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Yom Kippur

It says in the Mishnah (Yuma 8:9), “‘For on this day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you; from all of your sins before Hashem shall you be cleansed’ (Vayikra 16:30). Sins between Man and Hashem, Yom Kippur does forgive; sins between Man and Man, Yom Kippur does not forgive until he appeases his friend.”

It is customary for people to ask each other forgiveness, before Yom Kippur, since without it, they will not be forgiven by Hashem. Very often, when one comes to appease someone he has wronged, the response is, “You have nothing to ask me forgiveness for.” Or, “I never really was offended by what you did, so you have nothing to worry about.” Or, just, “Don’t worry about it. It’s OK.”

These, and similar statements, are a very nice gesture on the part of the one who was entreated, but they do not help the wrongdoer any. We learn this from the brothers of Yosef who sold him down to Egypt as a slave. Twenty two years later, when he revealed himself to them as Par’oh’s assistant, they were terrified that he would surely take revenge against them. Instead, Yosef the tzaddik appeased them and told them not to worry; that everything that had transpired was part of Hashem’s design, and it was all for the good, to save their father’s household from starvation in the years of hunger. Let us examine his words for a moment:

And Yosef said to his brothers, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him because they were panic-stricken before him. Then Yosef said to his brothers, “Come close to me, please,” and they came close. And he said, “I am Yosef your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that Hashem sent me ahead of you. For this has been two of the hunger years in the midst of the land, and there are yet five years in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. Thus Hashem has sent me ahead of you to insure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance. And now, it was not you who sent me here, but Hashem; He has made me father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler throughout the entire land of Egypt. Hurry, go up to my father and say to him, ‘So said your son Yosef, “Hashem has made me master of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not delay. You will reside in the land of Goshen and you will be near to me; you, your sons, your grandchildren, your flock and your cattle, and all that is yours. And I will provide for you there, for there will be five more years of famine, so you do not become destitute, you, your household, and all that is yours. “‘He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; afterwards his brothers conversed with him (Bereishis 45.3-11, 15).

It certainly sounds convincing enough that Yosef truly held no grudge against his brothers and forgave them for all of the anguish they caused him for so many years. How strange, then, is the end of the story. On Yom Kippur, during Musaf, and on Tish’ah B’Av, during the Kinos, we read the tragic story of the Ten Martyrs. These were among the greatest Sages of the Talmud, including the spiritual giant, Rabi Akiva, who were tortured to death by the Roman Government. The Kabbalists revealed that these ten rabbis incorporated within themselves the reincarnated souls of the brothers of Yosef, who were sent back into this world to be punished for their crime of selling their brother as a slave! But how could this be? We saw how profusely Yosef consoled them and made it clear that he holds absolutely no resentment towards them. Why, then, should they be punished at all; certainly such a terrible judgment?

The answer, say the Mekubalim, is that everything Yosef said was fine and dandy; that he holds no grudge, and it was all for the good, etc., etc. But he did not say, “Machul lach, machul lach, machul lach – You are forgiven, you are pardoned, you are exonerated.” Therefore they were not absolved of their grave sin and had to suffer the terrible consequences.

Similarly, when one is asked by his friend for forgiveness, before Yom Kippur, he should not just tell him that everything is OK, and that he does not have to worry. He should be careful to express those very crucial words: Machul lach, machul lach, machul lach. And the one who asks forgiveness should be sure not to settle for anything less.

In the merit of our forgiving each other, Hashem will forgive all of us, and we will be blessed with a gemar chasimah tovah, together with all of our brothers and sisters around the world, Amen.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel