How can it be that a day set aside for self-examination begins with the recital of Kol Nidre?
After all, Yom Kippur is a day of many prayers – words expressing regrets and resolutions.
Kol Nidre literally means all promises made; i.e. all vows and promises to which we will bind ourselves during the coming year we repent our making them and are null and void.
How odd a way to begin a day of repentance. “Look God, I will promise many things today, but I am not bound by what I say.”
And this is for most congregants the most somber and spiritual moment of the Yom Kipper service!?
Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say, “I will make every attempt to keep every pledge I make, but, regretfully, I realize that I am flawed and realize that I won’t keep them all.”?
Perhaps, it is the most holy moment of the day because it is the most honest and humbling moment.
A person who is aware of meaning of the prayer and pauses to reflect on the irony of the moment may suddenly feel shame, when he or she realizes how unreliable we humans actually are; so much so that we add a caveat at the beginning of the service explicitly facing how in some way or another we cannot trust ourselves.
Kol Nidre sets a tone of modesty and warns us not to delude ourselves. For to think that we can cleanse ourselves so easily is a grandiose illusion. It is better to spend time to reflect on those things which we can reasonably expect to change or moderate within ourselves.
This leads to not only a realistic humility, but a forgiving attitude toward others.