During my morning prayers last week, I remember reading two seemingly contradictory passages in the Amidah — the Jewish standing prayer.
The first was in the section asking for forgiveness.
“Forgive us our Father for we have sinned, pardon us our King for we have willfully transgressed, for You pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, Who is gracious and ever willing to forgive.”
In this section, we admit our shortcomings and ask for not only forgiveness but also pardoning — the first like a child before a parent and the second like a criminal before a judge.
The second was a prayer against…sinners?
“And for slanderers may there be no hope; and may all wickedness be destroyed instantly and may all Your enemies be cut down quickly. Quickly uproot, smash, and cast down the arrogant (some translations say “willful”) sinners and humble them quickly in our days. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who breaks enemies and humbles arrogant (/willful) sinners.”
Whoa. Not only does this seem a bit harsh, but it almost doesn’t seem to be in our best interest. Weren’t we just admitting that we are, in fact, willful sinners? Now, we’re asking for willful sinners to be uprooted, smashed, and cast down? How does this even compute?
Among the many blessings of life, one of the most significant such blessings is the ability to change ourselves. We can alter our appearance. We can change jobs. We can choose the people with whom we interact. We can leave uncomfortable situations or even move to new places.
We can alter our identity based on our behavior. We can go from cruel to sweet. Arrogant to humble. Outspoken to inquisitive. Hasty to patient.
What do these changes require? The willingness to do so.
When we ask for forgiveness and pardoning of our wrongdoings, we’re not only asking God for a cosmic mulligan, we’re announcing our change in identity. This transformation can take place immediately — even between one blessing in a prayer service and another. Had these blessings with the Amidah been swapped in their order, they would be at odds with one another. Because they exist as they do, we can ask for God to cleanse the world of wickedness and for willful, arrogant sinners to too be humbled so they may also choose to change their identities as well — and without hypocrisy.
We can change, we simply have to decide to do so.
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