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Please include Israel's captive soldiers in your tefillot: Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel, Tzvi ben Penina Feldman, Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz, Ron ben Batya Arad, Guy ben Rina Chever.



Erev Yom Kippur - Friday,  9 Tishrei 5775 – October 3, 2014             

             Undoubtedly, the most mysterious section of the Yom Kippur prayer service is Kol Nidrei, the recitation with which the Yom Kippur prayers begin.  The text of Kol Nidrei is a legal proclamation formally annulling vows and oaths made during the year.  Rabbenu Tam amended the text, changing Kol Nidrei into a formal disclaimer rendering void all vows that we might take during the coming year.  Many communities combine the two versions, such that in Kol Nidrei we both annul past vows and declare void vows that will be taken in the future.  Much has been written in halakhic works about the technicalities of Kol Nidrei, if and how we are able to annul or disavow pledges and oaths in this fashion.  Even more perplexing, perhaps, is the eerie, haunting melody in which Kol Nidrei is chanted, the aura of awe and dread it creates and the feelings of spiritual longing which it evokes.  Why is this legal proclamation chosen as the introduction to the Yom Kippur prayers, and why is it recited with such reverence and strong emotion? 

            The Rambam, in Hilkhot Nedarim (13:23-5), formulates an ambivalent approach to the concept of nedarim – voluntary vows and pledges.  He writes that although nedarim can be useful under certain circumstances, when a person feels weak and insecure in a certain area of his conduct and seeks to strengthen himself through incentivizing measures, they should generally be avoided.  One likely reason for this perspective is that even when a neder proves effective in incentivizing proper behavior, it fails to address the root cause of the problem.  It might serve its purpose as a short-term solution and remedy to an immediate problem, but it falls far short of effecting a substantive, enduring change within one’s personality. 

            On this basis, Rav David Brofsky (Hilkhot Moadim, pp. 152-3) suggests explaining the function and relevance of the Kol Nidrei recitation as we begin Yom Kippur: 

Vows and oaths are a means of dealing with one’s moral and spiritual weaknesses.  While at times they may be necessary, and even praiseworthy, they do not solve the problem.  Ideally, one should change his behavior through examination and introspection, leading to sincere repentance, and not through the artificial means of a vow. 

On Yom Kippur, we cast aside our vows and oaths and state before God: We are willing to purify ourselves and to get to the bottom of our moral and spiritual failings, once and for all.  We no longer need vows and oaths to keep us from sinning.  We will plumb the depths of our personalities, searching for that which motivates us to sin.  The teshuva process that begins on Yom Kippur evening with Kol Nidrei aims to rehabilitate our weak personalities, rendering the need for vows null and void.  Only this type of repentance leads to purification, as the Torah teaches, “For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be cleansed before the Lord” (Lev. 16:30). 

At the onset of Yom Kippur, we announce that we are not choosing the route of nedarim to address and remedy our spiritual failings.  Our goal and purpose is to bring about significant and fundamental change, not to enlist artificial measures to correct our behavior.  We are not interested in nedarim.  We are interesting in excavating the deepest caverns of our souls to identify our weaknesses and thinking seriously of how they can be most effectively addressed. 

            This might very well be the powerful message of Kol Nidrei, which is precisely the message that ought to set the tone for the coming 25 hours and set us on the direction we should be following in our desire to perform genuine teshuva and emerge as better, more perfect people. 


Rav David Silverberg       



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