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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Yom Kippur service features a long list of 44 mistakes. What does it all mean?

When one begins to look at the task of teshuva (repentance), it can be overwhelming. We've made so many mistakes this past year that it's hard to know where to begin! Clearly, if we don't have an excellent system for tackling this project, it will be very time consuming, draining — and ultimately unproductive.

In Judaism we say that if you can get to the root of the problem, you can eliminate it entirely. That is the goal of the "Al Chet" prayer that we say so many times during Yom Kippur services. These 44 statements are not a list of mistakes, but rather identify the roots of mistakes.

We'll examine the "Al Chet" prayer, one statement at a time. But remember: "Change" is a process that doesn't happen immediately. Don't try to conquer too many things at once; it may be too overwhelming. Instead, choose the areas that cut closest to the root of your problems. This will maximize your success in the Teshuva process.

1. For the mistakes we committed before You under duress and willingly.

How can we be held accountable for mistakes committed under duress?! The answer is that sometimes, we get into compromising situations because we are not careful. Many of these "accidents" can be avoided by setting limitations to avoid temptation.

Ask yourself:


Did I put myself into compromising situations, and then when I got into trouble rationalize by saying it was "unavoidable" or "accidental"?

Have I tried making "fences" so that I won't transgress?

Have I considered setting up a penalty system as a deterrent against certain mistakes?

When I legitimately got into an unavoidable situation, did I stop to consider why God might want me to experience this particular challenge?


Did I make mistakes because I was lazy, or because my lower, animalistic urges were getting the better of me?

2. For the mistakes we committed before You through having a hard heart.

Hardening of the heart means that I closed myself off to deep, human emotions like compassion and caring. The newspapers and streets seem so filled with one tragic story after another, that I can become desensitized to the whole idea of human suffering.

Ask yourself:

Did I ignore the poor and the weak?

When I did give charity, was it done enthusiastically or begrudgingly?

Was I kind, compassionate and loving when my family and friends needed me to be?

Do I feel the pain of Jews who are assimilating, and of how that impacts the Jewish nation as a whole?

3. For the mistakes we committed before You without thinking (or without knowledge).

Every day, we should pray to God for the ability to think and reason. A clear mind is integral to our growth and development. If we're riding in a car and staring aimlessly out the window, then for those precious moments we are nothing more than zombies.

Ask yourself:

Do I carefully examine my society and surroundings, weighing out what is right and what is wrong?

Do I constantly review my major goals in life?

Do I strive for a constant awareness of the presence of God?

Is one of my goals in life to be a "thinking" individual?

4. For the mistakes we committed before You through things we blurted out with our lips.

A wise man once said, "You don't have to say everything you think." The Talmud says that when we speak, our lips and teeth should act as "gates," controlling whatever flows out.

Ask yourself:

Do I think before I speak?

Am I prone to thoughtless outbursts?

Do I make hasty promises that I am unlikely to fulfill?

5. For the mistake we committed before You in public and in private.

Ask yourself:


Did I do foolish or degrading things to attract attention or approval?

On the other hand, did I do good deeds in public — that I would otherwise not have done — simply so that others would see me?


Did I act privately in a way that I would be ashamed if anyone found out?

Did I consider how God is watching even in my most private moments?

Did I convince myself that because nobody sees me, the mistakes somehow don't count?

6. For the mistakes we committed before You through immorality.

When the Torah speaks of immorality, it usually refers to sexual immorality. Since sex is the strongest human drive (next to survival itself), it can therefore be used to achieve the greatest degree of holiness, or — as we so often witness — the greatest degree of debasement.

Ask yourself:

Did I speak or act in a way that lowered sexuality as a vehicle for spiritual connection?

Do I realize how sexual immorality reduces the spiritual potential of future, more holy unions?

7. For the mistakes we committed before You through harsh speech.

Speech is the unique human faculty, and is the way we build bridges between each other — and through prayer, with God. That's why abuse of speech is considered one of the gravest mistakes possible.

Ask yourself:

Did I speak to anyone in a harsh and forceful manner?

Did I gossip?

Did I engage in idle chatter that wasted my time and that of others?

Did I seek opportunities to elevate others with an encouraging word?

8. For the mistakes we committed before You with knowledge and deceit.

As we know, knowledge is a powerful tool — and a dangerous weapon when misused.

Ask yourself:

Did I use knowledge of a certain situation to deceive others?

Did I use knowledge to deceive myself — i.e. did I rationalize away my bad actions?

Did I use knowledge to circumvent the spirit of the law?

Did I use knowledge to show off and impress others?

9. For the mistakes we committed before You through inner thoughts.

The Talmud says that "Bad thoughts are (in one way) even worse than bad deeds." This is because from a spiritual perspective, "thoughts" represent a higher dimension of human activity. ("Thoughts" are rooted in the spiritual world; "deeds" are rooted in the physical world.)

Ask yourself:

Did I think in a negative way about people, or wish bad upon them?

Did I fantasize about doing bad deeds?

10. For the mistakes we committed before You through wronging a friend.

"Friendship" is one of the highest forms of human activity. When we reach out and connect with others, we experience the unity of God's universe, and bring the world closer to perfection.

Ask yourself:

Did I strive to go out of my way to help friends, based on my commitment to be their friend?

Was I insensitive toward my friends' needs, or did I hurt their feelings?

Did I take advantage of someone who trusted me as a friend?

Did I check my email or answer my cell phone while listening to a friend, thus denying them my full attention?

Have I made a conscious effort to become a better friend?

11. For the mistakes we committed before You through insincere confession.

On Yom Kippur when we say each line of the "Al Chet" prayer, we gently strike our heart — as if to say that it was "passion and desire" that led to these mistakes. Do we really mean it?

Ask yourself:

Did I ever apologize without being sincere?

Have I committed myself to "change" without seriously following up?

12. For the mistakes we committed before You while gathering to do negative things.

Engaging in evil as a lone individual is bad enough. But just as the secular courts treat "conspiracy" more seriously, so too God despises the institutionalizing of bad habits.

Ask yourself:

Am I part of a regular group that discusses negative things?

Did I participate in a gathering that led to negative activities?

Am I careful to associate only with moral and ethical people?

13. For the mistakes we committed before You willfully and unintentionally.


Did I ever "act out" in a desire to demonstrate my independence from God?


Did I make mistakes out of carelessness? Could they have been avoided?

14. For the mistakes we committed before You by degrading parents and teachers.

Parents and teachers are our first authority figures in life, and by way of association they teach us how to be respectful toward God and His mitzvot. The breakdown of respect for parents and teachers corrodes the moral core of society.

Ask yourself:


Do I sometimes think poorly of my parents?

Do I ever actually communicate a dislike toward them?

Do I make the effort to appreciate how much my parents have done for me?

If I were a parent, what would I want from my children? Am I giving that now to my parents?

Do I give special attention to the needs of the elderly?


Have I maximized opportunities to learn from rabbis and teachers?

Have I actively sought the guidance and counsel of wise people?

15. For the mistakes we committed before You by exercising power.

God apportions to everyone exactly what they need: whether wealth, intelligence, good fortune, etc. Only when we feel our position is independent of God do we seek to dominate others for our own advantage.

Ask yourself:

Did I take advantage of those who are weak — either physically, economically or politically?

Did I manipulate or intimidate someone into doing something he'd really rather not have?

16. For the mistakes we committed before You through desecrating God's name.

As a "Light Unto the Nations," every Jew is a messenger of God in this world, responsible to project a positive image.

Ask yourself:

Did I ever act in a way that brought less honor and respect to God?

Did I ever act in way that gave a bad impression about what it means to be a Jew?

Did I take every opportunity to enlighten others about the beauty of Torah?

17. For the mistakes we committed before You with foolish speech.

People have a habit of talking for talking's sake. When we're bored, we may get on the phone, and "talk and talk and talk." Don't talk without a purpose. In any conversation ask yourself: "Is there any point to this conversation? Am I learning anything? Am I growing?" If you can't identify the point, there probably is none.

Ask yourself:

Did I waste time by talking about trivial things?

Do I seek to share words of Torah at every opportunity?

18. For the mistakes we committed before You with vulgar speech.

Did you ever find yourself in the middle of a distasteful joke? It can be insidious, but all of a sudden you find yourself dragged into a discussion that has taken a turn for the worse. Learn to switch tracks. Monitor your conversations, and when you notice them slipping off track, pull them back, gently and subtly.

Ask yourself:

Did I contaminate my mouth with vulgar speech?

Did I listen to vulgar speech or jokes?

Did I protest when I heard vulgar speech?

Do I always express myself in the most pleasant way possible?

By: Rabbi Shraga Simmons