Letting Go: Hatarat Nedarim

Hatarat Nedarim, absolution of vows, is a recommended preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the day of “turning over a new leaf.” One person asks three others to act as their bet din, religious court, and witness their confession of unfulfilled promises along with their declaration of good intent.  This ritual helps a person enter the New Year with a clean slate – without any unfulfilled promises. (Heavily edited from about.com)

The reflective preparation for the ritual in italics below is mine. It begins with general breathing instructions, and continues with three key reflective questions.

A link to Reb Zalman’s interpretive translation of the ritual declaration completes the post.

Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.

Become aware of your breathing.

Relax into a set of deep belly breaths. (Remember to pause after each breath out, giving your body a chance to use the oxygen.)  

Relax into a set of heart breaths, imagining the breath enters your body at your heart center, and exits as it travels down your spine.

Imagine that the breath enters your body at a point between your eyebrows, and travels down your spine, exiting into the ground. Stay with these breaths for a few moments.

Gradually, let go of the structured breathing, and dwell in this heightened consciousness.

Allow yourself to become aware of something about yourself that you have wanted to change, something that perhaps has caused you pain or confusion. Something that perhaps is not easy to change.

As it comes to you, notice where you feel its weight the most.

Let an idea of what makes this change difficult float by…and then let it go.

Allow yourself to become aware of something you would have liked to do better for a loved one, something that perhaps you had hoped could become a new habit, but perhaps has not.

As it comes to you, notice where you feel its weight the most.

Let an idea of what makes this new practice difficult float by…and then let it go.

Allow yourself to become aware of something you have wanted to engage with more fully in your spiritual practice, or your connection with Jewish community. Something that perhaps has not been easy to implement.

As it comes to you, notice where you feel its weight the most.

Let an idea of what makes this ongoing engagement difficult float by…and then let it go.

Gradually, let it all go, and return to normal breathing.

Open your eyes, find your paper with the Hattarat Nedarim formula.

Please rise, and address the Beit Din.

***I thank Susan Shamash for bringing Reb Zalman’s text to Or Shalom during our Selichot service.

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