Kol Nidrei, the opening prayer of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, comes at perhaps the most somber and awesome moment on the Jewish calendar. The melody is chilling, and it is said while Torah scrolls are held and a mood of seriousness engulfs the room. The congregants all stand anticipating the holiest day of the year.
What always appears incongruous to me is the text of Kol Nidrei. There’s no description of G-d sitting in judgment, no portrait of trembling angels gathered in the heavenly court — just a statement that all vows are annulled. How does this message fit with this crucial moment, the entrance into Yom Kippur?
Many have had the experience of offering an apology, only to be told that “sorry isn’t good enough.” It’s fundamental to Judaism that G-d always accepts a sincere apology, is always ready to welcome us back. There are, however, times that a person can commit such a breach that the relationship with G-d needs major repairs, where a simple apology is not enough by itself.
On Yom Kippur this all changes. The Nesivos Shalom writes (based on the Zohar) that Kol Nidrei‘s annulment of vows erases all spiritual decrees. Major repairs are no longer needed. The opportunity to approach G-d and ask forgiveness for the past and make a commitment for the future is suddenly open to everyone. That is why on Yom Kippur, a simple apology is indeed all it takes. As all obstacles vanish, all hearts and souls opens up.
We stand before G-d with the hopes of renewing our relationship with Him, making a deep commitment to follow His will in the coming year. May we all make the most of this unique opportunity to stand before our Father, our King, and merit to be sealed in the book of life, happiness, and success!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org