There is a striking problem about Vidui, the confessional prayer which is such a central part of our tefilla during the Yamim Noraim period.
Vidui is phrased in the plural: “We have been guilty, we have betrayed etc.” Surely saying sorry for our sins is a very personal thing and everyone should focus on their own shortcomings? Moreover, under normal circumstances, saying “it wasn’t just me, they did it too” is itself a sin!
Why do we say Vidui in the plural?
Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein, a former Hasmonean student, in his superb work entitled “Teshuvah” (p.232) suggests an answer in the name of Rabbi Yosef Cohen. The Rambam states that the teshuva of a community is much more effective than that of an individual. Why? Because saying Vidui in the plural attaches us to the tzibbur and allows us to harness the power of the community.
Being a part of the community is not just about being physically in the same location as others – it is about having the interests of the community at heart. As each individual seeks forgiveness for his own shortcomings, he makes room in his heart for others as well, so that he defines success on Yom Kippur as the entire Jewish People receiving atonement.
To the extent we attach ourselves to the tzibbur, we merit Divine assistance. In these heady days of Yamim Noraim, we should be challenging our own communal efforts and asking ourselves: What can I do to help my community? What can I do to help my neighbour, my school or my shul?
By saying Vidui in the plural, we attach ourselves to the tzibbur, and latch on to the power and protection of the tzibbur.
May all our communal efforts be rewarded and may all of our tefilos be answered l’tovah.
Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbos and gmar chasima tova.
Rabbi J Golker