My Neighbors Neshama, Kol Nidrei 1999

by | Sep 17, 1999 | 0 comments

I rewrote my Kol Nidrei Drosha today. Actually you rewrote my Kol Nidrei Drosha today.

Rav Yisroel Salanter once commented that we have a natural tendency to worry about our own physical welfare and be very concerned about the welfare of our neighbors Neshama. Our attitude however should be the opposite. We should be obsessed with the physical welfare of our fellow Jew and be very concerned with our own Neshama.

Yesterday I spoke about asking mechila and granting mechila. Moshe lo yada ki koran or panav, you probably don’t realize how holy you are. The questions that you asked after the shiur, last night on the phone, all day today. The requests for mechila for miniscule items of offense. Boruch Hashem you are ehrlich yidden. But there was an overriding message in the calls. The message is that most of us get upset with people’s behavior toward us but we don’t consider the history of that behavior.

“I ask mechila for sleeping during your Drosha a few weeks ago but I was up in the hospital with my uncle all night on Thursday and it just hit me.”

“I’m sorry I don’t always stand up for you but I’m having terrible trouble with my legs.”

“I’m sorry I was in a negative mood, but it was the yohrtzeit of my child that day.”

As it happens, none of the above was offensive to me and I view offence in Shul as a professional hazard, but the message Hashem was giving me was so clear. Don’t judge your fellow man, because you have no idea what has brought about the behavior you are now witnessing. You don’t know what button you may have pushed that may have brought back a childhood nightmare, a Holocaust, or a traumatic memory. People are very complicated, very complex. We do have the ability to overcome these hardships but we certainly have to look at it a bit differently. We can’t understand strange behavior until we have donned the air of the injured party.

What is Kol Nidrei?

As the year passes, as life passes we don so many garbs. Add-ons or in today’s jargon, plug-ins. Behavior patterns that are not really ours but baggage that we have acquired and accumulated throughout the year in order to protect ourselves, or in order to fit in, or to take us out of pain. We all have accumulated what I call “stuff”. Throughout the year we have donned so many garments. At Kol Nidrei we try to take them off.

Hashem told Avrohom at the beginning of his career as G-d’s agent in this world, “Lech Lecho”. Reb Nachman explains, go back to yourself, get rid of the stuff, shed the garments,

On Yom Kippur we fulfill “Lech Lecho”. Like the Kohein Gadol who went into the Kodesh Hakodoshim we go into our own personal Kodesh Hakodoshim. Our Kodesh Hakodoshim is ourselves, our own neshamos. At Kol Nidrei we try to get back to what we are, to get in touch with the real us.

I’d like to suggest we heed the advice of the Baal Shem Tov. He says that when we encounter annoying behavior, when we see stuff in someone else view the other person as a mirror into your own soul. Hashem is showing us this behavior for a reason and the reason might be that we have at least a tinge of that behavior within us. As we begin the holiest day of the year we should embark on a two-prong program. First, give someone, anyone a break, cut people some slack. Realize that people act differently than us because they have had different life experiences. This is the essence of being don lekaf zchus. In the name of Chazal I can promise you that just as you give another person a break Hashem will give you a break.

Second our own Neshamas. We can break down the barriers and become purer people, less complicated people, easier people, real people, and better people. On Yom Kippur we are given special energy to accomplish this.

If we can shift our concern to the physical welfare of our fellow Jew and focus on our own Neshama we can be zocheh to a gmar chasima tova, where all our tefilos will be answered.

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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