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Kol Nidre 5783 ~ Oct. 4, 202

If you were following the outpouring of appreciation and mourning by the British people to Queen Elizabeth, you may have noted how impressive it was that people waited for up to twenty- four hours in queue to pass by her casket. Even superstar David Beckham did not have a special way of bypassing the lines. He stood for more than ten hours waiting for his turn. Everyone on equal terms; no one more important than anyone else.

Clearly, we are all aware of the many foreign and British dignitaries who were invited to attend the actual funeral service in person.  But what caught my interest was another list of almost 200 individuals, guests who were invited to attend who were neither dignitaries nor family – commoners, but unique and impressive for who they were each in their own way. Each chosen in advance by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth herself before her death. “Each  one had been “honored for various forms of public service this year as part of official celebrations for the queen’s birthday, according to Buckingham Palace.” (NY Times, September 18, 2022.)

“One of those individuals, Natalie Queiroz, 46, of Birmingham, who became a campaigner against knife crime after surviving a stabbing by her partner while pregnant.”, said she had been walking her dog on Sept. 10 when she received a call from a hidden number. “I thought it was a sales call and was going to ignore it,” she said. “Luckily, I answered.” (ibid)

“Hsien (Hussein) Chew, 49, who lives in London and founded Proud Voices, a network of 55 L.G.B.T.Q.+ choirs in Britain and Ireland, also received an invitation to attend the queen’s funeral, something he called a “great privilege.” “I had a question in the back of my mind: ‘Why me?’” ….  He said that perhaps there was an intention to represent the different communities in Britain and how the country had changed during Elizabeth’s reign. “She’s seen a lot of fundamental changes to the British society,” he said. “From a community that was very parochial, quite conservative and hierarchical to one that is much more equitable with much greater plurality and much greater recognition of diversity.”(ibid)

In some ways, the list of who were invited reminds me of Purim and King Achashverosh sitting in his palace late at night wondering if there was someone in his community who had done something unique and special whom had not been honored, and had been overlooked and needed to be honored. If you recall the story in the Scroll of Esther, it was Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, who had been unnoticed and needed to be honored for his saving the King from an attempted  assassination plot.  I wonder how Mordechai responded to the knock on the door, by the villain of the story, Haman. And then not only inviting him, but insisting that Haman himself dress Mordechai in royal clothing to parade Mordechai on the king’s horse around town, pronouncing the king’s gratitude and honor due to the him.

It is humbling when people recognize our accomplishments in life.  At times, we take pride in who we are and what we have achieved. But there are also times, when we are not as kind to ourselves.  We are our own harshest critics. We find ourselves regretting an action or thought. In some of these instances we respond to these regrets by simply accepting that we did wrong. At other times we become quite remorseful.  How often do we find ourselves in an internal conversation within our own head that at times may keep us awake through the night thinking about an event that transpired that day, or even years before? We attempt to rationalize as to  whether we simply regret the incident or are remorseful because of it. And for those who are not only grammarians but also values conscious, there is a difference between regret and remorse.  It is a difference between, I wished I hadn’t done that,  versus, almost a degree of embarrassment, accepting responsibility for it and a wish to right a wrong committed.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, teaches: “Forgiveness breaks the irreversibility of the past.  It is the undoing of what has been done. Repentance and forgiveness – the two great gifts of human freedom – redeem the human condition from tragedy.”

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, in the spiritual sense, responds to our innermost feeling that we address on this evening. But he is not addressing the simple question of  “what were my mistakes and regrets for this past year and how do I “break the irreversibility of the past.” Instead he asks about the psychological depression that is created by making the assumption that our sins should consume our thoughts; that our regrets should be at the forefront; and the teaching that  we can only achieve our teshuvah, our true repentance, can only occur when we acknowledge our failures and frame them in a manner to move forward in the year ahead.

The Baal Shem Tov suggests something rather unique and different from how we traditionally arrive at services at Kol Nidre. He reframes the concept of teshuvah, of here are my regrets, here are the actions or thoughts that  I am somewhat uncomfortable with or which have become debilitating and which I need to work on this Yom Kippur.

The  Baal Shem Tov writes: “Sometimes the yetzer ha-ra (the evil inclination) deceives you by telling you that you committed a grave sin when there was really no sin at all, or [at worst, you violated] a mere stringency. The yetzer’s intent is that you should feel depressed as a result and thus be kept from serving the Blessed Creator because of your depression. You must understand this trickery, and say to the yetzer ha-ra:   …. Even if there really was a degree of sin, my Creator will be more gratified if I do not pay attention to the stringency that you pointed out to me, to make me depressed in God’s worship.... This is a major principle in the service of the blessed Creator: avoid sorrow as much as possible.” (Tzava’at Ha-Rivash , §44)

I am hoping that what the Baal Shem Tov is suggesting makes sense to you.  Can we refocus our attention from the teachers and rabbis who indoctrinated us with the literalist metaphor of “the Sefer Hachayim, The Book of Life” on the High Holy Days,  where we scrutinize ourselves beyond what might be healthy,  to thoughts that might be realistic, and what might be the true sense of teshuvah?

Might it be that  the message of the Unetaneh Tokef of “mi yechyeh, umi yamut,”  who will live and who will die, is overpowering the concept of our opening prayers of the Kol Nidre of this evening which accepts our faults, failures,  and misfortunes, allowing us to pray with sinners?  The question is not only how stringent we are on ourselves, but how stringent we might be on others as well.

The Talmud records that there  once was a disagreement between Rabban Gamliel and Rav Yehoshua, as to their calculation of the Jewish calendar and  when Yom Kippur should be observed.

Rabban Gamliel, was the Nasi, the prince of the Sanhedrin, and by tradition his rulings became authoritative.  He, therefore,  insisted “that Rabbi Yehoshua accept the date that Rabban Gamliel calculated as Yom Kippur, and ordered Rabbi Yehoshua to appear before him on the date Rabbi Yehoshua thought was Yom Kippur, carrying his staff and his money bag,” clearly a violation of Jewish law.

The Gerer Rebbe asks “if Rabban Gamliel wanted Rabbi Yehoshua to admit that he was wrong,” then why didn’t Rabban Gamliel order him to appear before him and eat a sandwich on the day that he thought was Yom Kippur? In his response,  the Gerer Rebbe understood, not only the thought pattern of Rabban Gamliel, but also how we might want to address our own personal concerns on this day. Eating a sandwich on Yom Kippur would psychologically destroy Rabbi Yehoshua, whereas carrying his money bag and staff, was rabbinically ordained, not commanded in the Torah and would not cause Rabbi Yehoshua to violate the laws of the Torah. In that regard, Rabban Gamliel was sensitive to the kol, the voice - the deep understanding of the fragility of the human mind in how he addressed the disagreement, and the concept of sin and the difference in consequences not only from the Heavenly tribunal, but also in one’s own mind.

Even so, Rabbi Yehoshua was quite distraught and sought out the counsel of some other great sages of the time. After listening to their advice, Rabbi Yehoshua understood.  The Talmud tells us that "He took his staff and his money in his hand, and went to Yavne to Rabban Gamliel on the day on which Yom Kippur occurred according to his own calculation.” 

“Upon seeing him, Rabban Gamliel stood up and kissed him on his head. He said to him: Come in peace, my teacher and my student. You are my teacher in wisdom, as Rabbi Yehoshua was wiser than anyone else in his generation, and you are my student, as you accepted my statement, despite your disagreement.” (Rosh Hashanah 25 a).

In that moment, Rabban Gamliel becomes a great role model and  provides us with a great lesson; so too does Rabbi Yehoshua.

As we are standing  in our own  personal teshuva self-checkout line, even that which might seem quite mundane, may be a concern that might be a tad overwhelming and one that is difficult to unburden. At our ages, set in our ways, it might be difficult to not over scrutinize and be our harshest critics. It is precisely at those times that I encourage you to find time to share with a friend,  a loved one or a professional, just as Rabbi Yehoshua did in the period of the Talmud. For at times, it is that openness to voice that remorse or regret that would be most healing, most helpful and life changing in hopefully a most positive of ways.

Perhaps during this Yom Kippur, for those who have something to unburden, beyond the one and one conversation with yourself and with God, now might be the time to begin to privately share with another. 

I know this first hand. Many years ago, when Lisa and I found out that our best option for becoming parents was adoption, we found ourselves embarrassed and unable to share. At one of our first Rabbinical Assembly conventions at the Concord Hotel, we decided to seek counseling about our hesitancy to share.  The counselor turned to us and said, “I understand why you are so reluctant to share…but it is the best opportunity for you to move forward in your dream to be parents. There is a hotel of rabbis here. Most will not be judgmental. And who knows what might be waiting for you out there once you do share.” We talked a brief moment alone together about that advice. As we left the room, we began to share with our friends. Three months later, our daughter Stacey was placed into our arms by one of those rabbis who we shared our story with.

Shakti Gawain wrote:


If you judge and criticize yourself, other will judge and criticize you.

If you hurt yourself, others will hurt you.

If you lie to yourself, others will lie to you.

If you are irresponsible to yourself, others will be irresponsible in relation to you.

If you blame yourself, others will blame you.

If you do violence to yourself emotionally, others will do violence to you emotionally or even physically.

If you don’t listen to your own feelings, no one will listen to your feelings.

If you love yourself, others will love you.

If you trust yourself, others will trust you.

If your honest with yourself, others will be honest with you.

If you are gentle and compassionate with yourself, others will treat with you with compassion.

If you appreciate yourself, others will appreciate you.

If you honor yourself, others will honor you.

If you enjoy yourself, other will enjoy you.

Gmar Tov,  may you inscribe yourself into the Sefer Hachayim. May  we see our lives with the truth and foibles…but also the many blessings of what hopefully will bring spiritual and psychological well-being to us all. L’Chayim. Amen.

Sun, October 1 2023 16 Tishrei 5784