Answering the Once-a-year Jew

In a letter to Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, a former student he calls “Sarah” grapples with her indecision over whether she should continue to attend Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur eve. Having discarded the Torah observance of her youth to intermarry, she still feels drawn to this one last vestige of Jewish practice.

Sarah confesses that she feels like a hypocrite, and she wonders whether she angers God by standing before Him on the Day of Atonement when she is not even fasting, and when her whole life is a rejection of His commandments.

In his column in Mishpacha Magazine, Rabbi Feldman invited readers to offer their own responses.  Here is mine:

Dear Sarah,

You ask in your letter whether God sees you as a hypocrite for coming to shul on Yom Kippur.  Your question contains its own answer.

We all live lives of contradiction:  we know the evils of loshon hara, but we gossip anyway; we know that all livelihood is decreed by God, but we vex over how to make ends meet; we go to shul to pray then chatter through services; and, on a national level, we ask the Almighty to rebuild the Temple, while we fail to correct the shortcomings that caused its destruction.

None of this makes us hypocritical; it makes us human.  Our spiritual essence pulls us in one direction while our physical nature pulls us in another.  This is what it means to be a human being, and especially a Jew.  We want to be good, but we consistently fall short of the mark.  Hypocrisy is when we adopt a false persona for the express purpose of deceiving others… or ourselves.

Ultimately, your self-doubt is the clearest sign of your underlying sincerity.

That you feel compelled to attend Kol Nidrei means that you are sensitive to the promptings of your soul, which means that you are still in tune with what your Creator wants for you and from you.  Like a parent estranged from a child, God desperately wants you to reconnect with Him, and any effort on your part is a step in the right direction.

So don’t imagine that God is angry with you for coming to shul.  Just the opposite:  He is joyful that you have not cut Him completely out of your life.  To that end, continue listening to the voice of your soul whenever it speaks to you.  It is God reaching out to you, ever hopeful that you will reach out to Him.

About the Author
Rabbi Yonason Goldson's new book is Proverbial Beauty: Secrets for Success and Happiness from the Wisdom of the Ages, a collection of practical insights from the Book of Proverbs and the Mona Lisa, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Louis where he teaches, writes, and lectures.
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