Sometimes when one asks a question, he receives a mediocre answer and is told ‘the question is better than the answer.’ Other times, the answer is better than the question. And other times still, the question is not really a question at all but the answer is a great answer! The following is probably an example of one of those (last category) types. There are two things that kick off the yom kippur service before ma’ariv of yom kippur begins, namely the annulment of vows in the kol nidrei prayer and, of course, the yom kippur kol nidrei appeal. A fair bit of ink has been spilled (wisely) in dealing with why we say kol nidrei as our introduction to yom kippur, but we are going to take a step further in asking the unasked question: why do they have a kol nidrei appeal at yom kippur? Is it not a bit rude (and certainly not very English!) to solicit funds from people not long after they have come into shul; and for many of whom this is only the third time they have come to shul all year after the two days of Rosh HaShanah. There must be a reason for this ‘custom.’ Certainly, one cannot downplay or ridicule any Jewish custom, and this one is widespread throughout England and America. In fact, it dates back as far as 1916, where Rabbis in America appealed at kol nidrei for funds to aid fellow Jews from Eastern Europe who were suffering at the hands of World War One. In fact, it was due to the heroic appeal of Binyomin Wilhelm during the Yom Kippur of 1917 that the renowned American yeshiva Torah Voda’as was established. Why have the appeal on yom kippur? And I don’t think the answer is that they want to make an appeal when the most amount of people are in shul, because then it could be made on Rosh HaShanah, or even after ma’ariv on yom kippur night. So I was a bit stuck trying to justify what has become an accepted and widespread custom. Until it dawned on me that the answer seems to be in this week’s sedra of Ha’azinu. The following idea will seem extremely impractical at first, but hopefully we shall try and bring it down to its core and make it practical. The pasuk in our sedra (32;15) tells us ‘vayishman yeshurun vayivat’ - that when Bnei Yisrael (called yeshurun from the root ‘yashar/straight’) get fat, they kick out at HaShem. What this means is that when we become wealthy and overly-dependent on our physical and material comforts and pleasures, we ‘kick out against HaShem’ and leave spiritual matters behind; we rebel. Singing the same tune, the gemarra[1] notes that ‘HaShem scanned all the good attributes to give to Bnei Yisrael and found the best one to be poverty,’ for (as Rabbeinu Chananel explains there) poverty keeps someone attached to HaShem in that they are always praying to and looking to HaShem to have mercy on them and provide them with their needs. Someone who is rich, however, is prone to forget about HaShem, thinking of themselves as self-sufficient and successful without HaShem’s help (until the dollar falls, of course). And as proof of this idea, Rabbeinu Chananel quotes none other than our very own pasuk from this week’s sedra ‘vayishman yeshurun vayivat.’ Furthermore, along the same theme, the Vilna Ga’on changed the wording of the after-Shabbes zemer[2] from reading ‘our offspring and our money should be as numerous as sand (grains)’ to ‘our offspring and our (spiritual) merits should be as numerous as sand,’ so alien and unfitting to him was the idea of praying to be wealthy. And such has been the way of several rabbinical leaders over the generations to pray not to be wealthy; Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and Rav Shalom Schwadron to name but a few. Now, I’m sure that we can all empathise with this idea. Previous generations were much poorer, less into materialism, and more devoted to their Creator. And I would venture that they lived a more fulfilled daily life too. We can also all appreciate that there is a correlation between the two; the more we put our focus on the physical world and its enjoyments, the less we tend to care about the spiritual world and its fruits. But at the end of the day this message is not practical for us. HaShem has blessed our generation with an abundance of wealth that previous generations would have deemed unheard of, and we are not going to give up all our money and become poor, nor are we expected to do so[3]. Therefore, we are going to turn the above idea round a bit and make it much more practical and relevant, I hope, and this should answer the kol nidrei appeal question. One should not get the wrong message from the sources we cited above. They do not say that being rich is intrinsically evil. On the contrary, the gemarra[4] reports that the great sages Rebbi and Rabbi Akiva would honour wealthy people, because they saw them as evidently being people of spiritual merit to deserve HaShem’s bracha of wealth, as the Pele Yo’etz writes[5]. Moreover, the Torah itself tells us in several places[6] that if we listen to HaShem’s commandments then He will take care of our physical needs and we will have a bracha of wealth. How can the above sources denounce wealth as ‘evil’ if the Torah itself presents it as a bracha? In short, what do the above sources mean? What the sources mean is that opulence presents a major test: the challenge to use one’s wealth properly and for the positive, as opposed to using it to purely materialistic ends and forgetting Who gave you the wealth in the first place. This is the practical point for us; to use our money for the positive and important things in life. When you receive your annual paycheque, what you are holding in your hand is a year of your time. If you spend the cheque in a positive, constructive, and sensibly altruistic way then you have spent your year positively too. And unfortunately the reverse is also true if you waste that money and put none of it to positive use. Donating a siddur to a shul for example, provides merit each time that siddur is used, merit that will last for years and will accompany one to the grave. Not only are the living judged each year on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, but the dead are judged too. What for; what could they have done new each year? They are judged for the effects that they caused in this world, which live on. Donating money to a worthy cause is a prime example of an ‘investment’ that will live on. It is a real shame that people and their priorities become blinded by money. Families can become torn apart over petty fights about inheritance. The kol nidrei appeal provides a conduit through which we can put money into its correct perspective and can commit to using it for the positive in life. This is why the appeal is at the start of Yom Kippur. For on the day where we bang our chests in repentance for and ultimate removal of our sins, we begin the day with an overall aim and commitment - to use our tools, talents, and resources for constructive use in this world. The removal of oaths in the kol nidrei prayer is a commitment to use our gift/power of speech constructively, and the kol nidrei appeal is the commitment to use our material resources constructively. This is something manageable, and something we should strive to commit properly to and put into practice throughout the year - starting on erev yom kippur. As Chazal tell us in the prayers of these yamim nora’im; ‘Teshuvah,Tefillah, and Tzedaka remove the evil of the decree’ Have a meaningful Yom Kippur and fast well, [1] Chagigah 9b [2] Hamavdil bein kodesh lechol chataseinu hu yimchol… [3] I’m reminded of a story I heard first/second hand about someone who asked Rav Elyashiv if he should teach prishus (the trait of withholding from unnecessary physical pleasures) in his school. Rav Elyashiv looked at him and asked him ‘do you eat ice cream?’ ‘Yes,’ was the response. ‘Then teach the students to be good Jews and leave the prishus at the moment.’ Whilst we should hold back to an extent, prishus is much more to ask of our generation, that are used to their comforts, than previous generations. [4] Gemarra Eiruvin 86a [5] Under the section ‘chanupah’ [6] For example, parshiyos Bechukosai, Eikev, Ki Savo.

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.


Security code
Refresh