Yom Kippur: Past and Future

The history and meaning of Kol Nidrei.

Aloh Naaleh,

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Arutz 7

In a shiur he delivered more than 30 years ago, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (the Rav) spoke of the history and meaning of Kol Nidrei, which begins the communal prayer of Yom Kippur. While some of the Gaonim did not approve of Kol Nidrei as an addition to the tefilot, it in fact appears in the siddur of Rabbi Amram Gaon; however, only in past tense, annulling the vows of the past year. Several centuries later, Rabbenu Tam changed the tense from past to future, no longer focused on past vows, but concerned with invalidating future ones.
Teshuvah consists of two elements.

The Rav explained that teshuvah consists of two elements, charatah and kabalah, regretting one's past actions and committing to not repeat them in the future. For Rabbi Amram Gaon, the public declaration of the sins of unfulfilled vows represents bushah, a critical factor in evaluating ourselves in view of God's expectations. Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur testifies that we are ashamed of our past conduct and seek to spiritually cleanse ourselves, as a prerequisite for sincere teshuvah.

Rabbenu Tam saw Kol Nidrei as a symbol of the urgency to avoid future sin, a resolution to conduct ourselves better in the coming year than we have in the past. It is just this determination that Yom Kippur comes to strengthen and our public declaration underscores the decision to distance ourselves permanently from unacceptable acts.

As we enter 5769, many of us will hear a version of Kol Nidrei that includes both past and future tenses. May we merit the wisdom to see ourselves honestly and the strength to live our lives differently. This is especially true when it comes to the mitzvah of Aliyah. Most people express some kind of charatah about not being able to just yet perform the mitzvah. May G-d grant us the strength to accept that this year we will say, together with those who brought Bikkurim, "I have come to the Land which HaShem has sworn to our forefathers to give to us." (Deuteronomy 26:3)
Dr. David S. Ribner, his wife Mindy and their family moved to Israel 22 years ago. He is a senior lecturer at the School of Social Work at Bar-Ilan University, where he is the founder and director of the Sex Therapy Training Program. He also maintains a private practice in marital and sex therapy in Jerusalem.

The foregoing commentary was distributed by the Aloh Naaleh organization.