In the Kol Nidrei (“all promises”) services – which are really the Ma’ariv (evening) services for Yom Kippur, it is the Kol Nidrei part that is the most moving for most of us.
But it is another part that really gets me every time – when a rabbinical court is convened, with the court decreeing that it is acceptable to pray among sinners.
"In the courts above, and the courts on earth, we decree that it is permissible to pray with sinners."
To me, this is the essence of Yamim Noraim (days of awe) and perhaps Judaism itself. At that moment, we invoke our right to make difficult moral decisions by issuing a decree, even as we concede that we all fall way short of the standards we set for ourselves.
It encapsulates the Jewish response to the human condition – we may not be perfect, we may only vaguely understand the purpose of our existence, but we set for ourselves sacred aspirations. We actualize these aspirations to the best of meager abilities in our daily actions and are constantly humbled in these efforts.
Still, we have rights. We have the right to convene a court of three observant, knowledgeable people and make rulings based on our limited understanding. And none could be more profound than the decision that we are allowed to offer the service of prayer, even as that service must seem like blasphemy in light of our actual sinful conduct.
It is chutzpah of the highest order, but it brings me to tears every time.