Some of my words from Kol Nidrei:
Joe Goldsmith lands at Tokyo airport – he’s picked up by a Japanese taxi driver who says: So you’re Jewish- did you know there are 999, 999 Jews all together in Japan?
No – I didn’t know that there were that many- How do you know?
Very simple- said the Taxi driver- Whenever I go past the Synagogue a man knocks on the window of my cab and says:
“We need one more for a milian!”
My friends, tonight there are more people in Shul than on any other night of the year. Indeed throughout Yom Kippur Jews come to Shul. I remember when I was a little boy being brought up in Gants Hill, Ilford. Now that was a massive community. On Rosh Hashanah + Yom Kippur the shul used to rent out the local Odeon cinema for the main service. This was a 3500 seater cinema- and every seat was taken. I remember going up to the very top of the Ladies section which was the circle seating and I used to look down on my dad who was a white speck on the stage below.
My dad also pointed out to me that the film Alien had been playing during the week- which curiously is Neila backwards!
Jewish people on the High Holydays want to be in Shul- Jews want to identify. Indeed I think of the words from the Talmud in Kiddushin: Yisrael af al Pi Shechata Yisrael hu-
A Jewish person even though he/ she may have sinned is still part of the Jewish people.
The fact that I may have lapsed away from G-d His Torah – His people over the past year does not count me out as a Jew. I am quintessentially still part of the Jewish people. Even though I might not have been such a good Jew as I should have been nevertheless I am still connected with G-d and His Torah-and nothing can take that away from me.
And this idea is accentuated in the formula which we declared earlier just prior to Kol Nidrei.
Biyeshiva shel maalah ubeyeshiva shel matah- In the upper courts and lower courts –
Anu matirin lehitpalel im ha-avaryanim- We sanction prayer together with transgressors.
In other words –there may be people here who may have strayed away from G-d and His Torah yet we pray and we are together as one.
The Hebrew word Tzibbur which means community is made up of three integral letters. These are Tzaddi- beit – and reish which stand for tzaddikim- beinonim and reshaim- righteous- intermediate and wicked- and all the gradations in between. I suppose that a community to be really called a Tzibbur – a community in the fullest sense has to include everybody of all different shades and opinions
But I want to take this idea a little bit further…..
There is the famous story told about the Holy Ari Zal- Rabbi Yitzchak Luria who lived 500 years ago in Zefat and he used to spend a tremendous amount of his time and energy on Yom Kippur reciting all the Al chets- which is part of the Viddui – the confessional prayer on Yom Kippur
Al Chet Shachatanu lefanecha begilui arayot
For the sin that we have sinned before you for immorality
Al Chet Shechatanu Lefanecha bishfichot damim
For the sin that we have sinned before you for shedding blood
His followers came to him and asked him; We know that you are a great Tzaddik, and that you live a life of purity and holiness-Why are you spending so much time cataloguing sins that are not your own and that you have not done?
He responded: You are right- they are not my sins these are the sins of my fellow Jews and I feel responsible for them therefore I spend such a time in listing these sins and asking G-d to forgive my fellow Jews!
The Ari was citing an important Talmudic principle and that is:
Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bezeh- All Israel are responsible for one another. The underlying principle is that if a Jew sins I cannot just say I am not responsible but the fact that a Jew is not keeping Shabbat or not eating Kosher is because there lacks something in me! I am therefore in some way responsible for my fellow Jew.
Rabbi Yochanan in the Medrash illustrates this with the parable of a boat travelling from Sidon to Tyre and in the middle- one of the passengers decides to start drilling a hole under his own seat. The other passengers say to him – what are you doing – why are you drilling a hole under your seat? He answers: It’s my seat I paid for it – so I can drill a hole under my seat.
But – respond the passengers if you drill a hole under your seat we will all drown because we are all in the same boat.
Thus- says Rabbi Yochanan- Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bezeh All Israel are responsible for one another.
We are all in the same boat
On Yom Kippur we are judged in two ways: first on an individual level: we are judged according to our specific merits. But in addition we are judged as am Yisrael – Maimonides says it very succinctly. Through doing one extra mitzvah you may be:
machria et atzmo ve-et kol haolam kulo lekaf zechut- you can tip the balance on your own scales and indeed for all the world for the balance of merits. Conversely if you do one sin you can tip the balance the other way G-d forbid.
This is reflected in our recitation of Viddui. Later on in Maariv- as we do throughout Yom Kippur you will notice that when we recite the Viddui, we first recite it in our silent Amidah- then later on we recite it as a Tzibbur – as a community led by our chazzan tonight.
The first time we recite Viddui in our personal Amidah we do so as individuals- I have sinned before G-d – it is my autonomous responsibility to confess my sins before G-d. Only I can do that - nobody else can.
Ultimately it is You Hashem who knows and recognizes the truth-and we say this as part of the Viddui:
Atah yodeah razei olam
You know the secrets of the Universe and the hiddenmost mysteries of all the living. You probe the innermost chambers, and test thoughts and emotions, nothing is hidden from You and nothing is concealed from Your eyes.
But then later on we come as a community:- notice all the viddui is in the plural Al chet shechatanu lefanecha- for the sin that we have sinned before You. We come as a people and we ask You to forgive and pardon all the sins of Israel.
Have you noticed that when we recite the ashamnu – the al chet (Veal kulam) Ki anu amecha- veal chataim which all incorporate parts of the Viddui prayer, that the tunes that we use are all quite upbeat. Seems strange here we are talking about how bad we have been yet we sing catchy little tunes + ditties.
The Baal Shem Tov explains that even a cleaner who gets the opportunity to clean out parts of the king’s palace is happy because he/she has the privilege to clean out the palace of the king. So too we are joyful – we sing, we are cleaning out our souls, we are starting anew. Hashem has given us this opportunity to come back and return to Him.
The Mishneh in Taanit says the following: Lo Hayu yomim tovim beyisrael kechamisha asar beav ukeyom Hakippurim.
There were no greater Holidays in Israel like the 15th Av and Yom Kippur. The Mishneh is saying that these two festivals are so special that they have a greater joy than all the other festivals.
I’m not going to explain why 15th Av was a day of joy- not the place here. But Yom Kippur- a day of solemnity- of sadness- especially since we are delving on our sins, we think also about how far we have travelled from G-d, why should this be a day of Simchah and joy?
The Talmud answers Ki Yesh bo selicha umechilah- The reason why Yom Kippur is essentially a happy day because it affords us the opportunity to come back before Him and G-d has set it aside as a day of forgiveness and pardon for our sins. So rather than it being a day of sadness it is a day of joy- indeed tomorrow in the Avodah of Yom Kippur, the original temple Service we read how the Cohen Gadol, the Cohanim and the people were in a state of euphoria after the Service had been completed and the High Priest had come out from Holy of holies without blemish!
Every year over Yom Kippur we recite the following blessing: Baruch atah Hashem ….
Blessed are You O Lord who forgives and pardons our sins and passes over our guilt every year.
Asks Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev: How do we know that Hashem is going to forgive and pardon our sins every year- isn’t this therefore a beracha levatala- a blessing in vein?
He answers with a parable of a Rebbe with his young student who promises him that if he is a good boy he will be rewarded with an apple. The young student is a kluger- he’s very clever and sharp. He immediately recites the beracha: Baruch atah Hashem elokeinu melech haolam borei peri haetz- blessed are You O lord our G-d King of the Universe who has created the fruit of the tree. The teacher realizing that his student has recited the bracha is duty bound to give the apple to the student otherwise the blessing will be in vein.
So too we recite the blessing that G-d forgives and pardons our sins every year.
Says Reb Levi Yitzchak- G-d is now duty bound to grant us our blessing otherwise it becomes a blessing in vein.
My friends, we pray that Hashem give us His full brachot for this year and grant us selicha umechilah and let us say Amen.