Jonathan's Little Corner : Torah : Piutim

CCA Midwinter Conference, 4 Feb 2001:

The Piyyutim of Yamim Noraim - How They Amplify the Themes of the
Text as Interpreted by the Rav (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt"l)

R' Yosef Adler,
Cong. Rinat Yisrael, Teaneck, NJ

Summary by Jonathan Baker

R' Adler explained one piut and set the Kol Nidre prayer in context.

The piut is the first one in the Chazan's repetition of Musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Most of us just mumble through it, with the chazan coming in on the last two lines. But if you actually study it, you see that it serves as an introduction to, and brings out the theme of, the Zichronot section of the Musaf.

R' Adler went through it line by line:

Upad me'az l'shefet hayom

What is upad? It reminds us of the ephod, the garment of the Kohen Gadol. The verb form appears twice, in Ex. 29:5 and Lv 8:7 - girding on the ephod. God is upad me'az, already wearing His mantle of judgement. When we appear in a normal court, we have arguments we can use, we don't know if we will be found guilty or innocent, but when we appear in God's court, we *know* already that we cannot but be found guilty. Thus l'shefet, for judgment, not for working out guilt or innocence - God will judge us by what we did.

B'chon maaseh chol yom

Contrast "chol yom" every day here, with "hayom" today above - everything we did comes down to today. God probes all our deeds, chon maaseh, from all our days, chol yom.

Gishat yekumim pnei ayom
Dinam bo lefaless lefidyom

We come to plead before God - we know we're guilty, but what can we do to make up for it? to give You reason to be merciful? To act as a pidyom, a ransom, for our evil deeds?

Harishon adam bo notzar

On the first, rishon, of Tishri, was Adam notzar, created. The first day of creation was on the 25th of Elul, and Adam was created on the sixth day, which fell out on Rosh Hashanah, 1 Tishri. According to the midrash, Adam was created, he sinned, and by 11 AM, was booted out of Eden.

v'tzuvah chok v'lo natzar

God gave Adam *one* mitzva, but he wasn't able to keep even that one mitzva, he couldn't constrain himself from violating the only mitzva he had.

Zeh meilitz c'hirchiv batzar

We know that the punishment for sin is death, unless we have something to defend ourselves with. *Something* acted as a defense, a meilitz for Adam.

Chakako lamishpat v'ladorot m'nutzar

In fact, this *something* which acted as a defense for Adam, can also be a defense for us today, and through all the generations, ledorot. It was established then, chakako lamishpat, and contiues for us today. What is it?

Ti`at chotzev g'va`ot v'tzurim

The maker of hills and rocks (stable things) *planted* the seeds of the defense with Adam.

Yuldu vo meirosh tzurim

Initiated on this day from the beginning, were the archetypes: the  Avot, the patriarchs.

C'yoshvei n'ta`im heimah hayotzrim,
lelamed bo tzedek la`atzurim

They planted the seeds, they were the formation of merit, of the defense which can be used by all in difficult times.

God looked down the generations and found that the Avot were one day to spring forth from Adam. The merit of the Avot then served as the ransom for Adam's life, and Adam's life was spared. This merit, the seeds of which were planted and used in Adam's time, works for us today. And this is the message of zichronot: remember the merit of the fathers, the zechut avot, and in that merit may we be redeemed from punishment.

R' Adler then went on to explain the reason for Kol Nidrei.

Why do we say Kol Nidre? If you look in the Rosh on Nedarim (23b?), he posits that it's about hatarat nedarim (release from past vows). He goes through about 5 reasons why it can't be that: there's no bet din (court), there's no regret of the vow, the language seems wrong, etc.

He brings Rabbenu Tam's proposed solution, that it's a pre-declaration  that any future vows will not be efficacious, such that if one wanted a vow  to work, he would explicitly have to waive the nullification he had made in Kol Nidre. In line with this opinion, the wording of Kol Nidre was changed from past-tense to future. But even this doesn't really explain Kol Nidre, because

a) the rest of the language of Kol Nidre would have to change, not
    just the one phrase "from this Yom Kipur to next"; and
b) what are we to make of the extra verses we say afterwards?
Let's consider the context in which we say Kol Nidre. The chazan is flanked by the two greatest members of the community. Those three are wearing tallitot, if no-one else is. They are holding 2 sifrei  Torah. What does this suggest?

The three men standing, the chazan and the two flankers, can be seen as constituting a bet din. The tallitot can be seen as protection. How? We use tallitot as protection from revelations of the Divine presence. We use tallitot as protection over the Kohen's hands during the duchening. Among Sephardim, the Tokea covers himself and the shofar with his tallit. A Bet Din sitting in judgement is in place of God's judgement, and there was a gilui shechina (revelation of the Presence) when the High Court sat.

This bet din makes two decisions, court orders, psakim. The first psak is the introduction:

Biyeshiva shel maala...anu matirin lehitpallel im avaryanim.

In the High and low courts, with the  consent of the Presence and of the people, we permit to pray with sinners.

At first blush, this looks odd - aren't we all sinners? Rather, it permits nichramim, those who have been  excommunicated, to pray with the community. The bet din lifts, or at least suspends, the cherem  gainst anyone who has been muchram, so that they can pray with the community (normal cherem  orbids one to pray with the community), in the hope that the excommunicated will do teshuvah.

The second psak is introduced by Kol Nidre, and is addressed to God:  Forgive this congregation.

Huh? How does this work?

Consider the idea of hatarat nedarim. Someone makes a vow, say, swearing off meat for a year. 3 months later, his daughter gets engaged, and in  order to eat at the wedding feast, he needs to get the vow nullified. So he goes to the bet din, and tells them about the vow, and they ask him, "why should we do this?" He tells them that *if* he had known that his daughter was going to get engaged, he *never* would have taken the vow. Because he could not foresee the consequences of his action in taking the vow, the vow is nullified. It's not just that he's sorry he took the vow, but that he didn't understand the consequences. It's a strange and flimsy-sounding mechanism, but it was created by God, and so we can use it.

So the court takes as a *precedent* this institution of hatarat nedarim in issuing its second psak. Consider, each of us, had we truly known  and understood the consequences of sins, the consequences of our actions, we would never have done the sins in the first place. We have essentially done the sins beshogeg, unintentionally. To truly do a sin bemeizid,  intentionally, we would have to internalize the understanding of the  consequences of the sin, and still say, "I'm going to do it anyway."

[There was something about the Rambam in ch. 7 of Laws of Repentance saying that we are all considered unintentional sinners today, but I couldn't find it when I looked in the text - jjb]

The court is not actually doing hatarat nedarim, but is instead reminding God that *HE* created this mechanism of releasing vows, and *on that basis* he should forgive Israel.

We see this from the verses which follow Kol Nidre:

venislach lechol adat b'nei ysrael
v'lager hagar btocham
ki l'chol ha`am *BISHEGAGAH*.

And we forgive this whole congregation of the sons of Israel
and the stranger who dwells in their midst,
for all of the people acted unintentionally.

We are ALL beshogeg. Therefore, God, since you created this mechanism of releasing people from responsibility for actions whose consequences they did not truly understand, you must use it on the members of this (and all) congregations, because the are all beshogegin.

Then, the chazan, in his role as the av-bet-din, the chief of the court, orders:

slach na la`avon ha`am hazeh kegodel chasdecha, v'cha'asher
nasata la`am hazeh mimitzrayim v`ad heinah, v'sham ne'emar:

Please forgive the iniquity of this nation in the magnitude of Your favor,
as you bore the burden of this nation since its time in Egypt until the
present day, and there it is said...

Cong. and Reader 3 times:

Vayomer H' salachti kid'varecha!

And God said, "I have forgiven them as you have said."


And then we say shehechianu. Now, much of the prayer is in minor key, we're always crying out the prayers, but here, it's in major indicating happiness. We say shehechiyanu on happy occasions, and what could be  happier than hearing that God has forgiven us? We resoundingly express our joy at hearing God's acquiescence to the Court Order.

Another observation: why do the men to the sides of the chazan hold sifrei Torah? It indicates a unification of Israel. We're not just ordering the forgiveness of the paid members of this shul, we the court stand in unity with courts all over the world, among all the congregations, and standing together, chazanim and clal Yisrael, all of Israel, we ask and order forgiveness for all of Israel.

In conclusion, not only is it important to understand and interpret the words that one is saying, one also needs to broaden one's horizons, and the horizons of the congregation, to the wider meaning of what one is praying. It would be worth going through the Rosh on this (see top).