Kol Nidrei

7 10 2011

Naaleh.com presents this special post from Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg about the tefilla of Kol Nidrei which is recited at the start of Yom Kippur. Visit Naaleh.com for FREE video and audio classes by Rabbi Ginsburg as well as many other esteemed Torah teachers.

Kol Nidrei is one of the most powerful tefillos of Yom Kippur. What is the significance of Kol Nidrei? On a purely halachic level, it is one form of hataras nedarim, nullification of a vow. Why does this play such a central role as we are about to enter Yom Kippur? There are different approaches in the meforshim to this question. The Rav zt”l developed the following idea[i].

The Rav explained that the central idea behind hataras nedarim is the declaration of remorse, of charata, for having made the vow.

Through the recognition that the original act was in effect a mistake, the vow is nullified retroactively. The Torah provides the authority to change his intention of vow from willful to accidental on the basis of his present understanding rather than on the basis of his state of mind at the time the vow was spoken.

We see that charata is essential to hataras nedarim.

The Rav goes on to explain that this is exactly the idea behind teshuva. The central part of teshuva is charata, we are acknowledging that the sins were done impulsively. I was not thinking when I did the aveirah. If I were thinking clearly at the time, I would not have done the aveirah. The aveirah does not reflect my present value system. This is what we are doing in the process of teshuva. So, when a Jew is hearing and reciting Kol Nidrei, he should be thinking that just like a person has the ability to have full charata to be matir neder, a person also has to have full charata for one’s aveiros and in that way to do teshuva.

This is a very powerful message. A Jew has to say to himself- How can I have possibly done that aveirah?! Hashem, I must not have been thinking clearly when I did that aveirah. Hashem, please, I am doing teshuva now. I was not thinking clearly. As the Rav writes, “The way I acted does not represent my present value system. Please accept my teshuva just like the Torah gives the authority of hataras nedarim.” Had I known then what I know now, had I been thinking then like I am thinking now, there is no way I would have even done the aveirah.

This is a beautiful p’shat. Based on this p’shat, Kol Nidrei takes on a broader, more far reaching significance. The words of Kol Nidrei focus on hataras nedarim, but the message of Kol Nidrei focuses on doing teshuva for all of one’s aveiros.

Gmar chasima tova,

B. Ginsburg


[i] This can be found in many places of the Rav’s writing. One is ‘Rabbi Soloveitchik on the Days of Awe’ page 73-74, 116-117.


Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur Davening: True Atonement

6 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by  Rabbi Michael Taubes

True Atonement In the Torah, Yom Kippur is referred to in the plural form as Yom Hakippurim. Rav Soloveitchik explains that atonement is associated with sacrifices, which were a major part of the Yom Kippur service. The Rambam writes that since today there are no sacrifices, teshuva atones for all of our sins. Referring to Yom Kippur in the singular might lead us to think that we cannot attain atonement today because we don’t have korbanot. Therefore, it is referred to as Yom Hakippurim

Every person approaches teshuva with his particular background. There’s repenting from fear and repenting from love. A person can do teshuva while he is still young or when he reaches old age. Therefore we say, Yom Hakippurim to allude to the many different types of teshuva and the varied levels of atonement. Another reason for the plural form is that Yom Hakippurim also applies to atonement for the dead and the living. In fact, the practice to recite Yizkor was originally associated with Yom Kippur. The dead, whose judgment is ongoing, achieve atonement on Yom Kippur too.

In the Torah, vidui is discussed in the context of korbanot. It is not mentioned in relation to Yom Kippur. During the times of the beit hamikdash, the procedure a person underwent to purify himself literally transformed him into a new being. This is the essence of Yom Kippur. A Jew must become a different person to the point where he can say to Hashem, “The decree you placed upon me doesn’t apply anymore.” This encapsulates the concepts of teshuva and tahara (purification). The idea of mechila (forgiveness) has its roots in monetary law where a person can forgive a liability. Similarly, we ask Hashem to overlook our debt of sin. When a person purifies himself it’s as though his sins are completely erased. In the Yom Kippur prayers, we say, “Ki bayom hazeh yichaper aleichem l’taher etchem.” The essence of Yom Kippur is purification and the power of the day itself brings atonement, even without korbonot. According to one opinion the atonement comes even without teshuva. That is why there is such joy on Yom Kippur, and especially at its culmination.

Our sages tell us that when a person does teshuva out of love, “z’donot naasu lo k’zechuyot,” his intentional sins becomes merits. How do we understand this?

We become a different being when we repent. The same energy and creativity that we invested in sin is now put into mitzvot


Selichot are prayers of forgiveness. The central motif is the recitation of the thirteen attributes, which appears numerous times throughout Neila. If we want to be the beneficiaries of Hashem‘s chesed we must live up to these attributes. We don’t recite the full vidui during Neila. This is because we’ve already confessed our specific sins throughout the day. Yom Kippur is supposed to lead us to something beyond this, to a place where our focus turns to our central mission in life and our true goals.

Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur

6 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur #1 & #2 Rav Hai Gaon teaches that the custom to blow shofar at the end of Yom Kippur is based on the Torah obligation to blow shofar on the Yom Kippur of the yovel (the jubilee year). The Kol Bo says it is meant to confound the Satan. The Meiri concurs with this second reason but the Shibolei Haleket, the Mordechai, and the Tur mention the first reason. Tosfot in Shabbat offers a third explanation. The shofar blowing proclaims that night has fallen and that one is now permitted to prepare the festive meal of motzai Yom Kippur. Many rishonim suggest other reasons, among them that it is a sign of the Divine Presence ascending to the heavens.

Why do we blow shofar every year if the shofar of yovel was only blown once in fifty years? In addition, if the shofar was only blown in Eretz Yisrael during yovel, how does it connect to motzai Yom Kippur when the shofar is blown everywhere? Rav Hai Gaon explains that there is a doubt when yovel falls out. Therefore, we blow shofar in every year. This still begs the fundamental question: What is the connection between yovel and Yom Kippur?

The Meshech Chochma discusses the sanctity of yovel and shemitta (the seventh year). While both relate to the land, shemitta is connected to Shabbat while yovel corresponds to Yom Tov. Shemitta and Shabbat both have inherent holiness, while yovel and Yom tov are dependent on the sanctification of the Jewish people. We say in Kiddush of Yom Tov, “Mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim.” Likewise, Yovel is established through the proclamation of the Jewish court and its holiness is dependent on our actions.

Yovel signifies repentance and freedom. Property is returned to its original owner, slaves are set free, and liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. While shemitta focuses on the earth, yovel involves the individual. Rashi says the term yovel refers to the blowing of the shofar. Rav Kook explains that yovel is a kind of social and economic revolution necessary for the equilibrium of society. Similarly, the purification of Yom Kippur is the ability to transcend the shackles of the evil inclination. It proclaims freedom from the desires of the yetzer hara. On Yom Kippur, we become like angels divested of physicality. Likewise, yovel has an element of the world to come where the satan cannot rule. ‘Hasatan’ is the numerical value of 364, which signifies the 364 days of the year when the Satan has permission to meddle in our lives. One day in the year, Yom Kippur, we return to our source and are set free of his overpowering influence.

The shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur heralds the realization of the ideals of yovel. We once again enter the lofty realm of alma d’teshuva (the world of repentance) and alma d’cherut (the world of freedom).

Eating on Erev Yom Kippur

6 10 2011

Naaleh.com presents this special post from Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg about the mitzvah of eating before the fast of Yom Kippur. Visit Naaleh.com for FREE video and audio classes by Rabbi Ginsburg as well as many other esteemed Torah teachers.

There is a mitzvah d’oraisa to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. I wanted to discuss several approaches of the Rishonim and Achronim to this mitzvah. Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva (Shaar Daled, 8-10) presents three reasons for this mitzvah d’oraisa of eating on Erev Yom Kippur.

The first reason is to show that we are b’simcha that the day on which our aveiros are forgiven has finally arrived. Every Jew knows it is not good to do averios and it is not good to miss out on doing mitzvos. So, we should be b’simcha when we have this wonderful opportunity to wipe the slate clean from the many mistakes we made this past year. Therefore, to express this simcha we have a seudah.

Rav Nevenzahl shl”ita[i] adds to this point. He says if a person expresses simcha when he is able to wipe the slate clean and that is his intention as he is eating his seudah, then that will lead a person to refrain from doing chataim in the future. If I am happy when I am finally free from the mistakes, then I want to get used to this simcha and it trains me to avoid chataim in the future. This angle of the Shaarei Teshuva can help prevent us from doing chataim in the future.

 A second reason which the Shaarei Teshuva explains is that it is in order to strengthen ourselves for the upcoming tzom.  Hashem wants us to have the strength to be able to fast and daven well on Yom Kippur. Rav Nevenzahl points out that Rabbeinu Yonah also mentions that we should have strength to be able to ‘think about ways of doing teshuva.’ We are supposed to really work at doing teshuva. We need to think about what we can do to avoid doing chataim in the future. We want our minds to be as clear as possible on Yom Kippur.  Rabbeinu Yonah is saying we are eating so we can fast, daven, and have the strength to really think about our lives and ways to serve Hashem better. We are eating in order to have more clarity of thought on the day of Yom Kippur itself.

A third pshat Rabbeinu Yonah brings is that we have a seudah to express the simcha of the mitzvos of Yom Kippur. A Jew is supposed to do mitzvos b’simcha. A Jew is supposed to be happy on every Yom Tov. Rabbeinu Yonah quotes the posuk “tachas asher lo avadta es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha u’vituv leivav.” We are about to have the mitzvah of Yom Kippur so we are happy. Therefore, there is a chiyuv seudah. But, we can not eat a seudah on Yom Kippur because of the ta’anis, so we have the seudah before, on Erev Yom Kippur.

Rav Nevenzahl adds several other angles as well. The first approach is based on one opinion in the medrash. There is a machlokes regarding when exactly the Akeidas Yitzchak occurred. Most opinions say it was on Rosh Hashana, but Rav Nevenzahl points out that some opinions say it happened on Yom Kippur.  The Kli Yakar (Vayikra Perek 16) quotes this opinion from Chazal and other sources as well.  Assuming the Akeidah was on Yom Kippur, the day before was Erev Yom Kippur.  Rav Nevnezahl writes that Avraham Avinu was trying to be medakdek to fulfill all the Halachos of the Korbonos for his son Yitzchak. There is a halacha quoted in the Gemara (Menachos 64) and Rambam (Hilchos Shgagos Perek 2) that one is supposed to fatten up the korban. It is considered greater Kavod to Hashem to offer a more substantial Korbon. Therefore, Avraham Avinu was feeding Yitzchak so that he should be a Korbon that is more mehudar and more beautiful in the eyes of Hashem. Therefore, as a zecher to that eating we have a mitzvah to eat today.

Also, that eating was completely l’shem shamayim. As we eat the Seudah Mafsekes, we should be focusing on our eating being l’shem shamayim like Yitzchak’s was. This is a fourth angle on the mitzvah to eat today.

A fifth idea, Rav Nevenzahl develops[ii], is as follows. Part of the teshuva process and the growth process is to try to dedicate our gashmiyus actions to be keilim for Avodas Hashem. Not only when we are learning and davening, but even when we are doing gashmiyus things, our focus should be our Avodas Hashem. So at this point, after a month of Elul, Selichos, Rosh Hashana, Aseres Yemei Teshuva, and Tzom Gedalya, b’ezras Hashem we have reached a high level. So we should use this time to train ourselves to engage in physical activities l’shem shamayim. What better way to do that than to eat on Erev Yom Kippur and to have in mind that it is a mitzvah. So, the mitzvah of eating on Erev Yom Kippur should train us that all of our gashymius activities can and should be part of our avodas Hashem. It should be a lesson that just like we are eating now totally l’shem shamayim at one of the highest levels we can reach, we should take this experience of eating as a mitzvah and let it spread to the rest of our life of Avodas Hashem.

 A sixth and final point Rav Nevenzhal writes is as follows. The mitzvah of eating Erev Yom Kippur teaches and reminds us of the great love that Hashem has for Am Yisroel. Hashem wants us to be successful in our din and helps us in everyway possible to have a good judgement. How does this mitzvah teach us this?

Because all of us would be eating anyway, even if there would not be a mitzvah, in order to be able to fast. Hashem is taking an activity we all would have done anyway, eating, and makes it a mitzvah! Hashem is literally giving us a mitzvah on a silver (dinner) platter. What a beautiful expression of Hashem’s love for Am Yisroel! All we have to do is have kavana that we are eating for a mitzvah.  As the end of our preparation for Yom Kippur is approaching, Hashem is handing us a mitzvah. We have to remember this and think about it, and we have to know Hashem loves us and wants our teshuva.

There is an additional lesson for us. Hashem loves us. Therefore, we have to know that if we take a small step forwards to do teshuva, Hashem will give us extra help to complete the process. ‘Haba letaher mesa’ayin oso’, whoever comes to purufy himself receives help from shamayim.

All of us should do our best to think about these ideas as we are eating our seudah and make it a ruchinyus activity. And with that mitzvah helping us prepare for Yom Kippur, we all should be zocheh to a g’mar chasima tova.

B. Ginsburg

[i]Sichos L’Yom Kippur 189-196

[ii]Rav Nevenzahl points out that the Chasam Sofer developed a similar idea.