Sunday, October 01, 2006

Yom HaKippurim & Kol Nidrei

On Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is opened. When the Shofar is blown, so the mythology goes, not only has G-d decided not to destroy all of His Creation (that would be the Known Universe ;-))) but the Angels of the L-rd descend to Earth and begin to move among us mortals.

For the next week and a half--called the Nine Days of Awe--we are to make atonement to each other, to our fellow humans, for sins and transgressions we may have committed against one another over the past year. The lack of malice is assumed and forgiveness is granted universally. It's an interesting week and a half between Rosh Hashanah and Yom HaKippurim, or in Americanspeak, Yom Kippur.

On Erev Yom Kippur (tonight around sunset), the Book of Life is closed to the tune of the single-most haunting "song" you will ever hear--at least when it is sung "right" or by a really good Cantor. It is called Kol Nidrei** which loosely translates to "All Vows" and it is a dramatic plea to Hashem to hear our prayers of atonement and "wipe the slate clean" for us for one more year. This particular annual custom has been one of the greatest joys and sorrows of the Jewish people. It is a joy for what I hope are obvious reasons--not having to live your entire life under the weight of hopeless despair you have sinned beyond forgiveness? Yeah, a bit of a joy.

It is a sorrow because non-Jews have used this annual custom to twist and pervert and destroy the beauty of "forgiveness" - the concept of forgiveness which is at the core of Judiaism - and instead these anti-Semites try to claim that Kol Nidrei "proves" Jews cannot be trusted to keep their word. In fact, Kold Nidrei "proves" nearly the opposite, as it is the epitomy of "owning up to one's obligations" and making atonement for any shortcomings--all wrapped up during the Nine Days of Awe before one has to go stand before the L-rd in Final Judgment. But this little aspect gets overlooked. Easier to say Jews are liars and cheats and just go about with your daily slaughter. Guess what? Jews pray on Yom Hakippurim for the forgiveness of non-Jews, too!! So there.

By the end of the 26 hours of this Holiest of Holy Days, the Book of Life will be sealed for another year. Those who have atoned in their hearts for their sins against others (other people) are granted a place in the Book. However, from just before sunset to just after sunset, we ask forgiveness for promises broken to G-d, we atone to Him for our transgressions and He, hopefully, grants us forgiveness, nulls and voids all vows that were not yet kept and seals our names into the Book of Life.

The slate is wiped clean for the next year.

Jews do this "wiping the slate clean" each year--not to avoid obligations as the anti-Semites in the world would have you say--but rather, to cleanse and renew, to take one step closer to G-d, to expand our hearts and souls to the point we can find forgiveness in ourselves that will be enough to stamp out the hatred which surrounds us. That's the goal: wipe out hatred, fill up with loving forgiveness, all in one swipe. Trust me, it's not an easy swipe. Not a one, two, three, done. And it's not a matter of doing this or that and/or doing it well enough. No, no, that'd be too easy. We're Jewish, remember? If there is an easy way and a hard way, we take the hard way everytime, just in our nature. Yom Kippur is a day of "not doing." I hear you scratching your head with a Huh?

Yom Kippur's more than just a day of "fasting." It's also a day of consciously removing many things from our consciousness that might normally distract our minds from the job of connecting spiritually with our Maker. I'm not so sure about a lot of Jewish customs, but I get the point of this one. The "not doing" is a deliberate and conscious act designed to "separate" Yom Kippur from the rest of the year. It is called the "Shabbat of Shabbats" but is not a day of rest. It is a day of prayer but not the loud, rejoicing prayer of Shabbat. It is a quiet day, a day of reflection and introspection, and yes, a day of quiet prayers and requests for absolution from our L-rd for our human sins and humanity as a whole.

The Five Basic Prohibitions of Yom Kippur are:

1. Eating and/or drinking*
2. Anointing with perfumes or lotions
3. Sex
4. Washing
5. Wearing leather (incl. shoes)

To look at the list, you'd think it's merely a matter of being smelly, horny and undecorated when we come before our L-rd. It's a bit more complex than that ;) We're supposed to be bearing our souls before our Creator. Without a spirit that fully understands this, without a mind that fully-focuses on this and only this, we will have failed to "not do" enough. Ain't that double-negative but a classic Jewish mode of thought? Heh heh. Besides, if you've "prepared" for Yom Kippur properly, you just spent the 24 hours before Erev Yom Kippur, eating, drinking, umm, well, we won't say whoring around but just getting everything out of your system once and for all is generally the best idea. Then you come to Erev Yom Kippur--to the Kol Nidrei--and it strikes you to the core. Holy Ghost Bumps, definitely gotta get those Holy Ghost Bumps or you're still not "not doing" it right. Or wrong. Or something. Here's a simpler list than those 5 prohibitions:

1. Purge (This might look like gorging but the day before Yom Kippur is for purging all of your "sins of the flesh" right out of your system - get it overwith and move on)

2. Humble (You have to really grasp in your heart, your soul, your mind, that this is a private moment with your Creator. No one will know if you have had a good moment or not. Except you and Him)

3. Forgive (You must forgive yourself. G-d cannot forgive you if you do not permit it. You must forgive yourself and allow Him to agree with you.)

Three easy steps, then you can move on and start the new year--and better get busy "gathering ye branches" because Sukkot is only 5 days away and you have to build that Succah and fill it with gourds, fruit and naturally, HONEY CAKE!!! :-)

*Drinking water in order to take medications is definitely allowed and no fasting should be observed if one's health would be put to risk because of it. Smoking of any substances is also prohibited as it is considered in the "consumption" category of food and drink. Smoking is prohibited on the basis of it being a Shabbat, as well.

**I keep trying to find an MP3 of someone singing Kol Nidrei to post here but there are lots of sermons, a myriad of versions of the instrumental, a few "contemporary" interpretations but no Chazzan singing Kol Nidrei (or not well, found a lousy one on Yahoo! or Google videos, no thanks). Even YouTube doesn't have anyone singing last year's Kol Nidrei. I think I see an unfilled need here on the net--and I wish we had recordings of some of the Kol Nidrei performances from 2001--on September 25, 2001, can you imagine?! All gone now....or so it seems. I'll update if I can ever find a halfway decent recording. Sung right, Kol Nidrei will give you Holy Ghost Bumps to quote a Christian friend of mine.


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