Yom Kippur – The Jewish Day of Atonement
Heb: יום החתימה – יום כיפור
A GUARANTEE FOR A FAVORABLE RULING
On Yom Kippur, we stand pure and genuine like the angels. We have repented and confessed, and we have expressed our desire and resolve to increase our mitzvah performance. We have asked forgiveness from those whom we have harmed, we have returned all money and property taken unlawfully – or, if not, we have committed ourselves to restore this property – and we have prayed that those against whom we have sinned unknowingly or from whom we have not had the opportunity to ask forgiveness will find it in their hearts to forgive, just as we wholeheartedly forgive all those who have harmed us in any way.
However, we often make an exception – except for those who insulted us harshly and unjustifiably, and those who have caused us irrevocable damage for which they can never be forgiven. Virtually everyone keeps such a list, a register of people who have hurt him beyond the point of forgiveness.
And a person who keeps such a record is correct, on principle. One is not required do forgive for every misdemeanor committed against him.
But we must remember, that on the Days of Awe these perpetrators, who were not granted this individual’s forgiveness, will be punished for these crimes. They will be dealt with harshly, for Yom Kippur does not atone for sins committed against another human being. Heaven forbid, their penalty will be quite severe.
So what? They deserve it! Perhaps.
But it is still not worthwhile, for us such an attitude simply does not pay. “Anyone on whose account another person is punished is not granted entry into the Almighty’s quarters” (Shabbat 149b). So what have we gained? It is far better to forgive even in such circumstances and say sincerely and wholeheartedly, “I hereby forgive all those who have sinned against me, and nobody should be punished on my account. Similarly may the Almighty forgive me for all my misdeeds and not punish me because of them!” This is as solid a guarantee to a favorable ruling as we can get!
“ANGELS OF GOD ASCEND AND DESCEND”
The great defender of other Jews, Rabbi Levi Yitz’hak of Berditchev zs”l, tells that one Yom Kippur he ascended to the heavens. Upon his entry, he requested to see the “battlefield,” Hashem’s palace of judgment, the hall where the fate and destiny of the Jewish people are determined year after year.
As the gates opened before him, he looked inside and began trembling. The opposing sides stood facing one another. In the middle stood the giant scales. To the right stood the beautiful white angels, those created by our mitzvot. To the left stood the dark, grim angels, the prosecutors generated by our transgressions. The army of mitzvot was quite large, as even the sinners among the Jewish people are “filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate.” However, the militia of sins – may we all be saved from them!! – was too large for numbers. It consisted of masses and masses, like a stormy sea, an endless wave of angles. Woe to the eyes who behold such a frightening sight!
Rabbi Levi Yitz’hak saw and was seized with terror. He was clearly aware of the situation beforehand. All the inappropriate talk about other people creates its angels. Vulgar speech brings into existence its army of destruction, as does all silliness spoken during prayer. One who receives honor at the expense of the pride of another relinquishes his share in the World to Come. One who causes distress to another violates a commandment; a husband who causes any form of anguish to his wife violates a commandment. The same is true regarding children to their parents and vice-versa. Laxity regarding the laws of Shabbat, a lack of regard for the property of others, and, perhaps more than all else, the lack of Torah study. Each wasted second which could have been used for Torah study is a machine which produces the angels who wage the battle against us. These angels are prepared to ascend the left side of the scale in unison and weigh it down. What chances for victory do the white angels have?
With a heavy, trembling heart, Rabbi Levi Yitz’hak waited for the prayer of “ne’ilah,” the final prayer, the moment when the ruling is sealed, the instant when it is determined who will live, who will earn a respectable living, who will be granted good health, who will be given wealth and honor, happiness and good fortune, and who will be inscribed for the opposites of these fates, Heaven forbid. In the meantime, he decided, he would take a look around. He would take a closer look at what was going on, catch a better glimpse. With trembling knees and weak legs he approached the gigantic, powerful, intimidating and overpowering army of the destructive angels.
As he got closer, he breathed a sigh a relief. He saw that these frightening combatants were, in fact, invalids. Each of them either walked with a limp, was missing a limb, had a broken arm or leg, was blind or deaf, sick with fever or suffering from hypothermia. He casually made his way to the second camp, the army of white angels, and saw that they were all strong and mighty. They stood tall and proud, healthy and robust. At last he could relax, knowing that the decision will be in our favor. The white angels will head out to war and their opponents will drop before them.
Why? For no Jew commits a complete sin. There always accompanies the misdeed a concealed feeling of discomfort, hesitation always precedes the act, and the sin always leaves behind difficult feelings of sincere remorse. Thus, the angels created by these sins are invalids, weak and frail. But when a Jew performs a mitzvah the soul rejoices immensely. The spirit comes to life and is full of enthusiasm. The mitzvah is carried out with a full heart, willingly and with excitement, with preparation beforehand and pride afterward. From such a mitzvah comes a tall, healthy angel, radiating energy and confidence.
This is the story of the great defender, Rabbi Levi Yitz’hak. But we must ask ourselves, is this true? Are our mitzvot of such quality? We know the quality of our mitzvot full well, and in Heaven they are even more familiar. Are our tefilot recited with proper concentration? Do we learn with the proper enthusiasm? Do we give charity wholeheartedly? Do we create such strong, powerful, flawless angels?
So what did the great Tzadik see that Yom Kippur?
The Ar”i zs”l has taught us the secret. True, a mitzvah bereft of proper intention resembles a body bereft of a soul. And Torah and prayer not accompanied with love and awe are like birds without wings. However, they can be compared to the coals on a train. Once a proper tefillah comes along, or an act of kindness performed with a full heart, an hour of impassioned Torah study -they are the steam which pulls everything, they instill a breath of life into all the previous mitzvot, they cure the angels’ blemishes!
On Yom Kippur, let us keep in mind that if we pray with sincerity and feeling, if we help others with warmth and compassion, if we recite Tehilim from the depths of our hearts, we can revive all those angels, and we can earn a favorable ruling on this Day of Judgment.
FROM THE WELLSPRING OF EDUCATION
“One, One and One”
Rabbi Asher Hadaad shlit”a, one of the remnants of the previous generation of great thinkers, sees great significance in the manner in which the kohen gadol would count as he sprinkled the blood – “One, one and one, one and two, one and three…”
He explains based on a story of a man who had in his home a clock which, every hour on the hour, would ring the number of notes which correspond to the hour, from one through twelve. On the half-hour, the clock would ring a single note.
Once, the man woke up in the middle of the night, with nothing but the thick darkness around him. There was absolute silence, except for the ticking of the clock. He thought he would listen to the clock to find out the time.
A few minutes later, a single tone was heard. What time is it, he wondered. It could be 12:30, 1:30, or 2:30. He had no idea.
He waited another half-hour, and again he heard a single tone. Still, he was unsure of the time. Either the first ring was at 12:30, and now it is 1:00, or, the first ring was at 1:00 and now it is 1:30.
And so, he would have to wait yet another half hour, and then he would find out the time for sure. But, what does one do if he lives all his life in darkness and his clock always rings just one tone? He will never know the time.
Each person must each ask himself how he has progressed since last Yom Kippur. Is each Yom Kippur merely a single tone, ringing annually? Or, perhaps not – if he has participated in Torah classes then he has acquired precious knowledge, has grasped a few more pages of Gemara, mishnayot, or Midrash. Then, each Yom Kippur he can add to that – one, one and one, one and two, one and three – he can add to the coming year, in which he will participate in even more Torah classes.
Excerpts from Sing You Righteous…
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit”a
Did you know that we wear white clothes on Yom Kippur in emulation of the spiritual angels?
“For on this day shall be an atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be cleansed before Hashem. It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths (a Sabbath of complete rest) for you, and you should afflict yourselves; an eternal decree.” (Vayikra 16:30-31)
One of the anomalies of Yom Kippur is the status it carries as Shabbat Shabbaton (the Sabbath of Sabbaths). Most of us who observe Shabbat know that to observe one must follow certain Halachik (legal) guidelines: We must dress appropriately; we must eat festive meals; we must read special sections from the Torah; etc. It appears somewhat incongruous that on a day that might be described as a super-Shabbat not only do we not eat our usual three festive Shabbat meals, but we are forbidden to eat or drink any food at all. Why?
The verse says: “you should afflict yourselves,” which should mean that we shouldn’t eat or drink. The Rambam (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon [Maimonides], 1135-1204, Egypt) the great codifier and philosopher maintains that the root of the word Shabbat means to cease; we are obligated to cease or rest from eating and drinking. In fact, the Rambam brings the law (Laws of Yom Kippur 1:4-5): “There is a further positive commandment on Yom Kippur. It is to rest from eating and drinking. It is [also] forbidden to bathe, to apply oil to the body, to wear [leather] shoes, or to cohabitate. It is a positive commandment to rest from all these just as it is to rest from eating.”
The Rambam saw the cessation from eating and drinking as a form of rest. Hashem frees the Jews from certain physical functions on that one day allowing us, to strive for something much higher.
Pirke de Rebbi Eliezer chapter 46 (a Midrash composed by the school of Rebbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, circa 100 C.E.) elaborates even further:
“Samael (Satan, the Angel of Death, the Evil Inclination, the Accuser or Prosecutor) saw that sin was not found among [Israel] on Yom Kippur. He said to Hashem: You have a unique nation, which is like the ministering angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews have bare feet on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”
On Yom Kippur, we appear to be angels. We not only refrain from the five prohibitions cited by the Rambam, we also dress in white, the color of the angels, the color of purity. This status is fascinating for us to explore in order to understand better.
Three days after Avraham our Patriarch was circumcised, he sat at the entrance of his tent looking for a way to do his special Mitzvah, hospitality to strangers. Hashem came to him and was Mivaker Choleh (visited the infirm); during that visit, Avraham saw three people walking in the desert.
“Hashem appeared to him in the pains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! He perceived that three men were approaching him, so he ran toward them from the tent entrance and bowed to the ground.” (B’rayshit [Genesis] 18:1-2)
Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) on the words “three men were approaching” cites an amazing Midrash (B’rayshit Rabba 50:2) that claims the three were angels: “One to bring tidings (of the birth of Yitzchak) to Sarah; one to destroy Sodom; and one to heal Avraham. For one angel does not perform two missions.”
Angels are similar to robots, they serve one purpose or function only. Hashem has thousands of angels, each with a specific function: Raphael is the healer; Gavriel is the forceful one; Satan is the Accuser, etc.
If Israel is likened to angels on Yom Kippur, then maybe the above mentioned Pirke de Rebbi Eliezer is telling us that our function on Yom Kippur is to reorient ourselves to our one and only function: to spread holiness in the world through the fulfillment of Hashem’s Torah.
We have to some extent lost track of our purpose. We think that we were created in order to heal the sick, or to fight for the rights of the downtrodden, to compose beautiful music, or to produce great movies, or just to make a living. But that is not so. Our true purpose is to spread Hashem’s holiness in the world; perhaps we can accomplish this by being doctors, musicians, social workers, poets, housewives or rabbis. However, at times we get sidetracked and we think of how much “I” get out of it rather than how to fulfill His directives. Yom Kippur is the one day of the year to get back on track, when we can see the errors we have made and rectify them through Teshuvah (repentance or a return to His priorities).
And so, one day a year, we are likened to angels who do not need food or drink, or bathing, or oil for our bodies, or hides of dead animals for our feet, or even cohabitation with our spouses. All of these needs distract us from His directives.
Angels do not need to satisfy any physical, emotional or spiritual needs; they are pure energy whose sole purpose is to serve their Creator, though their service is robot-like, and they have no choices. Human beings on the other hand have souls that are spiritual but are imprisoned in an physical shell, always needing to be fed, clothed, pleasured and nurtured. Yet this imprisonment is the glory of humanity. Unlike the angels, we can rise above our limitations and constraints serving our Creator by blending both our physical and our spiritual natures. For this reason the Torah was given to human beings rather than to the angels.
So the Rambam, and Rashi and Rebbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and all of our teachers and mentors stress the point that on Yom Kippur we fool Satan into thinking that the we are angels, not centered on the physical but on our divine purpose.
“Samael …said to Hashem: 塑ou have a unique nation, like the angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews have bare feet on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”
Do not see our abstinence from the five pleasures as affliction, rather view it as a respite from our limitations as humans. Our true objective is to serve Hashem with joy, awe and love, and to attend Him with our entire body, heart and soul. That is spirit of the day; and when achieved, it deludes the angel Samael into reasoning that we too are angels.
Acknowledgment to Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Pearls of Life
The Pearls of Life share more penetrating thoughts about the Brisker Rav. It is said about him that he was overly machmir [stringent about Jewish Law] and how much effort should a person put forth without showing a compromise in their faith [Bitachon]. Rabbi Povarsky told Rabbi Frankfurter that “When the Brisker Rav was in Warsaw during World War II there were bombs falling on the city. His apartment was on the third floor and it was very noisy and uncomfortable, so he asked if they could find him a different place to stay. An apartment was found on the first floor, but for some reason he wasn’t bothered by the same noise and he was perfectly calm. When they asked him what the difference was he replied. Do you think I am afraid of the bombs? Of course not. A jew has to have bitachon. But the halacha is that when there is a sakana [danger] you have to do whatever you can to avoid it. I was on the third floor and the first floor is obviously safer, so I had to do my histadlus [efforts] to get an apartment on the first floor. But I can’t do more than that.” The uniqueness about the Brisker Rav is that there are very few who were so makpid [stringent] about not doing more hishtadlus [efforts] than was absolutely necessary. Rabbi Povarsky concludes that people thought that he was overly stringent [machmir] in Jewish law, but that was not the case, as he was simply being careful to do only as much as was necessary according to Jewish Law.” Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim
As heard from my Torah Masters
Wishing you a Gmar Hatima Tova
Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor