Literally translated, Vidui means “confessional.” While this process does not clear one of sin, the Vidui is considered an essential component in demonstrating readiness to engage in the process of teshuvah.
We first read about the concept of Vidui in the book of Leviticus, when the high priest confesses on behalf of all the sins of Israel. Later texts, including the siddur and the medieval codes, the Mishne Torah, demonstrate an evolution of this process from ritual into a component of prayer itself.
The central component of Vidui is the recitation of Ashamnu. This alphabetic acrostic consisting of twenty-four lines lists the various transgressions committed collectively by the community. On Yom Kippur, it is customarily said while standing and beating one’s chest with one’s fist as a physical embodiment of atonement.
Vidui is also said on one’s deathbed, as a final opportunity for confession. On Yom Kippur, as we engage in liturgy that asks us to consider who will be signed and sealed in the book of life when the gates close, we might also recite Vidui with the knowledge that none of us knows what lies for us on the other side of those gates.