Daily Meditations and Writing Exercises on Repentance
by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Written and geared for High Holiday preparation during the month of Elul on the Hebrew calendar, these exercises are useful throughout the year to delve into the meaning and practice of repentance.

Viddui/Ashamnu Meditations

DAY ONE - INTRODUCTION TO VIDDUI
Ten times during Yom Kippur, we recite the confessional (in Hebrew, Viddui, sometimes also called the ashamnu prayer). In this familiar acrostic, the first letter of each sin named corresponds to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with the final letter of the alphabet repeated, for a total of 23 sins. It’s as if to say, “God, we know our shortcomings run from a to z.; please forgive us.” The Ashamnu, together with the Al Chet (a longer recitation of sins), gives us common wording, spoken repeatedly in community. We list our sins in the plural because we pray corporately, taking responsibility for the society we have jointly created, and supporting our fellows and comrades. Using the plural insures that no one is embarrassed by being singled out. The repetition insures that no one is able to ignore the call or retreat into denial. Ten times over, the liturgy asks us to consider: how does each of these sins apply in my life?
Rabbi Max Artz wrote of the Viddui: “These confessions are prompted by the belief that sin distorts and diminishes the divine image in which man was created.” Over the course of Elul and the Days of Awe, may the words of the prayers resonate in your heart, call to your awareness what needs to be healed, and inspire you to make positive changes. Let the divinity in you that is now encumbered be released, in all its glory.

DAY ONE - VIDDUI MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in your notebook write: “Is there anything in my behavior or thoughts that is now distorting or diminishing what is holy in me?” Close the notebook and put it away. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. During that time, sit quietly, breathe deeply, and see what comes up. If you become distracted, return your focus either to your breath or to the question. When the alarm sounds (and only then), open your eyes and make some notes about how you felt and/or any specific thoughts that you remember. Even if you didn’t “get an answer” or even if you forget some insights you had, the question has planted a seed, and it will bear good fruit.

DAY TWO - INTRODUCTION TO ASHAMNU
Ashamnu is often translated as “We are guilty.” That translation may be misleading, because “guilt” for American Jews can signify an over-weaning or inappropriate sense of responsibility. Worse yet, guilt can be understood as “that which others unfairly ascribe to you, as a manipulation.” Ashamnu means “we are culpable.” We have, indeed, done wrong this year. Let’s not shy away from that or excuse it too readily. If we are to heal our wrongs, first we have to acknowledge them.

DAY TWO - ASHAMNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I am fully responsible for everything I think and do, including how I react to provocation.” Sit with that thought. Look at what you have written. Put the notebook aside. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. During that time, sit quietly, gently close your eyes, breathe deeply, and see what comes up. If you become distracted, return your focus either to your breath or to the statement you have written. When the alarm sounds (and only then), open your eyes. You may make some notes about how you felt and/or record any specific insights that you remember. You may also decide to leave the page blank except for the heading. Even if you don’t see a connection between the written statement and your thoughts, the affirmation you recorded has planted a seed, and it will bear good fruit.

DAY THREE - INTRODUCTION TO BAGADNU
Bagadnu means we have betrayed. The word for garment or robe has the same root – b.g.d. The noun and the verb have the idea in common of covering – covering our bodies with clothing, or covering our true intentions and hence acting treacherously. How have you been disloyal – and to whom – by covering things over this year?

DAY THREE - BAGADNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have betrayed …” Set the alarm for five minutes. Close your eyes, sit quietly, and breathe deeply. Observe and release your thoughts. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath. When the alarm sounds gently open your eyes and reach for your notebook. Do “automatic writing” for at least another five minutes – i.e., keep your hand moving across the page filling in the blank. Just write; don’t give yourself time to think. I have betrayed…myself by failing to set limits. I have betrayed … my employees by withholding information. I have betrayed … my wife by spinning fantasies that exclude her. I have betrayed …God by putting other things before Divinity. You don’t have to manufacture betrayals, if you don’t feel you have committed any, but certainly use the time to write on the subject of betrayal from your point of view. The goal is to stop covering up your awareness of betrayals and cover-ups! At the end of what you have written, add this sentence: “The cost has been great, but the awareness is powerful. It will bear good fruit.”

DAY FOUR - INTRODUCTION TO GAZALNU
Gazalnu means we have robbed. The root can mean to rob, seize or tear away. Poignantly, in Job 24:9, g.z.l. is used to describe tearing away an orphan child from the breast.

DAY FOUR - GAZALNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have robbed, seized, torn away…” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted, sleepy, or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the confession. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take your notebook and write: “How can I replace, restore, mend?” Make some notes on what you noticed during the meditation and/or in answer to the question. May your awareness and intentions bear good fruit.

DAY FIVE - INTRODUCTION TO DIBARNU DOFI
Dofi means blemish or fault. Dibarnu Dofi means “we have spoken slander,” but with the implication that we are looking to find fault and perhaps even relishing the blemishes of others. Even if the blemish or fault we observe in someone is real, we are guilty of lashon hara (harmful speech and gossip) when we speak about it to others. Blemishes must be met with understanding or, occasionally, with loving, private rebuke to the person in question– not with shame or advertising.

DAY FIVE – DIBARNU DOFI MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have spoken slander, I have spoken of blemish and fault.” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or sleepy, return your focus to your breath or to the confession. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take your notebook and write down any notes on your meditation experience. Then write at the top of a fresh page: “Now let me speak…” and fill in the blank multiple times going down the page. Now let me speak … truth. Now let me speak … joy. Now let me speak … praise. Tear out a page from your notebook and write a brief letter of appreciation or encouragement to someone you know. Neither the stationery nor the wording needs to be perfect. Just make sure to mail it today. Your thoughts and words are already bearing good fruit.

DAY SIX - INTRODUCTION TO HE’EVINU
He’evinu comes from the root a.v.n. meaning trouble, sorrow, or suffering, as well as sin, wickedness, or idolatry. This verb is in the causative form: we have caused avon. Sometimes, it is translated as “we have acted perversely” or “we have caused perversion,” because of the deliberate nature of avon. Ish avon in the Bible is a trouble-maker or noxious person.

DAY SIX – HE’EVINU MEDITATION
Those who do not write on Shabbat can meditate on the Sabbath day entries without journaling, or wait until after sunset to do the daily exercise. Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “How have I created trouble, sorrow, and suffering through sin this year? What insight do I have now? What choice can I make now?” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or sleepy, return your focus to your breath, the confession, or the questions. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take your notebook and make some notes on your meditation experience. Then do one small task– make a phone call, set an appointment, order a book from the library – that will put one of your insights or choices into action. Already, your meditation is bearing good fruit.

DAY SEVEN - INTRODUCTION TO VEHIRSHANU
The Hebrew word ra is usually translated as evil or wickedness, but it can also mean harm. This verb is the causative form, meaning “we have caused evil and/or harm.”

DAY SEVEN - VEHIRSHANU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “How have I caused harm this year – by omission and commission, willfully and accidentally, to those close to me and to strangers?” Sit with that question and consider each diad. Notice how creative and resourceful we can all be in causing damage! On the same page, record the following question: “How can I marshal all my resources to repair and do good?” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to one of the questions. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take your notebook and make some notes on your meditation experience. Then do one task – call a sick (or estranged) friend, send a belated thank you note, make a donation to tzedakah – that will put any insight or idea you have gleaned into action. Already, your meditation is bearing good fruit.

DAY EIGHT - INTRODUCTION TO ZADNU
Zadnu means to behave arrogantly, proudly, or presumptuously. It comes from a root which also means to boil or to seethe. We think, in English metaphors, of seething or boiling over with anger, but in the biblical image we seethe or boil over with pride, which may lead to anger.

DAY EIGHT – ZADNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “What is boiling up inside me?” Imagine a cauldron inside you. Look inside to see its contents. Look thoroughly and attend to details. What temperature is it? What aroma does it give off? Watch as toxins are released in the vapors and carried off by the wind. Now set your alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the question and your vision of the cauldron. Remain as open as you can. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take your notebook and make some notes on your meditation experience. Make or buy yourself some delicious soup today. Know that not only pride or anger, but also good things are bubbling up inside you, ready to emerge.

DAY NINE - INTRODUCTION TO CHAMASNU
Chamasnu means “we have been violent.” It can refer to physical violence or to ethical wrongs we commit. Zephaniah 3:4 talks about doing violence to the Torah, in a spiritual sense.

DAY NINE - CHAMASNU MEDITATION:
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “Are there people or values have I done violence to during this past year — in deed, in word, and in thought?” Set the alarm for five to ten minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the question. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take your notebook and review the question you have written. Make some notes on what you noticed during the meditation and/or in answer to the question. Then write: “Cures for violence” as a heading. Do “automatic writing” for another five minutes – i.e., keep your hand moving across the page filling in the blank. Just write as many ideas as you have about cures for violence; don’t give yourself time to think or evaluate. At the end of five minutes, choose two “cures” you can begin to implement. May your awareness and intentions bear good fruit.

DAY TEN - INTRODUCTION TO TAFALNU SHEKER
Tafalnu sheker means “we have smeared with lies” (see Psalms 119:69). The root t.f.l. can mean to smear or plaster over. So we are alluding to lies that don’t just contradict the truth, but attempt to cover up or smother it.

DAY TEN - TAFALNU SHEKER MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “What lies beneath the lies I have told this year?” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the question. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take your notebook and review the question you have written. Make some notes on what you noticed during the meditation and/or in answer to the question. May truths emerge unencumbered, and may your awareness of them bear good fruit.

DAY ELEVEN - INTRODUCTION TO YA’ATZNU RA
Ya’atznu ra means “we have counseled/advised evil/harm.” We may have given harmful advice, intentionally or unintentionally. We may have egged someone on, reinforcing their worst instincts.

DAY ELEVEN – YA’ATZNU RA MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “What does my inner Counselor say?” Close your eyes and remember a few times when you had a deep, inner knowing about something important. Recall the physical sensation of that knowing: was it a sense in your gut? a still small voice? did you feel it in your heart? There is a wise part of you, connected to Divine wisdom. Its voice is loving and speaks for the highest good. Allow that Counselor to speak to you now about how you have been inviting or encouraging harm and sin. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, breathe deeply, and listen. Observe messages as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath, or ask your inner counselor “what is your good counsel about my evil counsel?” When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Make some notes on what you gleaned during the meditation. May you listen well, and may the wisdom already within you bear good fruit.

DAY TWELVE - INTRODUCTION TO KIZAVNU
Kizavnu means “we lied” or “we were false.” Its most famous use in the Bible is in Psalms 116:11: kol ha’adam kozev, everyone is false. The literal translation of that verse is: the whole person is false. Most of us don’t lie on the witness stand or perpetrate other heinous falsehoods. Nevertheless, there is a way in which, for each of us, our whole personhood is false. So often, we are simply fake. We try to please people by saying what we think they want to hear. In the name of protecting ourselves, we fail to be true to ourselves or fully honest with others. It’s time to admit that this “protection” is hurting more than helping. Most people see through our masks anyway. God knows all. Falsehood wears on the soul. That may be why the noun form of the root k.z.v. means disappointing, as well as deceptive. The reflexive verbal form also means to disappoint. Truth is God’s seal – and a better way.

DAY TWELVE – KIZAVNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “The truth is: I have been false. Let me start by telling the truth.” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the statement you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. If you wish, make some notes on what you gleaned during the meditation. Today, be especially scrupulous about telling the truth and being true to yourself. Notice when you miss the mark. Know that your meditation will bear good fruit.

DAY THIRTEEN - INTRODUCTION TO LATZNU
Latznu means we have scorned or mocked. Proverbs 9:12 teaches: “If you scorn, you alone shall bear it.” By mocking, we intend to diminish the object of our scorn. We may (sadly) achieve that, but we certainly diminish ourselves.

DAY THIRTEEN – LATZNU MEDITATION
Those who do not write on Shabbat can meditate on the Sabbath day entries without journaling, or wait until after sunset to do the daily exercise. Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have mocked, scorned, derided, made fun of, “joked about,” and denigrated. Thereby, I have hurt others, trivialized what was important, ignored what was good, acted superior, and missed out on positive connections.” Read that confession and feel its weight, its sadness. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, allow your eyes to close, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the statement you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Make some notes on your meditation, if you wish. If there is someone you need to apologize to, call them today. Your meditation will bear fruit in new attitudes and new actions.

DAY FOURTEEN - INTRODUCTION TO MARADNU
Maradnu means “we have rebelled.” In the Bible, it refers both to political rebellion and to rebellion against God. Job talks about mordei ohr, those who rebel against the light (24:13). That is a fair description of most of us, at one time or another. Just as our ancestors were afraid to be present at Mt. Sinai, we resist basking in God’s light and Presence.

DAY FOURTEEN – MARADNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have rebelled against rightful authority.” Pause and notice what comes immediately to mind. Make a note about it. Then write, “I have resisted the Light.” Again, notice what immediately comes to mind and record it. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the confessions you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. If you wish, make some notes on what you gleaned during the meditation. You have planted a seed with this meditation, and it will bear good fruit.

DAY FIFTEEN - INTRODUCTION TO NIATZNU
Niatznu means “we have spurned or shown contempt.” In the context of Israel’s relationship with God, it can mean “we have blasphemed” by showing contempt for God or by giving others an opportune excuse for others to do the same. (II Samuel 12:14). Hezekiah said: “This day is a day of trouble and of correction and of blasphemy (ne’atzah); for the children have come to the [moment of] birth, and there is not strength to bring them forth….Therefore, lift up a prayer for the remnant who are left” (II Kings 19:3f; Isaiah 37:3f). When we spurn or show contempt for what is holy, we lack the strength to bring forth our dreams and birth a better world. Having made it through one more year, we are the remnant who are left. Let us spend our time and energy in gratitude, not in contempt.

DAY FIFTEEN – NIATZNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have shown contempt.” Pause and notice what comes immediately to mind. Make a note about it. Then write, “Contempt has sapped my strength and distanced me from what is holy.” Again, notice what immediately comes to mind and record it. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the confessions you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. If you wish, make some notes on what you gleaned during the meditation. You are part of the remnant. You still have life, energy, and dreams. With this meditation, you have planted a seed. May it bear good fruit.

DAY SIXTEEN - INTRODUCTION TO SARARNU
Sararnu, like maradnu, can be translated, “we have rebelled,” but m.r.d. refers more to the act of rebelling, while s.r.r. connotes the quality of being rebellious and stubborn. The famous rebellious child of Deuteronomy is called ben sorer umoreh. Psalm 68:7 identifies this attitude of stubborn rebelliousness as a particularly entrenched trait, which is difficult to overcome: “God gives the lonely ones a home to dwell in; God leads out the prisoners to prosperity; but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”

DAY SIXTEEN – SARARNU MEDITATION by Rabbi Debra Orenstein:
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have been stubborn.” Pause and notice what comes immediately to mind. Consider what stubbornness has cost you. Make some notes, if you wish. Sit quietly and see if you can be flexible with your stubbornness. Can you be patient with it? Stubbornly attacking your stubbornness will not heal it ☺. Awareness, action, and forgiveness will. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the confession “I have been stubborn.” When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. If you wish, make some notes on what you learned during the meditation. With this meditation, you have planted a seed. May it bear good fruit.

DAY SEVENTEEN - INTRODUCTION TO AVINU
In the Bible, the word avon refers to three things: iniquity, guilt for iniquity, and punishment for iniquity. The illusion or miscalculation of the sinner in the crucial moment of choice is that s/he can derive immediate gratification from the sin, but avoid guilt and punishment, or postpone them indefinitely. It is built into Biblical Hebrew that iniquity cannot be separated from its consequences.

DAY SEVENTEEN- AVINU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “I have sinned.” Pause and notice what comes immediately to mind. Make a note about it. Then write, “I am guilty of sin.” Again, notice what immediately comes to mind, and record it. Finally, write: “I have paid a price for sin.” Notice what first comes to mind and make a note of that, too. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the confessions you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. You’ve done the deed, been judged, and paid the price. These days leading up to the New Year are your opportunity to take responsibility for the sin, repent, and release it. You deserve to stop carrying this baggage! You deserve teshuvah! Record in your notebook one change you could make in thought and one step you could take in deed, to heal and release your sin. Choose one of those two or another specific action that you can commit to. Now record a date by which you will fulfill your commitment. May your choices bear good fruit.

DAY EIGHTEEN - INTRODUCTION TO PASHANU
Pashanu means “we have transgressed,” and it implies a serious transgression. In modern Hebrew, one translation is “felony.” Like avon, pesha refers not just to the sin itself, but to the guilt or punishment that follows from it. Pesha can even refer to a sacrifice made in atonement for a transgression, letting us know that repentance is intimately tied up with sin, and that sin holds the seed of repentance in it.

DAY EIGHTEEN – PASHANU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “Repentance is embedded in even the worst of my sins.” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the confession you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take a few moments to list some of your many options with regard to teshuvah. In what ways is repentance accessible and available to you? What avenues of repentance are open? Choose one specific action you will take today. Your awareness is bearing good fruit.

DAY NINETEEN - INTRODUCTION TO TZARARNU
The noun tzar means “adversary” and the verb tzarar means “to treat like an adversary”: specifically, to oppress, vex, show hostility to, compete with, or be sharp to.

DAY NINETEEN – TZARARNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “How do I treat others, myself, and God as adversaries?” Sit with the question, and give some time and thought to all three parties. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the question you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take a few moments to remember times when you treated others, yourself, and God as allies and friends. What can you do today to be a better friend and ally? May your intentions bear good fruit.

DAY TWENTY - INTRODUCTION TO KISHINU OREF
Kishinu oref literally means “we have stiffened our necks.” Figuratively, it means we have been inflexible and stubborn.

DAY TWENTY – KISHINU OREF MEDITATION
Those who do not write on Shabbat can meditate on the Sabbath day entries without journaling, or wait until after sunset to do the daily exercise. Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. Start with a short physical experiment: Tighten all your muscles, intensely, for several seconds. Squint your eyes shut; clench your fists; create isometric tension everywhere; feel that extreme tightness. Then, all at once, release your muscles. Become limp and pliable, letting out a deep breath. Repeat a few times. Notice how much energy it takes to stay stiff. Notice what a relief it is when you let go and become “soft.” On a blank page in the notebook write: “How am I rigid and stubborn, particularly in persisting with bad acts or destructive thoughts?” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, deliberately tighten and then release your muscles. Return your focus to your breath or to the question you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Take a few moments to consider if there is any way your inflexibility can serve a positive purpose. Could you be stubborn and inflexible about your own teshuvah, for example? May even your negative qualities be mobilized to serve your highest good. And may your awareness yield supple fruit. ☺

DAY TWENTY-ONE - INTRODUCTION TO RASHANU
Rashanu means “we have done evil” or “we have done harm.” Wickedness is by its nature destructive. In this sense, there are no victimless sins.

DAY TWENTY-ONE – RASHANU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “How have I done evil or harm?” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Close your eyes and relax. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. Breathe deeply through any defensiveness or pain. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the question you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Is there any repair you can make? Is there anyone of whom you need to ask forgiveness? If you are unsure or skeptical, is there anyone who might advise you about what you could do to heal any harm you have caused or to help an offended party feel whole? Take the appropriate steps to ensure that this meditation bears good fruit.

DAY TWENTY-TWO - INTRODUCTION TO SHICHATNU
In this causative form, the root s.h.t. means to ruin, destroy, spoil, corrupt or pervert. Proverbs 6:32 is a prime example: “Whoever commits adultery lacks understanding (chasar lev). Anyone who does so perverts/corrupts/destroys his soul.”

DAY TWENTY-TWO - SHIHATNU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “What understanding or heart knowledge am I lacking (chasar lev) that could prevent me from ruining, destroying, spoiling, corrupting, perverting? What do I need to know?” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the questions you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes. What do you know now, in this moment – from this meditation or from before – that can help you reverse and heal destructive patterns? What do you understand now – from this meditation or from before – about how to improve, create, legitimize, and make righteous whatever you have corrupted? May your inquiry bear good fruit.

DAY TWENTY-THREE - INTRODUCTION TO TA’INU
Ta’ainu means “we have erred” or “we have wandered.” When Hagar wanders in the desert, physically and spiritually lost, this is the Hebrew root that describes her movement (Genesis 21:14).

DAY TWENTY-THREE – TA’INU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “In some regards, I have lost my way.” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Close your eyes, relax, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the confession you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes. What path do you need to pursue now? Would it be suitable to change course or ask for directions? Perhaps you have the map you need already. Take a few moments to consider being lost and being found – here and now. As you move and walk today, imagine that every step you take is helping you move spiritually in the direction you need to go. Baruch ata Adonai eloheynu melech ha’olam hamechin mitzadei gaver. Blessed are you, God, Ruler of the universe, who guides our steps.

DAY TWENTY-FOUR - INTRODUCTION TO TITANU
Titanu is a causative of the same root as ta’inu, and it means “we have caused (or led) others to go astray.” Just as someone who prompts others to give tzedakah is considered even more praiseworthy than someone who simply gives, anyone who causes others to sin is more culpable than someone who strays on his or her own.

DAY TWENTY-FOUR – TITANU MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “To whom am I a teacher and example?” Close your eyes, relax, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. When the alarm sounds, take out your notebook and do “automatic writing” for another five minutes – i.e., keep your hand moving across the page, answering the question. You can list people and ideas that came to you during the meditation or that occur to you at the moment of the writing. You don’t have to manufacture disciples, but be creative, and stretch to think of more people, places, and circumstances with whom or where you have the power to lead. At the end of five minutes, recite this wisdom from Rabbi Chanina: “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most of all from my students” (Ta'anit 7a). You have completed one meditation on each word in the Viddui prayer. May your awareness and intentions bear good fruit.

DAY TWENTY-FIVE - INTRODUCTION TO VE’AL KULAM
The Al Chet prayer names an even greater number and variety of sins than the Viddui. Each line begins “al chet shechatanu lefanecha be…” “for the sin we have sinned before you in….” The sins cover everything from mocking parents and teachers, to licentiousness, to turning our backs on the poor. The refrain is “ve’al kulam – and for all these [sins we have named], O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.” The ultimate goal of the confessional prayers is to move beyond guilt and confession to repentance and forgiveness.

DAY TWENTY-FIVE – VE’AL KULAM MEDITATION
The phrase “ve’al kulam” is expansive and inclusive. “For all these things” covers everything you did – even the misdeeds you forgot about, minimized, made excuses for, or felt justified in. Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “Let all my sins be clear to me. Let my awareness include everything I need to know.” Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Close your eyes and relax. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. Breathe deeply through any resistance. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the prayer you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Make some notes about anything you learned. Repeat the prayer you have written out loud. Today and every day, may your awareness continually grow and expand. Attend to the messages you receive, and they will bear good fruit.

DAY TWENTY-SIX - INTRODUCTION TO SELACH
The root s.l.ch means to forgive or pardon, and it is used Biblically to refer to God forgiving us. The words we repeat on Kol Nidrei night are God’s statement of forgiveness following the incident of the spies: salachti kidevarecha; I have forgiven, according to your [plea]” (Numbers 14:20).

DAY TWENTY-SIX – SELACH MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “Is there anyone who has requested forgiveness from me, whom I have – openly or secretly – refused to forgive completely?” Pause and notice whoever comes to mind. (Be sure to include yourself, if applicable.) Make a note about your thoughts. Then write, “How can I imitate God and forgive, despite the deed, whatever its magnitude?” Again, notice what immediately comes to mind and record it. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the questions you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Each day, as the High Holidays approach, may your heart soften more and more. May you be known to yourself and to the world as a salchan: a forgiving, merciful, and gracious human being.

DAY TWENTY-SEVEN - INTRODUCTION TO MECHAL
The root m.ch.l. means to pardon, forgive, yield, forgo, remit, or renounce. When someone commits a sin against you, you can describe that as a spiritual i.o.u. The offending party owes an apology and restitution. But trying to collect a debt from a person who doesn’t have sufficient resources will only exhaust you. So when the reparation is incomplete or entirely owing, we can nevertheless decide to forgo payment. We let go of the expectation that we will be made whole on a particular debt, in order to be more whole, peaceful, and happy. God is willing to forgive us for our inabilities and incapacities. Can we also forgive?

DAY TWENTY-SEVEN - MECHAL MEDITATION
Those who do not write on Shabbat can meditate on the Sabbath day entries without journaling, or wait until after sunset to do the daily exercise. Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “What habit, quality, or mindset would I need to cultivate in order to be more forgiving in general?” Pause and notice whoever comes to mind. Make a note about your thoughts. Then write, “What habit, quality, or mindset would I need to cultivate in order to more easily forgo and let go of old i.o.u.’s?” Again, notice what immediately comes to mind and record it. Set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the questions you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Each day, as the High Holidays approach, may the qualities you admire grow in you.

DAY TWENTY-EIGHT - INTRODUCTION TO KAPER
K.p.r. means to atone or propitiate. It also has the connotation of substitution. In the Bible, the scapegoat effects atonement by serving as the repository for the sins of the Israelites. When the goat is exiled, it symbolically carries away their sins. A goat dies instead of the people. In Yiddish, a kaparah is something bad that happens, which is considered a substitute for something even worse that might have happened. For example, if you have a minor illness, your grandmother may declare it a kaparah against a more serious one – pooh, pooh. In some way, atonement always involves substitutions: substituting new habits for old, substituting awareness for denial, substituting repentance for shame.

DAY TWENTY-EIGHT – KAPER MEDITATION
Bring a notebook and a timer or alarm clock to a quiet place. On a blank page in the notebook write: “What am I willing to do instead of the sin that I most typically fall into? With what shall I replace it – in behavior, time, and energy?” Pause and notice whatever comes to mind. Make a note about your thoughts. Then set the alarm for five to fifteen minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Observe your thoughts as they arise and promptly release them, to the best of your ability. If you become distracted or mired in internal dialogue, return your focus to your breath or to the questions you have written. When the alarm sounds, gently open your eyes and acclimate yourself to the room. Record any insights or intentions you want to remember. Today, as Rosh Hashanah fast approaches, consciously do things differently. Eat a new food instead of your usual. Call someone you otherwise wouldn’t. Listen to a new radio station. With these minor substitutions, you are planting a seed for transformation. May that seed bear luscious fruit.

Our audio CD Transformation Now (available as a download on iTunes or on CD by clicking on the icon below) focuses on the Jewish concept of teshuvah (repentance). It explains and expands on many of the ideas in the meditations above.