Kol Nidrei-Get Busy Moving

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Jan 30, 2003
If one were to ask hislher fellow Jews what the most spiritual tefillah in all of Jewish liturgy is, the overwhelming majority would answer "Kol Nidrei." Even unaffiliated Jews realize that Kol Nidrei is the very plea that opens upthe gates of tefillah for those who have never experienced a heartfelt prayer. The moments spent saying Kol Nidrei are arguably the most serene and awe-inspiring moments of the year. The words penetrate our consciousness with a message of "Uru y'sheinim mish 'naschem, Arise, o sleepers, from your slumber."

One might expect, then , that a prayer so powerful and stirring would speak of lofty beings such as malachim and tzadikkim, or at least make mention of the higher concepts like kedusha, teshuva, and neshamos. But there is no mention of angels, of the righteous, no reference to holiness or transcendence. There is nothing in the least bit spiritual that might catapult us to shamayim. Kol Nidrei is simply an annulment document, a document that frees us from the previous year's oaths, much too difficult to bear. This is the most stirring supplication of the year?! This is the prayer that has single-handedly triggered thousands and thousands of Jews to reevaluate themselves?

Furthermore, if Kol Nidrei is the first step of Yom Kippur, why is it that we wait until after Kol Nidrei to say Shehecheyanu? After all, we don 't wait until the middle of the Pesach Seder to say Shehel cheyanu - the bracha is made at the very beginning of the Seder! Moreover, the Rambam rules that Shehecheyanu is only said over a kiddush cup, such that true simcha is generated. How do we say Shehecheyanu on Yom Kippur without a kiddush cup?

I can still recall quite vividly the shade of the sky on what was a beautiful Los Angeles Erev Shabbos. I had just heard that a great mystic, the Kaliver Rebbe, was staying at the house next door. I went over with two of my friends an hour before Shabbos to get a bracha from the rebbe. We waited patiently in the backyard, and, after several minutes, the Kaliver Rebbe emerged from the house. His white and gold bekeshe, special for Shabbos was in perfect contrast with the deep blue sky and thick white clouds that seemed to hover directly over his head . He looked into our eyes in complete silence for over five minutes, five minutes that I will never forget. That day the trees had been still and the wind deadly silent, but as he stared at us, a cool breeze picked up, becoming uncharacteristically vibrant. Suddenly, the rebbe spoke: "Don't worry; you aren't stuck, you can move. Hashem told Moshe at the Burning Bush, 'Shal na 'alecha me'al raglecha, Remove your shoes from your feet.' What was Hashem telling Moshe? The root of the word 'naalecha, shoes' is naal, a verb that can also mean to lock. Remove the shackles weighing you down, and soar upwards. 'Ki hamakom asher atah omed alav admas kodesh hu, For the place upon which you are standing is holy ground.' If you realize that wherever you stand, the ground is holy, nothing can restrain you. Your environment does not - cannot - restrict you." With this-message, the Kaliver Rebbe wished us a gut shabbos and went back into the house. Though he left, his message stayed with me: it was time to get moving.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, interpreted the words "V'halachta bidrachav, And you shall walk in His ways" beautifully. The passuk's simple meaning instructs us to mimic the attributes of G-d - "Just as He is merciful, so must must you be merciful. Just as He is fair, so must you be fair." The Lubavitcher Rebbe is bothered by the fact that the Rambam counts "V'halachta bidrachav" as one of the 613 mitzvos, since usually general, all encompassing ideals such as "Kedoshim tih 'yu, You shall be holy," are not counted. What, then, is so special about "V'halachta bidrachav'"] Rav Schneerson answers as follows: The mitzvah of "V'halachta bidrachav" commands us to be "holchim, movers." When we perform a mitzvah, we must not remain stagnant, but we must ensure that the mitzvah leaves its imprint on us. The guarantee of our survival is to constantly be in a state of motion. "V'halachta" tells us to get moving. "Bidrachav" tells us in what direction, in the way of Hashem. "Vehalachta Bedrachav" is the requirement to constantly grow. Doing mitzvos and fulfilling our chiyuvim is insufficient; we must also challenge ourselves to develop spiritually and mature.

This is the message ofKol Nidrei. We may feel locked in place by the commitments we have made that were too difficult to keep . We may have bound ourselves to a past that is too heavy to bear. Kol Nidrei bears the message of the Kaliver Rebbe: it is time to start moving. "Shal na 'alecha, Remove your old shoes. " Remove your shackles. (It is no coincidence that the climax of the Yom Kippur service is Neilah, the root of which is na 'al, shoe. This is because, by the time Yom Kippur ends, we have thrown away our old shoes, our old shackles, and replaced them with new na 'alay im, shoes that will help us to soar skyward.)

The same explanation underlies our waiting to say Shehecheyanu until after Kol Nidrei. Shehecheyanu is a bracha made on new things. For example, we make a Shehecheyanu on the lulav because we have not performed this mitzvah all year. Once we have unbound ourselves from the past through Kol Nidrei, we are ready to begin anew. On Yom Kippur, we are the newness upon which we say Shehecheyanu.

We are just a few days after the anniversary of 9/11. It was only two years ago, that paranoia swept through America. Life in America came to a standstill. Normal people couldn't stand comfortably in crowded areas. But G-d grants people the strength to move on. Not to forget, but to take the lessons of the past and move on. It is this same strength that helps us get up off the floor after Tisha B 'av, the same strength that underlies Kol Nidrei . It is the power to continue on after shattered dreams and unfulfilled aspirations. There is nothing more holy, more inspiring , than what is represented by Kol Nidrei - the power to change, the power to grow, the power to keep building.


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