Kol Nidrei

So once again Erev Yom Kippur is upon us, and my favorite service of the year: Kol Nidrei will happen tonight.  Kol Nidrei, in my tradition and the tradition of my family – as a family of refugees – is where we pray for those who cannot pray for themselves. We pray for those who, if they were honest about who and what they are, would put their lives in jeopardy.

Kol Nidrei releases us from those oaths that we are forced to swear in order to live and see another day. Kol Nidrei is as much a promise as it is an absolution: a promise that we understand, a promise that we will look out for the souls of the people who need us to, while they look out for their lives and find their way to safety.

Tonight I – and many others – will be saying Kol Nidrei not just for the Jewish people, but for every refugee fleeing violence who has to lie about who they are, their names, their backgrounds, in order to find safe harbor. We will be saying Kol Nidrei for our gay brothers and sisters who have to choose between honesty and love, or being thrown off the roof of a building. We will be saying Kol Nidrei for every human being forced to be a number, and we will be saying Kol Nidrei for all those who are forced to deny the very essence of what makes them who they are. We will be saying Kol Nidrei for all those who are living where evil is so strong that they are forced to go underground or into hiding. We will be saying Kol Nidrei for all those who are told that they must convert or die by the sword. Tonight as we pray the words that leave our mouths are not our own, rather they are the voices belonging to the countless souls seeking freedom and liberation who are crying out to be heard, we are their vessels.

This evening, as we begin our fast for Yom Kippur we are connected to all of our people: past, present, and future, and we prepare to stand before the Divine Judge. I have spent, as many do, the past month of Elul looking back at my year, and my life; so too I have spent these Days of Awe in reflection.

We are taught that even the Hosts of Heaven, in their awesome divinity, in their power, in their might as soldiers of God stand in Judgment alongside us; then what hope for us? We humans, we who have fallen so far from where we‘re supposed to be? From where we’re supposed to go? From what we can become? So far from being the servants that we are meant to be? We stand before God naked yet fully clothed. The deepest corners of our minds and our hearts and our souls are open and laid before the Divine Judge to see, to recall, to recount, to probe, as we are forced to bear witness to our own actions.

I have sinned. I have transgressed. I have fallen short. I have not been all that I can be. I have not made all the right decisions. Sometimes I even knew I was making the wrong decision and I did it anyway…I have been obstinate, refusing to learn each lesson and to turn from each and every temptation. Even though a righteous path has been laid before me, I at times have refused to walk it, and at other times I have stumbled, I have faltered, I have fallen off of it. Though a Nefesh (soul), pure and complete has been given to me by God, I – through my own actions and my own actions alone – have allowed it to become marked.

Then what becomes of us? Repentance, prayer, and charity – these temper God’s severe decree…and so as we enter this awesome day, full of dread and wonder, I ask forgiveness from all those whom I have transgressed, willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly; and I forgive without reservation or hesitation: I forgive all who have transgressed me. Let no one be punished or held to account on my behalf, for I can recall no transgressions against me, they are gone with the setting of the sun.

I do not wish those fasting with me an easy fast: rather I wish you a meaningful one.

From my family to yours, may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year of trying to get it right, may the next year bring us one more step closer to a world that will bring the Moshiach, and may God in his infinite power blast down every closet door, and shelter all those who seek his refuge.

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