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”
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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