Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, which is in just a few days, is the culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance that began with Rosh Hashanah. A significant portion of the lengthy prayers of Yom Kippur is devoted to Viduy — confession of misdeeds, which includes a detailed list of 44 areas of observance for which we ask for forgiveness. Each of these is introduced by the words “For the misdeed we committed before You…” before we detail the area of infraction. Why must each of our misdeeds include this introduction?
Officers of the military are required to wear uniforms, and the exact details of the uniform are dictated by army regulations. If a soldier is found to be missing part of his uniform, like a button or a belt, he will be instructed to immediately correct it, and possibly be disciplined for the infraction.
If a soldier goes absent without leave (AWOL), on the other hand, the crime and punishment are much more severe. This could lead to court martial, and harsh punishments including forfeiture of pay and privileges, or even imprisonment.
At the time of his hearing before the court, a soldier accused of going AWOL will not be called to answer for minor dress code violations like not wearing a belt at the time of his arrest. If a soldier completely deserted the army, we don’t care to discipline him for a missing button!
Our situation on Yom Kippur, however, is very different. All of us have made mistakes over the year, of greater or lesser significance, and we might think that we can ignore the small infractions. In reality there is an overriding infraction which all share in common: were we aware that we were in the presence of G-d? Each wrong deed distances us from Him, both because of what we did, and because, if we truly knew we were in His presence, we would have behaved differently.
The small misdeeds do not compare to “deserting the base,” acting oblivious to the fact that we’re always before Him. For this reason each misdeed begins with a recognition that everything we do is “before You.” That is something each misdeed shares in common, and is usually more significant than the deed itself.
As much as our focus over the High Holidays is on correcting our ways, improving our interpersonal relationships, and upgrading our Mitzvah observance, it’s crucial to not lose sight of the fact that G-d is always with us. That’s both comforting and motivating. Being in the presence of authority, and certainly the Ultimate Authority, motivates us to act in a respectful manner. At the same time, that Authority is also our Father, who is always there to protect us and express His love for us. May we merit to feel G-d’s presence and love, and be sealed in the Book of Health, Happiness, and Success for this coming year.