At sunset tomorrow evening, September 29th, we will welcome both Shabbat and Yom Kippur, which will begin with the Kol Nidre prayer. It means “all vows,” and is, in essence, a disavowal of all the vows that were made in the previous year, an attempt to begin again with a clean slate, no un-kept promises holding us back.
This Holy Day has many traditions. One that I cherish is garbing myself like the angels, in white clothing, with no jewelry, no leather, no perfumes. On this day we yearn to ascend, to be lighter, more clear and transparent.
Another is wearing a tallis, a prayer shawl, at the evening service of Kol Nidre. Normally it is only worn during the day, so we can fulfill the commandment to look at the fringes and be reminded of all of God’s commandments.
But on this night, say our Jewish mystics, the light of our prayers and our connection with God burns so brightly that it illuminates us from within, and we can see the tzitzit, the fringes, gleaming in that holy light.
Some people will fast, and abstain from food and drink for 25 hours. But there are many who cannot fast and who should not attempt to do so. Some may take medications that must be taken with food or drink, or are dealing with chronic illnesses. And some of us simply don’t have the strength.
Our tradition teaches that pregnant women and children under 13 should not fast. I believe there should be another category of people forbidden to fast: Anyone over a certain age. Instead of fasting they can think of other ways to heighten their awareness during the day. What is that age, you ask? That is up to each person to decide. For some it is 60, for some younger, for some, much older.
During Yom Kippur we will talk a great deal about repentance, about teshuvah, about the hard work of making meaningful changes in our lives.
But perhaps it isn’t quite so difficult. There is an old Hassidic saying that reminds us: If you are facing west and wish to go east, simply turn around.
This Yom Kippur we can make a new vow, a vow to simply turn around, to see the world from a new perspective, to begin the year traveling in the direction of our choice.
May your day be meaningful. May your prayers rise to heaven, and join with the prayers of Jews everywhere as we seek forgiveness from God, and from ourselves. May we all be written and sealed for a year of love and light, hope and healing.
With many blessings, Rabbi Jennifer
Kol Nidre image from the Jewish Book Council website