As mentioned, Yom Kippur, is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Because we are asking G-d for atonement, we spend the entire day engaged in prayer. We do not eat or drink. We pray to G-d that He should forgive us for our sins and grant us a good year. Because our prayers are so important on Yom Kippur, the Rema (Shulchan Orech Orech Chayim 619:1) writes that “a person should not change from the custom of the city, even the tunes used or the additional prayers said there” lest one be distracted from his or her prayers.
The significance of the tunes used for the prayers is discussed in Sefer Ma’avar Yabok. There, it says that the soul benefits greatly from tunes sung during prayer. G-d’s ministerial angels sing praise of G-d constantly. When the soul hears such singing, it experiences great pleasure and satisfaction. It is reminded of the overwhelming closeness it has with G-d when it and the angels up high sing songs of praise. Because of the great sense of unity and closeness with G-d the soul feels when our bodies are engaged in song, G-d comes close to us here on earth, and a heavenly spirit rests upon us. When the cantor leads us in song, he is leading us in presenting the holiest melodies to G-d, which ascend before His throne. Song causes us to be uplifted and our prayers to rise to the highest levels, where G-d eagerly awaits them.
Although singing clearly plays an important role during our prayers, the Chasam Sofer notes that there is one place where it appears inappropriate. When the entire congregation together says the Confessional, it is customary for the cantor to lead the recitation in song. The congregation sings the Confessional as well. One would think that a confession of a person’s sins for an entire year should be said with bitter tears and crying, not with a sweet melody sung in unison. Yet, the Chasam Sofer writes, the Confessional should be sung. Why? When we perform the commandments of G-d, we are supposed to do them with happiness. We should be happy that we have the opportunity to fulfill the dictates of G-d. The act of confession is one of G-d’s commandments. Crying is definitely appropriate when we are asking for atonement. However, when we, together, do the Mitzvah of confessing, we should be doing so with a sense of happiness as well. We should feel fortunate to have been presented with this opportunity to do the will of G-d. This delight is expressed through our singing of the confessional. At this crucial moment, when the power of our combined prayers is mighty, we ask for forgiveness with joy.
The Chasam Sofer continues to say that when we express this joy, we are illustrating our love for G-d and his commandments. Our Sages have taught that when repentance is done out of love, our sins are converted into merits. By singing the Confessional, we are bringing ourselves close to G-d. We are expressing our love for G-d. We vividly demonstrate how we happily perform the command of G-d. We are repenting out of our love for G-d. The act of an entire congregation singing tunes of love to G-d rises before Him, and He turns our sins into merits. The confessional has a great power, and this power is enhanced by song.
When we pray on Yom Kippur, we should remember that our repentance is an act of love. While we beg for forgiveness, we should keep in focus that we regret our sins because they were acts of rebellion against the One who we love. Singing helps us express our true feelings on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, we should all merit to have our prayer readily accepted and be sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year.
(From Sefer Minhag Yisroel Torah)
Together with my family, I would like to wish you and yours a k’sivah v’chasimah tovah. You should all be written and inscribed for a year full of health, happiness, success and nachas. I look forward to continuing my learning with you throughout the holidays in the year 5758.
—R’ Yehudah Prero
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.