Undoing the Knots We Tie Ourselves Into
Preparing for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur
In 2011, in advance of Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur 5772, the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks recorded a series of ten short videos, each reflecting on a particular theme or prayer pertinent to this special and spiritual period in the Jewish calendar.
These timeless messages are equally applicable as we enter any new year.
Kol Nidre. Was there ever a stranger prayer to capture the imagination of serious minds? It isn’t poetry but prose. It isn’t even a prayer. It’s a dry, legal formula for the annulment of vows. The first time we hear about it is in the eighth century, and already great Rabbis are against it. “Can you annul vows that easily? Is this what we should be doing on the holiest night of the year?”
Yet it outlasted all its critics, defied its opponents, and remains one of the best-known and most evocative of all the passages in the prayer book. Why?
I suspect because it’s what teshuvah is all about. Like rash vows, like thoughtless words, we do things we know we shouldn’t. And on this night of nights, we look back at the mess we’ve sometimes made of our lives, the people we’ve hurt, the mistakes we’ve made, the deeds we should never have done, and say: God, Kulhon icharatna lehon. We regret them all. And if regret can undo a vow, let it undo a deed. Give us the strength to make amends and begin again, a little wiser this time, a little less brash, a little more understanding and patient and humble. Help me undo, kol nidrei, ve-esarei, ushevu’ai, all the knots I have tied myself into, and let my life become simple and honest and kind again.