Asher Shafrir
Former Shaliach in Melbourne (2005-2006)


Yom Kippur, being the holiest day of the year, is a day that has many aspects to it. It is the day where we are the closest to Hashem, yet it is not only an encounter with the creator, it is the day where one has the opportunity to pray to Hashem and ask of his forgiveness. I want to discuss the first thing that Yom Kippur brings with it. It is a most strange prayer, yet all feel that it is one of the most important prayers of the day. Kol Nidrei, is the first tefilla that is recited on Yom Kippur. Its basic meaning is that all vows and promises that we have made throughout the past year will be nullified. The basic understanding of this tefilla is that if one made a vow and he did not fulfill it, there is a halachik way to nullify this vow and thus, this person would not be liable to the sin of not keeping his word. Yet many Rishonim, were skeptic whether this tefilla can actually have the power to nullify a person’s vow or promise. A historic explanation claims that congregations all around the world would sometimes excommunicate someone from the community, due to certain things that he might have done. On Yom kippur as we say that we allow the righteous and the wicked to pray with us, we allow all those that we have vowed to disregard them, to join in our tefillot, to be part of our Yom Kipper prayers.

I think that there is a deeper explanation to this tefilla. A vow is something that restricts us. It does not let us be and do what we want to. According to the Zohar, a vow can be the feeling that we don’t have the courage or the ability to change and to be different from who we are today. As Yom Kippur is the day that we are supposed to change, we begin off with a declaration. We are capable to be tomorrow different from who we are today.

Rambam, in his ‘Hilchot Teshuva’, dedicates two out of the ten chapters to the notion of free will. Rambam says that a Jew must believe that he has free will and he can do whatever he wants and decides to do. Though this notion is very important in our Jewish belief one must ask why does Rambam have to discuss these issues in the middle of the Halachot concerning repentance. I think that the lesson that Rambam is conveying is quite simple. The ability to do Teshuva is based on the fact that a person is capable to decide what he wants to do in his life. In a generation where Freud taught us of how much every thing that we do is due to the way that our parents treated us as babies, Neuroscientists say that so many of our traits are due to genetics and can not be subject to change, the Jewish message has great relevance. We have the ability to change and there is no better day than Yom Kippur to start this change.