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Buddhist Monks Open Yom Kippur

What follows is my introduction to our Yom Kippur services and in particular Kol Nidre.

I once learned from an intelligent, young man a legend about two Buddhist monks.

Given these monks’ vow of celibacy, they were forbidden from even touching a woman. The two often went on long walks together, speaking about their devotion to Buddha, communing with the peacefulness of nature and seeking to become at one with the universe.

On one such walk they approached a river. A beautiful woman, dressed in fine silk, approached them and asked if the monks would carry her across the river. One angrily refused and explained his singular religious commitments. The other, without even speaking a word, lifted her on his shoulders and carried her across the waters.

After she went on her way, the two monks returned to their walk. After several miles, the angry monk, still seething at his colleague's transgression, confronted his friend and chastised him. He exclaimed, “You carried a woman!” The other responded, “I am not the one who is still carrying her.”

Although you might be surprised that I begin this holiest of days with a Buddhist teaching given that I am not a Buddhist monk—despite my robe and hairdo—I thought it was the perfect teaching to offer before we listen to the haunting melody and powerful words of Kol Nidre.

If Kol Nidre is about one thing it is about letting go of all that we are carrying. We let go of the grudges, of the angry words we spoke and those spoken to us, of the mistakes and missed opportunities, of everything we wished we did differently and everything we wished others did differently. It is the opportunity to let go. It is the opportunity to start over.

The weight of a person is easy to carry for a few minutes. It is impossible to carry for a lifetime.