This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
“Permission for Imperfection”
One of the most seemingly overrated and overhyped religious services/rituals in all of Judaism is the annual recitation of Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur night. We come to Shul and give ear to Kol Nidrei’s ancient tune. Dramatic and haunting a melody Kol Nidrei has, but if one looks through the text itself, Kol Nidrei is just a legal nullification of our promises, oaths, and Konam-vows (whatever those are).
Sure, the nullification of our pledges is important in connection to the days of Judgment, because we don’t want to be held accountable for not living up to our word at this critical time. But, why is this legal procedure the dramatized opening act that it is every year? Why is there a spooky melody? What is the true meaning and function of this enigmatic “Kol Nidrei Night”?
While we ponder this question, let us consider another fundamental question which should bother us on Kol Nidrei Night. That question is: What kind of message are we try to send Hashem and ourselves through Kol Nidrei? Yes, we’re trying to render our vows null and void. We’re trying to eliminate all accountability so that that which we say cannot and will not be used against us in this heavenly court of law. But, if we think about it, as an introduction to the new year and our larger Teshuvah process, this “nullification” is far from reassuring. We are in the middle of exiting a year of presumed sin and wrongdoing. We are coming before G-d with a goal of repentance and spiritual improvement. Ideally then, we should be making pledges and taking oaths, committing to whatever we can to demonstrate our ambition of Teshuvah! We should be throwing on the yoke of accountability, not throwing it off! What happened to New Years Resolutions? Yet, we stand before Hashem and essentially tell Him that any promises we make should NOT be taken seriously, that we really can’t “legally” commit to anything. What kind of a disclaimer to our Teshuvah is that?!
The answer to this question is perhaps that as “weak” as it sounds, it is the most honest and most appropriate disclaimer for our Teshuvah.
On Yom Kippur, we engage in a lot of practices to resemble angels. We don’t eat or drink, engage in relations, anoint ourselves, wash ourselves, or wear leather shoes. We dress in white and engage in songs of G-d’s praise. We are in the guise of angels. That is the ideal we strive for. We want to be better people. We want to perfect our ways. We want to be ever close to Hashem. We want to be able to commit ourselves to that mission, and yes, we make religious “New Years Resolutions.” But, who are we kidding?! We are sinners. We are flawed. We are bound to repeat our mistakes. We are human. In fact, we are not angels. And that is why, although we come before Hashem in the guise of angels, on this selfsame day, we pour out our baggage and confess our sins.
That is what we are conveying, or better yet, confessing with our Kol Nidrei! That we are unreliable humans. That we are flawed. Before we come before Hashem in the guise of angels, we admit that we cannot fake it for so long. We are incapable of making unbreakable vows. Kol Nidrei is our aknowledgment of our frailty and nakedness. It is our justification to even begin opening our mouths before the All-knowing King. It is an honest acknowledgment of reality before we can stand in front of Hashem on Yom Kippur day, giving off the impression that we are pure beings. It is our permission for imperfection.
This confession is a sobering one. It demands an element of fear. It is an acknowledgment our weakness and meakness. We admit that we cannot justify our existence and truly bear the daunting responsibility that life demands of us. Thus, the haunting tune is appropriate, and the procedure, at large, is a most crucial first step in our Teshuvah process on Yom Kippur.
But, indeed, it is only the first step of the process. Because, it is not for naught that we dress as angels and play the part. It is similarly not for naught that we attempt the commitments and begin the process of Teshuvah. We are certainly not trying to fake G-d out, and neither are we trying to fake ourselves out. We are trying to genuinely make strides in the right direction! Yes, we are humans, and yes, we nullify our pledges. But, we are not by any means absolved from our mission. We are not excused from putting in effort to become better people. We have to try. G-d knows we’re imperfect, but as humans, we still have a human level of accountability. And so, once we’ve acknowledged the gravity of this challenge through our confession of Kol Nidrei, once we’ve stated our disclaimer, we roll up our sleeves and resume our mission of making like angels whose goal is to just serve Hashem. Because when it comes down to it, that is our goal. It is our responsibility.
In the end, Kol Nidrei plays a key role in our Teshuvah process. Honesty is the best policy. We can and must admit where we struggle. And once we’ve done that, we must then attempt to improve bit by bit, to become slightly better people, this Yom Kippur, than we were the Yom Kippur before. If we do that, we can justifiably Daven for a G’mar Chasimah Tovah.
May we all be Zocheh to be honest in our Teshuvah, be aware of our imperfection, but at the same time, set our eyes on a higher ideal and allow our angelic side bring a better self out of each us this year, and Hashem should seal us for a Gut G’Bentched Yor of health, happiness, goodness and, of course, Geulah with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have an Awesome Yom Kippur and a G’mar Chasimah Tovah!
– Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂