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Forgiveness, Sacred Text

Have Mercy Upon Me

High Holy Days 2023

Psalm 51:3-6, 17-19

Have mercy upon me, O God, as befits Your faithfulness; in keeping with Your abundant
compassion, blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity, and purify me of my sin;

for I recognize my transgressions, and am ever conscious of my sin.

Against You alone have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are just in Your
sentence, and right in Your judgment.

Adonai, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise.

You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings;

True sacrifice to God is a remorseful spirit; God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed


חָנֵּנִי אֱלֹהִים כְּחַסְדֶּךָ כְּרֹב רַחֲמֶיךָ מְחֵה פְשָׁעָי׃
הרבה [הֶרֶב] כַּבְּסֵנִי מֵעֲוֺנִי וּמֵחַטָּאתִי טַהֲרֵנִי׃
כִּי־פְשָׁעַי אֲנִי אֵדָע וְחַטָּאתִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד׃
לְךָ לְבַדְּךָ חָטָאתִי וְהָרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עָשִׂיתִי לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶךָ׃

אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ׃
כִּי לֹא־תַחְפֹּץ זֶבַח וְאֶתֵּנָה עוֹלָה לֹא תִרְצֶה׃
זִבְחֵי אֱלֹהִים רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה אֱלֹהִים לֹא תִבְזֶה׃

Tormented by the guilt of his sins of murder and adultery surrounding his pursuit of Bathsheba, King David authors this psalm seeking mercy and forgiveness from God. The text creates the imagery of sin as a stain; a mark that, with proper prayer and repentance, can be removed from the individual. The second half of this psalm begins with the familiar verse we use to open the Amidah, as we pray for the ability to authentically express our deepest, most heartfelt emotions in prayer. David believes that true t’shuva is found not through prescribed and perfunctory sacrifice, but through the pain and acknowledgment of one who has done wrong and seeks to make right.