Parashas Matos and Kol Nidre

My neighbor, R’ Eli Radinsky, recently drew the following similarity to my attention.

There is an obligation to begin add time to Yom Kippur, an obligation true of Shabbos and every holiday, but happens to be derived from a verse about Yom Kippur. (“You shall afflict yourselves on the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening to evening, you shall rest on your day of rest” -Vayiqra 23:32, which implies that Yom Kippur is observed starting at a point in the evening when it’s still the ninth.)

What do we do with this extra time, how do begin Yom Kippur? Kol Nidre, a declaration anulling the oaths of the past year, and/or pre-empting those of the year to come. (There are textual variants in the past tense, the future tense, and one that has the chazan saying both.)

We generally think of Moshe’s repetition of the Torah, “Mishnah Torah” or in Latin, “Deuteronomy”, as being identical to the last book of the chumash, the one we call today by the second word in the book, Devarim.

However, Rashi cites a Chazal that says differently.

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה ה֖’ אֶת־מֹשֶֽׁה׃

And Moshe said to the children of Israel, like everything which Hashem commanded Moshe.

– Bamidbar 30:1

ויאמר משה אל בני ישראל: להפסיק הענין דברי רבי ישמעאל לפי שעד כאן דבריו של מקום ופרשת נדרים מתחלת בדבורו של משה הוצרך להפסיק תחלה ולומר שחזר משה ואמר פרשה זו לישראל שאם לא כן יש במשמע שלא אמר להם זו אלא בפרשת נדרים התחיל דבריו חסלת פרשת פינחס.

And Moshe said to the children of Israel: “To end the subject”, is the words of Rabbi Yishmael. Because until here were the words of the Omnipresent, and the section on oaths begins the speech of Moshe. [Therefore,] it has to stop first and say that Moshe reviewed and said this section to Israel. For if not so, it would sound like he didn’t tell them this [everything up to this verse] and only with the section on oaths did his words begin, at the end of parashas Pinchas [this verse].

– Rashi ad loc.

The tanna, Rabbi Yishmael, writes that Moshe’s repetition of the Torah begins with parashas Matos and the laws of oaths. He then uses this to explain the need for the last verse of Pinchas, that it is to let us know that everything G-d told him directly was also taught to the Jews.

Now he gathers the heads of the tribes, and begins the process of mishnah torah, of the repetition of Torah from mentor to follower down the ages.

How does Moshe begin? With a preface before the actual book, and starting with the laws of oaths. Did we consciously follow this model when establishing the custom of saying Kol Nidrei? And if so, what does that tell us?

Notably, Hashem describes Moshe’s teaching as “hadevarim“, the words. The significance being words makes the possibility of anulling an oath or vow, of undoing words, is even more startling. It is very much the theme of Yom Kippur, this entire concept of being able to repair the effects of the past.

With respect to the book of Devarim, this connection is harder to explain, and I’m not sure I am satisfied with any of the answers I thought about. Perhaps Moshe is opening the chain of tradition with an admonition to future teachers. Don’t be too proud to admit a faulty teaching and correct yourself.

As I said, while the connection between the opening of parashas Matos and Kol Nidrei seems compelling, I’m not clear what the connection is supposed to mean.

Feel free to suggest something in the comments section.

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