Yom Kippur: The Value of Life


Yom Kippur: The Value of Life

We conclude the "al cheit" confessional prayers of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with the following admission:

"My God! Before I was formed, I was of no worth. And now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed."

This prayer needs to be examined. Before I was formed, of course I was of no worth - I didn't exist yet! And after I was formed - why should the prayer say that it is "as if I was not formed"? Do I exist or not?

Fulfilling My Purpose

Rav Kook interpreted this passage in a novel fashion. He understood the prayer as an introspective insight into the meaning of our existence.

"Before I was formed, I was of no worth." Clearly, before I was born I was not needed in this world. I was of no worth, for nothing required my existence. There was not yet any purpose to my existence, there was no mission for me to fulfill. Since I was not yet needed, I was not born in a previous generation.

"And now that I have been formed .." Since my soul has entered the world at this point in time, it must be that now there is some mission, some goal for me to accomplish. Some aspect of the world needs me to correct it and complete it.

And yet - "it is as if I have not been formed." Were I to dedicate my life towards fulfilling the purpose for which I was created, this would confirm and justify my existence. But since my actions are not in accordance with my true goal, I am not accomplishing my life's mission. And if I am not fulfilling my purpose in life, my very existence is called into question.

If I do not accomplish the purpose for which I was placed in this world, then I have reverted back to the situation preceding my birth, when, since I was not needed in the world, I was not yet formed. Thus, even "now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed."

[adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. II, p. 356]

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