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Yom HaKippurim - A Day of Atonement, a Year of Attainment
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. One day a year, we reach a level comparable to melachim, angels. The Rambam describes the mitzva of fasting on Yom Kippur as resting from eating and drinking. On Shabbos, we rest from physical labor. On Yom Kippur, we rest from eating and drinking as well. We transcend the physical and enter the realm of the melachim. On this day, we are so close to Hashem that we have no need to eat. This is also why we declare aloud, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchusu l'olam va'ed, Blessed is the Name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity. Moshe Rabbeinu learnt this prayer from the melachim during his stay in Shamayim, in the Heavens, and taught it to Bnei Yisrael. The rest of the year, we are unworthy to recite this tefilla aloud and may only whisper it. However, on Yom Kippur when we resemble the melachim, we may recite it aloud.
Nevertheless, Yom Kippur is only one day. Immediately afterwards, we descend back to our human existence: in Maariv we whisper Baruch Shem, then we go home to eat and drink. However, the messages of our festivals were not intended to last only for the duration of the holiday and for us to return to our daily routines when they end. We are supposed to internalize the lessons of each holiday and implement them in our daily lives. Surely, this holiest of days must contain a lesson for us for the rest of the year.
At first glance, one would say that the lesson we should draw from Yom Kippur is that if one sins, he should repent immediately. Indeed, the Gemara teaches that if a Torah scholar sins, he will surely repent that very same day (Berachos 19a). However, this cannot be the sole lesson of the day. By definition, teshuva requires that one sinned beforehand. Is there no lesson to gain from Yom Kippur unless one sinned?
One lesson to learn from this day is the feeling that we are always in Hashem's presence, Shivisi Hashem l'negdi tamid (Tehillim 16:8). On Yom Kippur we understand that our lives hang in the balance and that our future is dependent on Hashem's forgiveness. This fact, coupled with our abstention from food and drink and worldly pursuits helps us put things in perspective. We come to the realisation that we are in His presence.
If we can take this feeling with us after Yom Kippur, it will impact tremendously on our behaviour throughout the year. As the Rama writes in the very beginning of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 1:1): Shivisi Hashem l'negdi tamid, I will place Hashem before me always, is a great principle in the Torah and in the steps of the righteous who walk before Hashem, for one does not behave or talk the same way when he is alone in his house or with friends, as when he is in the presence of the King. Surely if one contemplates that he is standing before the King of Kings, Hashem, whose presence fills the world and sees everyone's actions, he will fear Hashem, be humbled in His presence and ashamed to sin before Him.(from Moreh Nevuchim). Rabbeinu Yona enumerates 20 steps to teshuva. The sixth step is busha, shame. One is naturally ashamed to sin in the presence of other people and would be extremely embarrassed if caught in the midst of committing a sin. Surely then, one should be ashamed to sin before Hashem. Yet we do not feel this way. Rabbeinu Yona explains that this is because we feel distant from Hashem and do not realise that we are in His presence (Shaarei Teshuva 1:21).
Clearly, the Rama's opening remark in Shulchan Aruch was said to everyone, not only one who is repenting. Why then does Rabbeinu Yona count busha and perceiving oneself standing before Hashem as one of the steps to teshuva?
Rabbeinu Yona writes elsewhere (ibid 2:14) that there is a special mitzva to repent on Yom Kippur, which is learnt from the passuk "Lifnei Hashem titaharu", purify yourselves before Hashem (Vayikra 16:30). When one sins, one erects a barrier between oneself and Hashem. It is then more difficult to perceive Him and one is in greater danger of sinning. On Yom Kippur, we are not only supposed to seek Hashem's forgiveness; we must also remove the barriers that we built through our sins and which distort our vision. Through doing a complete teshuva we purify ourselves and we can then feel His presence once again. Therefore, Rabbeinu Yona exhorts the potential ba'al teshuva to visualise himself standing before Hashem. He must remove the barrier that he erected through his sins to protect himself from future sin. When tempted to sin, we should recall the feeling of deveikus, attachment to Hashem, that we achieved on Yom Kippur and realise that this feeling will be lost if we succumb to temptation.
There is another lesson we can learn from Yom Kippur. After one repents, he feels like a new person, and endeavors to make a fresh start. One approaches each mitzva with enthusiasm and excitement and probes into the meaning of every mitzva that he performs. It is important to apply this trait of hischadshus to the rest of the year, as Chazal teach: "B'kol yom yihiye b'einecha k'ilu hayom nitna- every day we should look at the Torah as if it is being given today."
This concept is alluded to in Krias Shema and in many other places in the Torah. Even though Moshe taught the Bnei Yisrael Krias Shema over three thousand years ago, we still recite daily "V'hayu hadevarim ha'eileh asher anochi mitzavecha hayom", "And these words that I command you today." The Torah exhorts us to always approach Torah and mitzvos with freshness and enthusiasm. Every mitzva should be valued and cherished for one acquires eternity through its fulfilment. Chazal teach "better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world, than the entire life of the world to come" (Avos 4:22). In addition, the Alter of Kelm explains that whenever we learn or perform a mitzva, we should probe and search for new meaning into the mitzvos and our learning. Although we have performed the mitzvos daily since our youth and studied a particular passage countless times, we should approach it as if we were unaware of the reasoning of the mitzva and did not understand the subject that we are learning. When we really apply ourselves, we often raise difficulties and wonder why we never asked these questions before. When we view the Torah and mitzvos as something new, we come away with a wealth of insights and in that sense, it is a new Gemara or a new mitzva. No matter how well we master a particular passage, there are always new insights to be gained and new meanings to be learnt (Chachma U'Mussar 1:83).
Approaching Torah and mitzvos with a sense of newness will also bring us closer to Hashem and we will perceive that we are in His presence. We are commanded to love Hashem as it states "V'ahavta eis Hashem Elokecha - And you should love Hashem your G-d" (Devarim 6:5). The Sifri asks how does one fulfill this mitzva? The Sifri answers that we come to Ahavas Hashem through fulfilment of the next passuk - "V'hayu hadevarim ha'eileh asher anochi mitzavecha hayom, And these words that I command you today"- through learning Torah and observing the mitzvos. The Sifri explains that through toiling in Torah and fulfilling the mitzvos, "ata makir es Hashem u'midabeik b'drachav, one comes to recognise Hashem and attach oneself to His ways." The Mirrer Mashgiach, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz zt"l (Daas Chachma U'mussar 1:63) explains that by learning Torah, one literally becomes attached to Hashem and is in His presence.
However, there is one condition. We might ask: "We observe the mitzvos and devote ourselves to Torah learning, yet many of us do not have this feeling of closeness to Hashem?" The answer is that in order to feel close to Hashem we have to perform mitzvos with enthusiasm. There has to be a feeling of freshness. If we learn Torah and observe mitzvos out of force of habit, we will not experience d'veikus with Hashem. This is why the Sifri answered that love of Hashem comes through fulfilling the passuk, "And these are the words that I command you today." If we approach the Torah each day as if it is being given right now, we will merit to recognise Hashem and attach ourselves to His ways.
Rabbeinu Yona writes (ibid 1:1)that Hashem aids baalei teshuva above and beyond their natural capabilities in their quest to come close to Him. As the possuk states: "And Hashem your G-d will circumcise your heart… to love Hashem…" Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt"l writes (Pachad Yitzchak, Rosh Hashana §6), that although Hashem assists all who strive to better themselves, baalei teshuva merit extra siyata d'shmaya, divine assistance. For baalei teshuva are like new beings and therefore they merit special assistance. Nevertheless, he writes that there is a way for us all to tap into this special siyata d'shmaya. Chazal say that Hashem acts with us according to how we conduct ourselves, midda k'neged midda. If we are kind to others, Hashem will be kind to us, and if we are forgiving to those who have wronged or hurt us, Hashem will forgive our wrongdoings. Rav Hutner says that if every day, we approach the Torah and mitzvos with excitement and search out new meaning just as if we received it today, Hashem will regard us as if we are newly created and we will merit this special siyata d'shmaya.
Let us absorb these lessons from Yom Kippur and turn the Day of Atonement into a year of attainment.
Please daven and learn for Chizkiyahu ben Devorah Mindel for a refua sheleima.
Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson
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