The Heavenly Tribunal And Earth
Welcome to the holiest people, in the holiest place, at the holiest time.
We are about to begin one of the most haunting prayers in all of Judaism, Kol Nidrei. We are about to enter into the Holy of Holies of the year. We are about to cross the borders between body and soul, dissolve all boundaries between heaven and earth, and remove all barriers between God and ourselves.
The cantor opens with a fascinating prayer:
With the sanction of the Omnipresent and with the sanction of the congregation, by the authority of the heavenly tribunal and by the authority of the earthly tribunal, we hereby grant permission to pray with sinners.
That implies that sinners are praying right here and now – with us! But is a praying sinner not an oxymoron – a contradiction in terms? Because how can he be both? If he is praying, he is not sinning. If he is sinning, he is not praying.
As always, there is more to it than meets the eye, as a beautiful Chassidic story about the heavenly tribunal and the earthly tribunal make clear.
And an equally beautiful passage from the Talmud states: Every fast day that does not include the sinners of Israel is not a fast day.
Together, they reveal the sacred mystery of Yom Kippur – a day when sinners become prayers, and prayers become one with the Omnipresent.