There are many reasons for us to reflect on the Kol Nidrei prayer. To what it says, and maybe also to what it does not say. Jew haters of many generations used it to point out of the inability to trust those who make vows and then dissolve them by merely going to synagogue and reciting a prayer. This concern, by the way, was already voice in Babylon, with worry that people will not take seriously their undertakings. Some commentators suggest that one may disavow a vow taken only if a genuinely person forgot about it or if there is some extraordinary circumstance to do so.
There are three version for the relief from vows undertaken. One speaks of commitments taken in the past, from the previous Day of Atonement until the current Day of Atonement. The concern from the consequence of the nullification of past commitments led the son-in-law of Rashi and the father of Rabenu Tam to suggest a future looking statement, from the current Day of Atonement until the next Day of Atonement, allowing releasing commitments mistakenly undertaken by a person. Today most commonly a combined version that uses both the past and future nullification of the commitment is used, from the previous Day of Atonement until the current Day of Atonement and from the current Day of Atonement until the next Day of Atonement.
We all make promises, make vows, not always being fully aware or cognizant of that. Some are made haphazardly, some are not intended to be kept. Others are serious commitments we make but in fact postpone to some future time which never arrives and they get set aside to be forgotten. Sometimes they will come to haunt us many years later when nothing can be done to fix our inaction. Maybe we are very lucky to have Kol Nidrei around to remind us, no less than three times in a row, that we need to be more mindful as to our undertakings, promises and commitments. It seems to me that the idea of cancelling commitments by the act of reciting Kol Nidrei is in fact a call to us all not do so, a call to possibly promise a little less but do much more than we have promised.
Those vows that a person remembers are of particular interest. These kinds of vows cannot be canceled by reciting Kol Nidrei. For those a person needs to appear before a Beit Din, a court, and get permission not to fulfill the commitment. No doubt that the government of the State of Israel and he who heads it these days, remember such a commitment very well, despite the fact the Netanyahu is trying to cancel that commitment with all kinds of excuses. His excuses have everything to do the convenience of his coalition, but surely they have nothing to do with an extraordinary circumstance. A court will have to make a decision regarding the compromise agreement on the Kotel because those who made the commitment are not willing to stand by it. They are trying to use their Kol Nidrei to freeze the agreement and avoid performance under the freely undertaken commitments by him and the government he now heads. Such a shameful behavior should not be allowed to succeed or e supported. It gives us all a bad name, is shameful to us all, and worse of, it is damaging to all of us. It is therefore that we have to speak clearly against such attempts.
Kol Nidrei is there for us to make sure that we do not lie to ourselves. The idea of cancelling future vows , so I submit, is just about that. It basically notes that we know the nature of human beings, we will promise, and we shall not make good on our promises, we shall make vows and retreat. We are human and will therefore err and mislead and that is why the request is future looking, knowing that we will need it, but hopefully in as tiny as possible measures. It is unfortunate that the Israeli government needs huge tubs to collect all the unkept promises. Instead of demonstrating high standard of behavior we are exposed time after time to shameful treatment by those currently in power. This is while we expect our leaders to try and lead the way for others in an honest manner, even at short term expediency.
We chant Kol Nidrei aloud and repeat it three times. We are all there. We can listen to the others chanting and repeating. We must also listen to what we are saying, and I hope we also listen way beyond what the words are telling us. They are calling upon us to decreasing the gap between Kol Nidrei, all of our vows, and what we actually accomplish, or attempt to accomplish for that matter.
The Reform Movement in Israel, like our sister congregations and organizations abroad, are all involved in Tikkun Olam. Part of that is our voyage to make good on our promises, meaningful undertakings in the communities we are involved in, in their inner and outer circles. As we fix the world, concentrate on Tikkun Olam, we reduce the gap between our vows and our deeds, cover the chasm between our words and the reality we are trying to shape, taking our greatest aspirations and making them concrete.
Here in Israel we have still a long way to go and much to do. Our vow is not to let go and continue what I have described many times as our Marathon race of our Movement. We do not want to cancel, we stand by our vows, stating that they are there and that we want to fulfill them, and we will fight for them together, in Israel and abroad. We have great challenges but one simple truth, our commitment to change in the spirit of the Reform Movement so that the foundations of this marvelous state will be based on it being both Jewish and Democratic. Jewish to be ready to view the seventy different faces of Judaism and debate it over and over again, and Democratic that respects and gives place to every human being, and that gives the minority full rights as vigorously as protecting the rights of the majority.
When you go home take with you the moving spirit of Kol Nidrei. Ponder about what happened and what you would like to happen in the future. Check every aspect of your life, your parenthesis, your family, community, and so on. Identify the gaps and find ways to heal wounds, to close rifts, and bridge chasms.
Shabbat Shalom and best wishes for a Shana Tova.
Reuven Marko, 10 Tishrei 5778, 29 September 2017