As an Ashenazi, there are few times when we wear the kittel. These are lofty moments and remind us of purity and the malachim. I would like to present something a little bit different.
Individuality is something that we as a society are constantly looking to recognize in our families, within our communities, and certainly as a small nation on the world stage. There are few times that we look to shed this individuality, and the demeanor we are trying to convey is more of a communal one. On Yom Kippur, we want to get lost in the sea of kittels and taleisim. We are trying to appear as simple servants, members of our kehilla, coming to seek atonement. It’s not the time for individual recognition but to shed our persona and unite in one unified voice of prayer and teshuva.
Similarly, on the leil haseder, the message is about belonging to a group. The pesach is meant to be eaten within a group, roasted whole, and bones unbroken. The focus is inclusivity and oneness with those around us; the kittel reminds us to shed the “me.”
Finally, at the wedding, where both bride and groom need to learn to make room for each other, we again find both garbed in white. The lesson being conveyed is one of commonality, finding the path of least resistance, and fusing two worlds into one. Similarly, as the communal leaders get up on the Yamim Noraim, they, too, remind themselves that they exist for the klal. There is no room for ego, self, or the bravado of their post. They are the kehilla, and the kehilla is them.