What is the Viduy? What are its prayers, Psalms, laws, customs, meanings, and role?
Our soul is given to us in a pristine state at birth by G-d. All through life, we practice Teshuvah (repentance). We turn away from the corrupting influences of society, and return to purity through repentance. In Hebrew, the word for repentance is Teshuvah. The root stem of that verb is Shav. That is, to return.
The returning of the soul in its original pristine state is the goal of the Viduy. Viduy means confession. It is a three tract activity. One is to return to purity by a confession of sin, and pleas for forgiveness. Next to acknowledge the sovereinty of G-d. The last is to confess our monotheistic faith, as we depart this world on our journey to the Olam Ha Bah (the world to come).
What are the prayers of the Viduy? The three key prayers are: Let My Death Be an Atonement for My Sins, Master of the Universe, and Hear O Israel.
The first, beginning with Modeh ani translates as follows.
I acknowledge before You, Lord my G-d and the G-d of my Fathers, that my recovery and my death are in Your hands. May it be Your will that You heal me with total recovery, but, if I die, may my death be an atonement for all the errors, iniquities, and willful sins that I erred, sinned, and transgressed before You, and may You grant my share in the Garden of Eden, and grant me the merit to abide in the World to Come which is reserved for the righteous.
Our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, may our prayers come before You, and do not turn away form our supplication, for we are not so impudent and obdurate as to declare before You, Lord our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that we are righteous and have not sinned. Indeed we and our fathers have sinned.
We have transgressed, we have acted perfidiously, we have robbed, we have slandered. We have acted perversely and wickedly, we have willfully sinned, we have done violence, we have imputed falsely. We have given evil counsel, we have lied, we have committed iniquity, we have wantonly transgressed, we have oppressed, we have been obstinate. We have committed evil, we have acted perniciously, we have acted abominably, we have gone astray, we have led others astray, we have strayed from Your good precepts and ordinances, and it has profited us not. Indeed, You are just in all that has come upon us, for You have acted truthfully, and it is we who have acted wickedly.
Then we say the Ri bono shel Olam, Master of the Universe. It may be translated this way.
Concentrate strongly on G-d and his unity, and on the event of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Finally, one proclaims our monotheism in the form of the Shema Yisrael. It may be translated as follows.
Hear Oh Israel, Our lord our G-d, the lord is One. Blessed be His Name and His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
What Psalms may be recited by, with and for the one who is transiting to the world to come?
I would counsel that you ask that person what Psalms they wish to recite, or have recited for them. Whatever comforts them at this time is best for them. This is about them, not you. If they have no preference, cannot communicate, and have left no instructions, or have someone who knows them to speak for them a Psalm frequently recited is the 23rd Psalm. You may also include Numbers 6:24-26, or any Scriptural passage they find comfortingly. Bringing to them peace is the objective here.
What are the laws, customs, traditions, and other considerations involved in the saying of the Viduy?
If they do not know they are about to die, you may not bring up the Viduy. This is for fear in their fragile state you may prematurely terminate their life if they panic, or are shocked. Instead, you may say the Viduy for them silently.
It is best if they say the Viduy, Psalms and Scriptural passages in their original languages. If they cannot, for medical or other reasons, or if they want or need you to recite with them, do so slowly, so they can follow. Syllable by syllable if need be.
If they cannot communicate, you may say this for them out loud, or silently. Use the best available information, and use your best judgement.
The Viduy is to be recited or heard by both men and women of any age.
It is to be recited on any day. This includes the Shabbat (Sabbath), other Jewish holidays and on days when Tachnun (supplications of and for forgiveness) are not normally recited. This is about their passage from this life to the next. All else is suspended.
If they can, prior to reciting the Viduy, they should plea for forgiveness from those whom they may have caused pain or hardship. If they cannot, you can do so for them. Notice that the sins articulated in the Viduy are all in the plural form. As with the Al Chets (prayers for forgivness of sin in the Machzorim (prayer books) for Rosh Ha Shanah and Yom Kippur (the birthday of the world and the Day or Atonements) all sins are in plural format. Why? Because our sins are both what we committed, and what we may have prevented; or lessened had we been there for others in moments of their weakness. We are our brothers keeper. We are all in this together.
It is best to clear the room of relatives and others when saying the Viduy if they are weeping. That will distract the supplicant from concentration on the prayers. Obviously, Medical personnel doing their jobs are exempted from this matter. Their role is not emotional. They are there to give care.
It is customary to wash hands, and say the al netilat yadayim (who has ordained us to cleanse our hands) prior to saying the Viduy. The Viduy is a set of prayers primarily about purification. The symbolism is apt.
Men should cover their heads with a Kippah, (Yarmulke), or other head covering. They should wear a tallit or tallit catan garment with fringes to symbolize the 613 commandments. The tassles should be in all in four directions, symbolizing the universality of the Mitzvoth in every direction. It is also customary to wear a gartel (prayer sash). Women may cover their heads with a lace garment, out of respect.
If the departing person's children are present, and they still can communicate, it is best that they encourage their offspring to follow in their ways of the Torah. Children are the next link in the golden chain of tradition. A link should strengthen and lengthen a chain.
Once the Viduy is recited, and death seems immament, the person should not be left alone. Psalms should be recited for their recovery up unto the very end. These words of comfort may ease their transition to the world to come.
May G-d grant us all peace, and as He visits the sick, buries the dead, and comforts the mourning, so should we.
G-d bless us all. Enoch.