stand at your heavenly throne,
So we all stand here today in your presence.
We lay open the book of our hearts,
Whose pages you read with all-seeing eyes,
Whose contents you regard with all-inclusive justice.
O God, even the angels of heaven
Are not pure before you.
We stand before you even less so,
Weighed down by guilt and aware of it.
Corruption dwells in our hearts,
And sin celebrates its triumph there.
Shouldn’t we tremble before you?
Shouldn’t our knees buckle and bend before you?
But you do not bring us here,
To this weighty recognition of our sins,
To break us down with guilt.
You do not bring us to this awareness
So we might falter in fear and anxiety
Before your anger,
Before the punishing hand of a strict judge.
You did not create this great, blessed day for that
But rather so you could, through it,
Bring back the despairing, the tired, the lost.
You created it so you could guide them again
To your loving heart, so you could make visible
For all who wander astray in the dark
The lights of your heavenly grace.
For this you have given us this day
And made it the holiest day of the year—
So we might, through solemn examination,
Through serious reflection on our inner lives,
Recover what so often eludes us
Amid life's demands and distractions
And what so often submerges
Under worldly pressures and influences:
Our better selves, our pious consciousness,
Our childlike hearts, our faithful way of being.
On this day the walls crumble
That separate the creations from the Creator,
That hold the innocent child far from the parent’s heart,
The child’s ear from the parent’s word,
The child’s gaze from the parent’s loving face.
No matter how gravely we have sinned,
No matter how deeply we have fallen,
No matter how far we have strayed,
Your grace and mercy clear the higher path
So we might return again
To the community of the true and righteous.
We turn to you in remorse and repentance,
Trusting in your hallowed words:And on this day, God will forgive you,
So you shall be cleansed of all your sins before God.
Eternal Parent, may my tears accomplish that.
May my fervent prayers rise toward you,
And may you receive them.
In your compassion
May you lift all guilt and sin from me,
And may your grace surround me
As in the earliest days of my innocence,
So my soul might be free and joyous,
So it might lift itself up to you
In holy awareness of your love and mercy,
So your protection might rest on me
And on all my loved ones. Amen.
Excerpted from Hours of Devotion by edited and adapted into verse by Dinah Berland. Copyright © 2007 by Dinah Berland. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.