Kol Nidre, the prayer that begins our Yom Kippur experience, is most well known for its iconic and haunting melody. The Aramaic words originated not as a prayer but as a legal formula, releasing us from any oath or vow that, even after earnest effort we are still unable to fulfill. This is not to indicate that our pledges were made in bad faith; rather, in this prayer, we solemnly acknowledge that even with the best intentions it is sometimes impossible to deliver on our promises: We are not in complete control of the course of our lives, but have to pivot and respond to the changing circumstances we encounter. In front of the open Holy Ark, we recite Kol Nidre three times, each round increasing in intensity to create a powerful atmosphere of introspection and setting the tone for the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
The Book of Life
The Book of Life is one prominent metaphor that permeates this season of reflection and renewal. We imagine that recorded in this book is an accurate annual account of our actions. At the end of Yom Kippur, the chapter of the book from the previous year is sealed and this influences what awaits us in the coming year. We cannot deny the veracity of this record, but we can adjust the balance as we approach the publication deadline. By identifying our failings and taking accountability for our deeds, we can tip the scales in our favor. Our earnest acts of repentance and reconciliation will hopefully inspire the Divine Judge to grant us mercy.