People are sometimes buoyed up by emotion and promise the world. “Now that I have recovered from illness I will be in shule every week… I love you so dearly that I will never leave you for a day… I hate you so much that I will never speak to you again… I am so annoyed with the chazan that I’m never coming to shule again…”.
Some of the promises we make are magnificent and beautiful, others foolish and cruel. We should never promise things to other people unless we intend to keep them, and if we regret our promises we have to secure the other person’s forgiveness and forbearance.
Kol Nidrei, however, involves promises to God (or to ourselves), made at a moment when we may not have been realistic or practical. How can we face the Almighty in prayer on Yom Kippur with unfulfilled or unfulfillable promises on our conscience?
That’s why the Kol Nidrei declaration was formulated, to ensure we show God our regret for having promised too much and our request that He hold us back from promising what we cannot deliver.
The fact that the High Holydays are now so imminent should spur our thinking to consider what new year resolutions we should be making.
We can all do with a change for the better in our spiritual, ethical and practical Jewish development. There are things we should be doing, and things we should be doing better. For some the right approach is a total sea-change, but in most cases the practical thing is to upgrade ourselves gradually.
If we know ourselves we will promise sensibly and work towards the goal rather than trying to get there in a hurry and possibly finding it was all too much.