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Rosh HaShanah season: prayers & annulment of regretted vows

To read a translation of this page in Dutch, click here. For a version in Portuguese, click here.

There is no special procedure that a Noahide must follow in the days leading up to, on, or following Rosh HaShanah. Since the first day of Rosh HaShanah is the annual Day of Judgment for every human being, every person should wake up from his spiritual slumber during (and preferably before!) this season. One should set aside personal time to make an honest accounting of his character and obedience to G-d – what good aspects need to be strengthened, and what improper aspects need to be corrected.

The Power of Personal Repentance:

Just as a person needs to examine his actions to see if they are sinful, and repent from those which are, he likewise needs to search his personality for the bad traits he has, and to repent from those also and correct his ways – such as traits of anger, hate, jealousy, sarcasm, pursuing money and honor, or pursuing physical desires and the like. These last traits are in some ways more evil than sins that merely involve action. Therefore the prophet said, “Let the wicked abandon his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts; let him return to G-d, and He will have compassion upon him, and [let him return] to our G-d, for He will pardon abundantly.” [Isaiah 55:7]

The following is a prayer for Noahides for the days leading up to Rosh HaShanah (suggested for daily prayer by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, from the above booklet):

A Prayer of the Repentant:

O G-d, I have erred, sinned and willfully transgressed before You, and I have done that which is evil in Your eyes, especially with the sin(s) of … (state the specific sins or errors).

I am sincerely ashamed of my sins, and I repent and firmly undertake not to do so again.

Please G-d, in Your infinite grace and compassion, forgive my sins and transgressions and grant me atonement, as it is written: “Let the wicked abandon his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts; let him return to G-d, and He will have compassion upon him, and [let him return] to our G-d, for He will pardon abundantly.” [Isaiah. 55:7] And it is written: “Do I desire at all that the wicked should die, says the L-rd, G-d; it is rather that he return from his ways and live!” [Ezekiel 18:23]

There are Jewish customs to say Psalm 27 daily from the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul (one month before Rosh HaShanah) through the day of Hoshanah Rabbah (the seventh day of the Jewish festival of Sukkot). In general one can add in reciting this or any other Psalms during these days (for example, Psalm 51 before going to bed). Above all, one should know that sincere repentance (especially when accompanied by prayer and proper charity) can soften or change G-d’s judgment for a person, because He desires that those who transgress their commandments should return from that path and live (both physically and spiritually).

For suggested prayers on Rosh HaShanah: click here

Annulment of Regretted Vows and Promises

If you have made a specific vow or oath that you regret having made and wish to have it annulled (before Rosh HaShanah or at any time during the year), you should follow this procedure that is outlined for Noahides in “The Divine Code”, Part III, chapter 4, on Annulment of Vows and Promises, since only some types of vows and promises can be annulled, if there is proper justification:

1. If one makes a promise or vow to do a certain thing or not to do so, and he then regrets his vow and decides that he will be distressed if he holds himself to keeping it – or if something occurs later which he did not foresee, and he reconsiders his promise or vow because of this – then he may request annulment for the vow according to the instructions below. Once his vow becomes annulled, he is allowed to do a thing that he swore not to do, or he does not have to do the thing he promised to do. Even if he swore to the promise by G-d’s Name, he may request annulment for the vow.

2. It has been explained in the previous chapter that a person should not rush to make promises or vows, and if one has already done so, he should keep his word and not annul his vow. He should endure distress to uphold what he swore verbally, rather than annul the oath (for anyone who swears and then annuls his vow is like a liar).

Only if one sees that the vow he uttered is causing him much distress, or if it becomes a stumbling block, or causes him or others to sin, should he then have the vow annulled. After the fact, if he requests annulment for his vow and receives it, even if it was not fitting for him to do so, he is then no longer bound by the vow.

3. One cannot annul his own vow; rather others must annul it for him [and the procedure for annulment of a vow or oath should be done in person]. Even one person can annul another person’s vow, provided he is knowledgeable in the precepts regarding annulment of vows, and he knows what is considered valid regret from the outset, and how to find an opening for establishing that the necessary regret is there. Even a friend or relative, as long as they are knowledgeable in these laws, is allowed to annul a vow that a Gentile made.

4. How is an oath annulled? The person who took the oath says before those who are annulling it: “I took an oath concerning such and such, and I have changed my mind. If I had known that I would feel so much discomfort concerning this matter, or that such and such a thing would happen to me as a result, I would not have taken the oath. If at the time of the oath, my understanding was as it is now, I would not have made the oath.”

Those who are annulling the oath say to him: “Have you already changed your mind?” He answers: “Yes.”
They then tell him: “The thing is permitted for you,” or “The promise is released for you,” or the like, with this intent and in any language.
There is no annulment for a vow unless the one who made the oath regrets it and rescinds, declaring: “If I had known what I know now, or if I would have thought about this at the time of my vow, I would not have made it,” and rescinds his vow in the presence of those who are annulling it.

Whether one comes forward to request an annulment on his own accord, or if another person initiates the annulment and asks him, “If you had known such and such at the time of your vow, would you have made it?” and he answers “No,” this is an “opening” for the other person(s) to annul his vow.

However, if one says that he does not regret his vow, it is impossible to release him from it. Even if one regrets the vow at the current point in time but does not regret it from the time of its acceptance, and says that what he promised was good until now, and only in the future does he want to release himself from it, he cannot receive annulment.

5. We do not annul an oath because of something that had not occurred at the time the oath was made, and the person had no possible knowledge of it from the outset. What is implied? For example, someone took an oath not to derive benefit from such-and-such a person, and that person later became the city’s mayor. Since the person did not regret making the vow, even if he now says, “If I had known that this would occur, I would not have made the vow,” his vow should not be annulled, for he still does not regret his original making of the vow.

However, if he regretted and said, “If I had known that this person was fitting for prominence and honor at the time of my vow, I would not have taken it,” then this is a true and valid regret, and his vow can be annulled. When does this apply? In regard to a normal occurrence, which a person could have foreseen as being possible at the time he made the vow.

A different rule applies if an unusual occurrence happens that one would not normally think of. Since this is a completely unforeseen condition, it should not be considered as an opening to allow the person to be granted annulment due to regret, since he does not regret that he originally made the vow.