Knock, Knock - Yom Kippur

No, this is not a knock, knock joke, though I wish I had one for the occasion. (I am open to suggestions.)

We have many customs which we don’t always notice though they have been passed down over the years. There is, for instance, a custom to tap (knock) lightly on our chest as we mention a list of actions we've done wrong in the past.1 It is a soft tapping that accompanies the Ashamnu2 (prayer of admission of guilt). We tap our heart with our fist. Admitting to these transgressions is the first step towards return. That light tap is a way to say to ourselves that it is we, our hearts, that have done wrong – no other. It is our responsibility.

The tapping is not the loud sound of the shofar that we hear on Rosh Hashanah. It is not a violent striking of the chest, nor is it a proud beating of the chest. It is rather a soft tapping - a personal tap. And we take care that it not be "just a tapping of the left side of our chest with your fist as we rattle off the ABCs of sin"3. It means something. It represents a process through which we endeavor to become more aware of our actions. A list of 66 actions are listed which give us the basis to become more aware of ourselves as we discuss these issues with God. Rabbi Soloveichik explains that even this admission of guilt is not just a not-to-do list but part of our process of return to be said in the form of a prayer.5 We are not brazen enough to deny our guilt nor to demand our forgiveness. We pray for forgiveness. We recognize our humanness.

That humanness has led us to err on occasion. Yet it is also that same humanness that can lead us forward to great heights.4 The same energies that led us to err can be re-routed to help us achieve our individual greatness. We return, as Rabbi Soloveichik points out, to that place where we had been before we erred.5 From that exalted spot we continue on our journey to being our best possible selves.

Gmar Chatima Tova.


  1. Kohellet raba 7:5
  2. Machzor(special prayer book) for Yom Kippur
  3. I liked the way this was described in Torah Tidbits – slightly adapted
  4. This is a recurring theme in the writings of Dr. Viktor Frankl and Dr. Teria Shantall
  5. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, "On Repentance" – Hebrew version p. 62, 65

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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