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Confessions: Ashamnu

“When affliction and suffering are visited upon the evildoer whose thought is constantly to persist in his wrongdoing – ‘ashamav’ -, he must accept chastisement at the outset, abandon his evil thought and sever his evil deeds from his hands.” (Rabbeinu Yonah, The Gates of Repentance, First Gate #11 – Translation by Shraga Silverstein – Feldheim Publishers 1967)

Rabbeinu Yonah uses “Asham” to describe someone who is stuck in a pattern of behavior: “to persist in his wrongdoing”. 

Ashamnu does not refer to a specific sin, but to any sin that results from being stuck in a negative pattern of behavior.  We have allowed certain negative traits to continue without dealing with them.

“Though he know it not, yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.” (Leviticus 5:17) Rashi: Rabbi Yossi the Galilean says: Here Scripture punishes one who does not know. How much more so will it punish one who does know.

The context of the ‘Asham’ is a sin performed without awareness.

Ashamnu: We are not aware that something we are doing is wrong or destructive. Something we are doing can hurt or limit us.

Achieving Greatness:

Immediately deal with negative patterns of behavior, thought and speech.

Try to be constantly aware of our actions.
Study “Zehirut” in Mesillat Yesharim – The Path of the Just
Develop tools, such as a daily Cheshbon Hanefesh – Self Evaluation –  to regularly evaluate ourselves.
Use the different blessings of the Amidah to examine ourselves:
4th Blessing – Da’at – Knowledge: “Do I think before I act or speak? Do I deliberate before I make a decision?
5th Blessing – Teshuva – Repentance: “Am I willing to make amends with people?”
6th Blessing – Selicha – Forgiveness: “Am I forgiving of others?”
7th Blessing – ‘See our suffering”: “Am I sensitive to the suffering of others?”

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