Rabbi Arthur Waskow
AL CHEYT: FOR THE MISDEEDS WE HAVE DONE BEFORE YOU*
A RITUAL FOR THE AL CHEYT ON YOM KIPPUR
1. We'll begin our preparations for YOM KIPPUR by taking four cards -- one of each color according to directions -- and writing on each card just one or two of our "missings of the mark." On the blue card write wrongs you have done to YOURSELF, on the red card wrongs you have done your INTIMATES, on the beige card those against THE LARGER HUMAN COMMUNITY, and finally on the green card those against THE OTHER LIFE FORMS ON EARTH.
2. Be sure not to mention any names -- yours or other people's -- in the writing of your cards to preserve anonymity, but try to write your cards as concretely as possible so that all of us may experience with one another our disappointments with ourselves.
3. WHILE WRITING THESE CARDS, PLEASE MAINTAIN SILENCE SO THAT PEOPLE ARE FREE TO BE THOUGHTFUL AND REFLECTIVE.
4. When you are finished writing, leave your cards face down on the table with the others of that color; light a YOM TOV candle; remove your shoes; take a MACHZOR (the special prayer book for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur); and enter the davvening space silently.
5. We will use these colored cards tonight and tomorrow in connection with each of the recitations of AL CHEYT SHECHATANU L'FANECHA/L'FANAYICH ("For the mis-step we have mis-walked before You"). The text of AL CHEYT in the Machzor lists a number of wrongs we have done, some which may and others which may not speak to us. To them we will add these, our own. The cards will be handed around so that each person receives one at each AL CHEYT. The congregation (or sub-groups) will read them aloud. Thus our own missteps will be shared by the community.
6. After each AL CHEYT, the cards will be collected and kept in a sacred bowl.
7. After the final shofar blast that ends Yom Kippur, the bowl will be brought to the center of the davvening space, and the cards will be set afire.
We thus make not the misdeeds we have done but our recognition of them and our firm intention to change our ways, into the burnt-offering we set before each other and God.
The fire symbolizes that our misdeeds are annihilated, our intentions to change are affirmed, we are forgiven, and our path of menschlichkeit is clear and open.
* These directions were written by Phyllis Berman, chair of the international board of P'nai Or and member of the Philadelphia P'nai Or havurah, to be handed out as people gather for the Kol Nidre service.
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center.