The annulment of vows on Yom Kippur

Why are we so confident that Heaven will agree to this and truly wipe that slate clean for us?

Rabbi Berel Wein,

OpEds Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

The sublime holiness of the day of Yom Kippur is ushered in by the declaration of the annulmemment of vows in the Kol Nidrei service. Obviously we do not want to appear before the Heavenly court with outstanding unfulfilled commitments. But attempting to discharge one’s committed, seriously undertaken commitments by cancelling those obligations unilaterally seems, at first glance, to be a slippery  way of escaping one’s responsibilities. 

Why are we so confident that Heaven will agree to this and truly wipe that slate clean for us? The Torah itself appears to be quite strict and exacting in matters of vows and commitments.  “All that you verbally commit to shall you fulfill” is apparently the governing principle of the Torah in these natters. Yet we are sure that Heaven will accept our nullification of vows as being valid, both legally and morally. 

I believe that the reason for this becoming acceptable and even somewhat noble lies in the majestic concept of Yom Kippur itself. Forgiveness is a Heavenly trait. Human beings may forgive slights and insults and not act vengefully but within themselves the hurt and the grudge remains. Such is our human nature, the instinct of self-preservation that is part of us from our first breath to our last. 

But on Yom Kippur we ask Heaven to truly forgive us and to reverse time, so to speak, so that our sins and hurtful behavior appear never to have really occurred. Heaven does not bear grudges. And the day of Yom Kippur is a touch of Heaven here on earth. 

What a gift this holy day is to us! The reversal of time makes us all clean and fresh again. The body may feel its years and infirmities but the soul is refreshed and revitalized. Before holidays and special occasions we polish the silver items that we possess so that they gleam with their original luster, Yom Kippur polishes our souls, removing the tarnish that dimmed it over the year. 

Since the body is not serviced on Yom Kippur, the soul, for this one day of the year, takes precedence and Heaven restores the soul to its original state of being and with its connection to its Creator. The soul needs no physical nourishment or exterior garments of show. It longs for the tranquility of the day and for the dialogue it conducts with its Creator through the soaring prayers of Yom Kippur. 

And because of the magical reversal of time that Yom Kippur endows us with, we are able to relive the experience of the service of the High Priest in the Temple service of Yom Kippur. The past, present and future all merge seamlessly on Yom Kippur because our souls are eternal without barriers of time to distract us. So our inner selves are able to experience what to our physical selves is an unseen and remote occurrence.  This ethereal quality of Yom Kippur should be treasured and appreciated by us on this, the holiest day of the year.    

Gmar Chatima tova