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Yom Kippur

“The whole Israelite community and the stranger residing among them shall be forgiven,

for it happened to the entire people through error.” (Numbers 15:26)

Something peculiar will happen today, Friday, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei.  Jews around the world will scurry home from work, eat a quick meal, and RUSH TO GET TO SYNAGOGUE ON TIME.  Once there, we will listen to some dry, repetitive Aramaic legalese releasing us from vows and oaths we haven’t yet made (“from this Yom Kippur to the next…”).  And another Yom Kippur will begin.

Kol Nidre (all our vows) is probably the single-most recognized Jewish melody.  The music, more than the content, is responsible for keeping the prayer in the Yom Kippur liturgy.  And while it can provide a satisfying catharsis, it also can obscure Kol Nidre’s central question, which is hidden “between the lines.”

Kol Nidre can be divided into three sections: the introduction, which invokes the heavenly and earthly courts; the request to be released from our vows (the Kol Nidre paragraph); and the response, which consists of three verses from the Torah.   The first verse is the general “boilerplate” forgiveness for inadvertent sins (Numbers 15:26).  The second verse asks God’s kindness and forgiveness (Numbers 14:19). The final verse response with God’s forgiveness as requested (Numbers 14:20).

Those last two verses come right after the story of the spies sent by Moses into Canaan.  Twelve spies enter the land; ten say it can’t be taken and two say it can. The people lose faith, God is angered, Moses intercedes, and a merciful God forgives. The rabbis who edited Kol Nidre assumed that everybody in synagogue would recognize the verses’ context and make the connection.  Therein lays Kol Nidre’s central question:  as we “spy out” the year ahead, do we believe we can seize the opportunities, or are we already defeated by the obstacles?

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

G’mar Chatima Tova,


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