To Pray with the Transgressors

We grant permission to pray with the transgressors.

So ends the prologue to Kol Nidre.  How pompous and unwelcoming, how divisive and polarizing this sounds: “We, the court, permit all of the pure faithful to pray in the company of the transgressors.”  If “transgressor” once upon a time identified a specific violation, it carries that meaning no more.  As we hear this declaration, we ask: Are there members of the community who are not transgressors, who have never “transgressed,” “crossed over a line”?

Let’s refit the word abar-yan, transgressor, taking the term back to its root meaning: “to pass over, to travel.”  Now, again, the declaration:

We grant permission to pray with fellow travelers.

Community is formed at the intersection of all the roads that we have traveled, all lines that we have crossed.  The individual is also formed by solitary travels and inner journeys.

We have a tendency to clarify by polarizing: weak-strong, healthy-ill, faithful-transgressor.  Clarifying is useful, to a point.  But more useful still is honoring the collective knowledge gained by the various roads traveled, strengthening ourselves from what we learned beyond the line. We are made stronger by mistakes and missteps during our travels.  Our transgressing can become our treasure. “We grow around and live from our weak spots,” says psychologist, James Hillman.

The Israeli poet, Rivka Miriam, points to the strength that comes from our heroes’ weak spots.  It is only when we are wrapped in our vulnerabilities that we can succeed.  Such strengthening requires an “inner room,” a Yom Kippur that embraces the weak spots that become strengths:

And in the inner room we keep Moses’ heaviness of mouth
Isaac’s weak eyes, and Jacob’s dragging leg.
And when war stirs us, it is to the inner room we go
To examine them closely.
For each one who goes out to battle, wraps himself in just these.

Click here for Rivka Miriam poem in Hebrew and English.

This entry was posted in Days of Awe, Holidays, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

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