Sign In Forgot Password

prayer ping #38 what'd we do now?!?

Rav Yosef

The Amidah contains no shortage of paragraphs and phrases that we only insert when appropriate (on Chanukah, during the rainy season, etc.) Wouldn't it make sense for the Amidah's sixth blessing to be in that same category? The Siddur should say something like, "If you have sinned since the last time you davened, or don't yet feel adequately forgiven for a prior sin, include the paragraph "Forgive us our Father..." But if you're good, then omit."

What are to make of the Amidah's insistence that we request forgiveness thrice daily? Even when Mincha and Ma'ariv are separated by mere minutes - minutes engaged in prayer and study! Are we to infer that our tradition has virtually no confidence in our ability to remain righteous for even a few moments, much less a day or two? That would seem like quite the violation of חושד בכשרים - being suspecting of the innocent!

There is of course, an alternative understanding, based upon a different way of thinking about why - and for what - we are continuously seeking forgiveness. Let's set aside, for this purpose, the conventional notion that forgiveness is something that we seek in connection with discrete events, with defined infractions. And instead, let's think about the continuous pursuit of forgiveness as the inevitable by-product of a process of continuous growth.

Could you imagine living a life in which our conceptions of the right and the good, the just and the noble, remained frozen where they had been when we were 16 or 18? Or even when we were 25 or 35? How impoverished a life we'd be living, devoid of the sublime gratification that comes with development and growth, deprived of the thrilling satisfaction of recognizing that we've attained higher and more refined moral insight. Not to mention how this "frozen" life of ours would have impacted the people with whom we interact regularly, the people who lives are in reality better because our insights into right and wrong have advanced. For all these reasons it is our aim in life to never become morally frozen, rather to keep striving for higher.

The only downside of this commitment of ours to continuous upward progress, is the realization on any given day, that we are not in this moment as refined as we will be tomorrow (or next month). Which means, inevitably, that there are things we are doing - or failing to do - in this moment, that we will soon regard as regrettable, as requiring forgiveness - the forgiveness we now seek in advance. This process is simply the other side of the coin of being ever-striving.

The sixth bracha of the Amidah then, is simply our way of remembering and reaffirming that we know that we are perpetually in process. Every time we say, "forgive us, pardon us...." we are simply acknowledging that we have not yet reached our destination. And we are also asserting that as people who are committed to being continuously in process, forgiveness is something that we've rightfully earned.

Wed, February 20 2019 15 Adar I 5779