Yom Kippur & Shabbath

This Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos.

There is very interesting explanation that I heard from Rabbi Mansour.

Yom Kippur is considered by our sages as Double Shabbos, thus when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos we actually have triple sanctity on this day (as we know during Shabbos there is “aliyat olamot” – ascent of spiritual worlds and thus all worlds unite in one sephira – ARIAL alludes to this with his statement of “field of sacred apples”).

Numerical value of Shabat = 702

If we look at how many times HAVAYA is included in Shabbat we get to: 702/26 = 27. Thus we have 27 times the power of HAVAYA in one Shabbat.

What happens if we have the triple power of Shabbat as we will have on this Yom Kippur? Then it’s 27 * 3 = 81!

During weekday of Maariv before the prayer we say “Ve-Hu Rachum Yichper Avon ve-lo yashchit ve-hirba lehasiv APo…” And the Merciful One will not destroy and will constrain his anger – in Hebrew Af.

Numerical value of Af is 81. Thus in this Yom Kippur we have the opportunity to erase the power of judgment against us.

May we all be able to achieve this!

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15 Responses to Yom Kippur & Shabbath

  1. There is another side of the triple Shabboth, though we have to get spescial training for that in constant spiritual work and the prayer. The thing is that as we know there are 3 level acsend on Shabbath, and it is 1.into Abbah veImma Ila’in, then to 2.A”A and then to3. Attikc,it doesn’t matter within which range of spirituality you are now, you have there your privete A”k and ABY”A, on Shabboth we are instoled into the Atzillut range of spirituality as Adam Rishon was created on that level through uplifting of the Worlds.

    It means that having Triple Shabboth gives you a constant raise through the 3 levels uprise from Atzilut into Sa”G which is already a combination with Tzimtzum A,and then the 3rd one into A”B and experoensing Zivvug A”B-SA”G is the priority of spescial souls, but on the day when Yom HaKippurim is on Shabbath we may try by keeping right kavvana= to do everything to serve HaShem,get this Zivvug though we are not suppose to get it on this stage, it means that we can get the clear understanding of our root of soul and our part in the plan of the creation and a lot of the KNOWLEDGE we would never even dream about at our present level of spirituality, of course it will be given only if such a knowledge won’t damage our general spiritual growth, but we may pray and ask HaShem to help us to understand our role in His Cretion, not out of the intrest, but to be able to complete it in a best and short time possible.

    And don’t be afraid to demand the spiritual growth from HaShem and to explain to Him why it is so important to you, and what you need to know it for, if you a little bit loose your “mind” in demanding such a thing from HaShem, the last blow of Shoffar will bring you back to reality, and you will be left with exact amount of knowledge you need to know to continue your spiritual developmet.

    I wish us all to be written in the Book of Life for studing Torah, performing Mitzvot and taking part in reaching the Goal of Creation.

  2. Felix says:

    What’s the other example of triple Shabbos?

  3. The first aspect of triple Shabbos is what you gave with numirical value of 27* 3= 81=Af, another is with the Zivvug of A”B-SA”G, and another that I heard about is that Shabbos is the soul of the week, and Yom Kippur is the soul of all Shabbatot, and Yom Kippur that falls on Shabboth is the soul of all the privious Yom’ey Kippurim, but I think that all this examples are speaking about one and the same spiritual notion, but use different terms to try to express the possibility of doing special correction on the innermost level.

    I don’t think there is another example of triple Shabbos except Yom Kippur that comes on Shabbos, though the Shabbotot which enter exactly after the Holidays, ex. two days of Rosh HaShanna followed immidiatly by Shabboth, make Shabboth very special too, because you need a very unique inner organization to feel the Shabboth ascending, after previous two days of Holidays. The difference is that on Yom Kippur which comes on Shabboth you have to “play” on unity of your spiritual levels, while the Shabbos’s ascend which is coming after two previous days of Holidays, may be experienced on the subtle differences between Kdusha of the Holidays and Kdusha of the Shabboth, but the effect you get is very close to that of the triple Shabbos, but much more difficult to get than the ascending on Yom Kippur that comes on Shabbos.

  4. Felix says:

    That’s what I thought. For a moment I thought you were referring to the Shabbos when three Torah scrolls are taken out such as: When the month of Tevet begins on Shabbat. Since the month of Tevet always begins during the holiday of Chanukah, in such a case there would be three readings: a) The weekly reading. b) The reading for Rosh Chodesh (head of the month). c) The holiday reading.

  5. It is a very interesting example of Kdusha of Hannuka, Rosh Hoddesh and Shabbos coming together, that you gave here and the effect of this combination is based on multi- spiritual-force influence, known in medicene as some drugs being senergistic, which means that they enforce each other effect and together give the “push” which wouldn’t have been atained had they been taken seperatly.

  6. We have another example of triple Kdusha, that we enjoy on Simkhat Torah, we also have three Scrols to read 1. the last Parashat HaShavu’a-VeZot HaBrakhah and 2. the first one- Bereshit, and 3.Parashat Pinkhas for the Haftarrah, and together with 7Hakafot 7 times each it gives unforgettable spiritual experience, because it has a lot of singing and dancing, and each man is called for Torah reading, and the collective reading for all the children under Tallith make this Holiday the Zinith of Tishrei holydays, and put the person on the pick of Kdusha.

    Let G-d bless us and let us keep this level for all the year.

  7. yehudith says:

    Kind of “privite” triple Shabath is when somebody’s Luazy date of bithday falls on the Hebrew date on bithday and it happens on Shabath.

  8. It is the holiest space in the Jewish world.
    It is also the holiest space inside each one of us.
    The Holy of Holies. Plunge the depths…

    by Rabbi Noson Weisz

    The goat will bear upon itself all their iniquities … (Leviticus 16:22)

    One of the most perplexing topics that we encounter in the Torah concerns the “scapegoat” — the goat that was offered on Yom Kippur carrying on its back all the sins of the Jewish people.

    Maimonides tells us that the “scapegoat”:

    …brings atonement on all the sins in the Torah, whether they be light or grave, whether the transgression was committed unintentionally or with deliberation, whether the sin is known to the perpetrator or whether it is not… (Laws of Teshuva 1:2)

    And the Talmud adds:

    This goat (sair) refers to Esau, as it is written: but my brother Esau is a hairy (soir) man. (Genesis 27:11) [The Hebrew words sair, “goat,” and soir, “hairy” are spelled identically.]

    [It is further written]: The goat will bear upon itself all their inequities (avonotam). In Hebrew this word avonotam can be split into two words: avonot tam, meaning “the inequities of the innocent.” This is a reference to Jacob about whom it is written: Jacob was a wholesome (tam) man (Genesis 25:27). The word wholesome in Hebrew also being tam. (Midrash – Bereishit Raba 65:15)

    Thus the goat represents Esau, and somehow he is made to carry the sins of the Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob. Is there any way we can bring this strange idea a bit closer?


    At the very beginning of the Laws of Teshuva, Maimonides explains that teshuva requires confession, and he describes this confession as consisting of three elements:

    An enumeration of the actual sin.
    An expression of regret for having done the sin.
    An expression of firm resolve never to do it again.

    He then goes on to discuss Yom Kippur:

    Yom Kippur, is a time of teshuva for everyone — for the individual as well as the congregation. It marks the final stage of forgiveness and pardon for Israel, therefore, everyone is commanded to repent and confess on Yom Kippur… The confession that Israel has adopted to say on Yom Kippur is: “But we have sinned,” and this is the essence of confession. (Laws of Teshuva 2:7-8)

    It is perplexing to note that two of the three elements Maimonides himself earlier stated as essential requirements of confession are missing from the confession recited on Yom Kippur — regret, and the undertaking never to repeat the sin. If this confession is the final act of teshuva adopted by Israel, how is it that the most important parts of this act of contrition are absent from it?

    To be able to answer this question, it is important to understand the role that confession plays in teshuva. Jews do not confess to a priest who gives them absolution. The confession is done in private and is made directly to God. As teshuva is an act of the heart, what possible role does such a confession play in it?

    The rationale of teshuva is change. A person’s actions reflect his beliefs, his character and his personality. When he repents, he is making a statement: “I am not the same person today as the one who committed the sin. I have changed and such an act no longer expresses the person I am today. I look back at the person who committed the sin, and I no longer see myself in him or identify with that act.”

    When this is a sincere process, God accepts it and takes note of the change. Since the person has changed, and the sin no longer reflects his character and personality as they are today, it is impossible to hold the person of today morally responsible and liable for the acts of a person who no longer exists, and God duly pardons the sin.


    As we humans are unable to see into a person’s heart, and we can only see each other’s deeds, we cannot take note of teshuva in human justice systems. Nevertheless we are able to relate to the principle — if the sinner becomes a genuinely different person we can recognize the justice of excusing him from having to suffer the consequences of actions that do not reflect the character of the person he has become and who does not deserve to be punished.

    In effect then, teshuva involves the shedding of old character. We are unable to alter our height, our IQ, or our age, but we can alter our character. When we repent we are changing our inner furniture, leaving only the outer shell intact.

    The shedding of character is in effect externalizing what was, until then, the innermost core of our beings, our old operating system, the primary source of our past behavior and motivation. We shed these like a snake sloughs off his old skin and emerges with a brand new one.

    To externalize the inner man requires speech. It is through speech that what is inside the heart and mind of a person becomes a part of the outer world. The verbalizing of teshuva in the form of confession is the act of shedding old thoughts and attitudes, rejecting them and making them part of the external world instead of our inner environment.

    Change is difficult. We often regret our actions as soon as they are finished, but rarely do we succeed in really changing ourselves. Most often we repeat our mistakes and suffer the regret all over again each time we repeat the mistake. The resolution never to do this again is what generally defeats our sincere desire to be better than we are at present. This is where Yom Kippur comes in.

    On Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. This is a special environment, and enetering at the wrong time caused the deaths of Aaron’s two sons:

    And God said to Moses: “Speak to Aaron your brother – he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary (the Holy of Holies) within the curtain, in front of the cover that is on the Ark, so that he should not die; for in a cloud will I appear on the Ark-cover. (Leviticus 16:2)


    In order to understand the significance of entering the Holy of Holies, we have to understand how we ourselves are put together.

    The human soul has five levels, of which the lower three are connected to our physical realities. At the core of our being we have a neshama which is always connected to God, to an extent that it is difficult to tell where the divine presence ends and the person begins. This neshama is connected to our ruach, our spiritual selves, which in turn is connected to our nefesh, the life force that burns within us and is the engine that drives us.

    As the Holy of Holies in the Temple is the place that the Shechinah inhabits, the High Priest who enters this sanctuary on Yom Kippur, enters it on the level of neshama.

    The point of life is self-definition. Were we aware of ourselves on the level of neshama, and were we conscious of our connection to God, the point of our lives would be quite clear to us. We wouldn’t be at all confused as to why we exist and what we are supposed to do with our lives. But the point of life is to live with free will, and therefore such soul-consciousness is ordinarily withheld.

    Instead, we are torn between our raging life force, our nefesh, and the awareness of our spirituality, our ruach, and this conflict creates within us a confusion as to who and what we are. This confusion is the source of our transgressions, and is the dilemma that forms the backdrop against which we exercise our free will.

    Of the neshama, we are ordinarily totally oblivious. Thus, we are always engaged in the battle of self-definition, and we can never attain total resolution.

    Stepping into the Holy of Holies eliminates the confusion and provides total clarity of vision as to the source of our being. But to enjoy such clarity runs contrary to the purpose of life in this world, and thus to enter the Holy of Holies is to step out of life as it must be lived in this world. When Aaron’s two sons took this step, they terminated the point of their existence here.

    And yet, such clarity is a necessary part of the existence of every Jew. We must be able to obtain an occasional glimpse at our origins, otherwise the accumulation of the errors of existence will move us steadily further and further away from our origins until the way back is so unclear that it is impossible to attain. That would also serve to eliminate the point of our existence, because when we totally lose the ability to find our way back to our origins we also lose our free will.


    That is why God gave us Yom Kippur. On this one special day, God allowed us to step out of our ordinary selves and gave us a glimpse of our true connection to Him, and allowed our representative, the High Priest, to become self aware on the level of neshama. This allowed us to return to our origins, to temporarily resolve our conflicts, and to be able to push out the things separating us from God.

    Now we can easily comprehend the difference between the confession of the penitent, and the confession we utter on Yom Kippur. In the confusion of ordinary life, when we are not self aware on the level of neshama, changing of character and self-definition is an extremely difficult process. To attain the levels of sincere regret and firm resolution never to return to past misdeeds — the necessary concomitants of all character change — are extremely arduous tasks. Therefore, teshuva is extremely difficult to attain, and the penitent must reach very lofty spiritual levels on the basis of his own efforts.

    On Yom Kippur — when we are offered a glimpse of our origins and the confusion of self-definition is largely eliminated — the rejection of all our negatives becomes a matter of course. We are able to push out all our sinful activities as being truly unreflective of our true selves, because we are provided a glimpse of who we really are. Thus the confession of Yom Kippur is simply that we have sinned. We regret our inequities and can truly resolve never to return to them not through our own efforts, but through the clear vision of ourselves that the holiness of the day provides.

    Isaac’s twins, Jacob and Esau, attained this total clarity of self-definition on their own, through freedom of choice. Jacob defined himself as a neshama — a wholesome man, totally consistent and whole and free of contradictions. Esau declared, “Look I am going to die,” thus openly defining himself as a creature of this world only, a man of the field.

    During the rest of the year we lose the clarity of vision that allows such sharp definition, but on Yom Kippur, this original distinction between Jacob and Esau reestablishes itself. This then is the secret behind the idea of the “scapegoat.”

    The loss of the Temple and the sacrifice of the “scapegoat” does not mean that we have entirely lost Yom Kippur. But as we inhabit a world of action rather than spirit, we are always hampered by an inability to translate our thoughts into deeds. Today, Yom Kippur still helps us to attain the spiritual level of true Teshuva.

  9. Is Yom Kippur a day of atonement or a day of judgment?
    What is the meaning of this day on which decisions regarding life and death are finalized?

    by Rabbi Noson Weisz

    For on this day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins before the Lord shall you be cleansed. (Leviticus 16:30)

    A day of atonement and cleansing does not feel like a day of judgment. Yet we know that the final seal on a person’s fate for the following year is stamped on Yom Kippur. It is the final day of the Days of Awe, which are all days of judgment. In what way does Yom Kippur differ from the rest? What is the meaning of this day of judgment, on which decisions regarding life and death are finalized, and which is considered a day of spiritual cleansing?

    Nachmanides (Vayikra, 23,24) explains that the difference between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is that Rosh Hashana is a day of judgment that is tempered with mercy, whereas Yom Kippur is a day of mercy that is tempered with judgment. We shall attempt in this essay to plumb the deeper meaning of these words.

    Let us begin our search for the quality of this day with the Talmud.

    Rabbi Ami taught: “The numerical value of the word haSatan, meaning ‘the Satan’ in Hebrew is 364 (heh=5, shin=300, tet=9, nun=50, for a total of 364).” Explains the Ran: “The days of the solar year are 365; there is one day where the Satan has no permission to do his thing; that day is Yom Kippur” (Nedarim, 32a).

    Does this mean that man has no free will on Yom Kippur? Obviously not! The Torah itself outlines the consequences of failing to observe the fast of Yom Kippur or the prohibition against work; obviously people have the free will to do as they wish on Yom Kippur as on any other day. What significance does the Satan’s day off have for us? And for that matter who is the Satan?


    Reish Lakish taught: “Satan, the Evil Inclination, and the Angel of Death are all one and the same” (Baba Basra, 16a).

    Thus the negative force is subdivided into three parts:

    it urges people to commit sins, (evil inclination);
    it then prosecutes them for performing these sins in the heavenly court, (the Satan);
    and finally carries out the sentence of death issued by the heavenly court as retribution for the commission of sins.

    These negative phenomena are all elements that exist in the world as it is today. In the World to Come, there is no death. Just as there is no death, there is no Evil Inclination, and there is no sin and nothing to prosecute. Thus the entire personality of the Satan is one that exists only in our world. We all hope to experience the sphere of existence where the Satan will not be present at all.

    This world has wars and tribulations. The Evil Inclination, the Satan, and the Angel of Death has power to rule in this world, but the World to Come has no tribulation or sighs or subjugation; it has no Evil Inclination, no Satan and no Angel of Death as it is written, “He will eliminate death forever and my Lord God will erase tears from all faces” (Isaiah, 25:8) (Ozer Midrashim, 146).

    If the Satan has a day off on Yom Kippur, this means that Yom Kippur is really a day that belongs to the World to Come rather than this world. Indeed the Yom Kippur service attests to this in many ways. The one that is most germane to our topic is the following: The Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, called out the forbidden God’s name in public 10 times on Yom Kippur. The significance of this is clear from the following passage of the Talmud.

    “And God will become King over all the earth; on that day God will be One and His Name will be One” (Zechriah, 14:9). Is He not One today? Rabbi Acha bar Chanina said: “The World to Come is not like this world. In this world upon hearing good tidings one says, ‘Blessed are you etc. Who is good and does good,’ and upon hearing bad tidings one says, ‘Blessed are you etc. the True Judge.’ But in the World to Come all the blessings will be, ‘Who is good and does good.'”

    “And His name will be One” — is His name not One today? Rabbi Nachman bar Yizchok said: “The World to Come is not like this world. In this world God’s Name is written with the letters Y/H/V/H, whereas it is pronounced with the letters A/D/N/Y (spelling Adonay, meaning Lord or Master), but in the World to Come it will be all one. It will be both pronounced with the letters Y/H/V/H and written with the letters Y/H/V/H” (Pesachim 50a).

    The Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur was referring to God by the name He has in the next world, not by the name He goes by in this one. The Satan has power in our world, and therefore God can only be described here as A/D/N/Y, the Lord and Master, whereas in the next world, where the negative force of the Satan does not exist, God is clearly the only Being.

    Thus the first point about Yom Kippur is that it is a slice of time that belongs to the next world rather than this one. By fulfilling the commandments of the day Jews are elevated temporarily to the heady existence of the World to Come where there is no Satan.


    The next point concerns the 13 Attributes of Mercy. One of the things we do on Yom Kippur in each of the prayers is recite the 13 Attributes of Mercy several times. The recitation begins each time with a special emphasis on the introductory phrase, which is repeated separately by the reader and the congregation each time the 13 Attributes of Mercy are recited, as though it was a significant phenomenon in and of itself, not merely an introduction to what follows: “God passed before him and proclaimed…” (Exodus 34:6).

    Rabbi Yochanan said: “If this wouldn’t be expressly written in the Torah, we would not even be allowed to think it. This teaches you that God wrapped Himself in a prayer shawl like the leader of the congregation (who is a messenger of the entire congregation) and showed Moses a method of prayer. He told him, “Whenever Israel sins, they should pray in this manner in front of Me, and I will forgive them” (Talmud, Rosh Hashana, 17b).

    But what is so unthinkable about this? How does this differ from other matters that God taught Moses?

    Jewish tradition offers the following interpretation. The difference between this world and the next is based on the manifestation of God that is present in each. God created this world and manifests Himself in it with His name Elohim. It is for this reason that the Divine Name Elohim is interpreted to refer to the Attribute of Justice. This world is a place where the Satan is also allowed to have power, where the fierce battle between good and evil is constantly raging, and where there is judgment.

    In the World to Come, God manifests Himself under the name YHVH. In the World to Come, there is no evil, there is no battle with the Satan, and therefore no judgment.

    Although we refer to the world in which the name YHVH reigns supreme as the World to Come, implying that it follows this one we live in now and will only come into being at some future time, this is actually a misnomer. This is true only from our point of view, for we must pass through the travail and battle of this world in order to get to that one. But from God’s point of view that world comes first. It is closer to His Absolute Unity and in the process of creation when God assumed His mantle of Creator, He was manifest first as a single entity that is the sole source of all being, with no negative anti-force in existence. From God’s point of view, the World to Come already exists.


    Because He wanted man to work for his reward, He hid part of the brightness of the light shed by His Presence and made possible the existence of an anti-force in order to provide an arena for man’s exercise of free will. From God’s point of view, this sphere of revelation where the existence of an anti-force is possible, represents a second, lower level of existence. This is the separate world in which we live at present, where the holy name Elohim is the proper designation for the revelation of God’s presence that is manifest.

    As we have explained however, Yom Kippur is really a slice of time cut out of the World to Come. In order to achieve this, the manifestation of God in the next world must temporarily replace the manifestation of God in this one. There must be a divine presence that sheds such an overpowering light that the forces of the Satan are temporarily shut down.

    On Yom Kippur ordinary reality is pushed out of the way. The divine presence usually present in our world that gives shape to our ordinary reality is intensified and brightened. Since the presence of the anti-force of the Satan is inversely proportional to the brightness and intensity of God’s divine presence, as the light of God’s presence intensifies, the presence of the Satan is diminished. The voice of the anti-force is turned down. The only voice that is heard throughout the world is the benign voice of the 13 Attributes of Mercy.

    We now have made two points. Yom Kippur corresponds to a level of being that is really appropriate to the World to Come, and we access this level of being through our prayers by reciting the 13 Attributes of Mercy.


    Let us now look at Nachmanides once again. We explained in the essay on Rosh Hashana that even though the judgment of Rosh Hashana involves the decisions that are made regarding a person’s life in this world, these decisions are reached by determining his status in the next world. The basis of consideration on Rosh Hashana of a person’s suitability for the next world is his performance in this world.

    But this world is the one in which the Satan has a say. He is allowed to prosecute and state his case. The decision whether the person belongs in the next world can only be reached after giving full hearing to what the prosecution has to say, and being able to present an adequate defense.

    Yom Kippur begins from the opposite direction. Suitability for the next world is judged in terms of the next world itself, where there is no Satan, and therefore no prosecution. There is no need to present a defense to establish suitability. Thus one is automatically judged suitable. This part is the mercy.

    The judgment of Yom Kippur is a consideration of feasibility. On the assumption that a person is suitable for admission into the next world, is it feasible to help him attain entry there given the way he is in this world and given the fact that he has free will? Is it possible to provide him with a life in this world that will guide him into achieving entry to the next one?

    The matters under consideration on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are identical. The difference is the starting point from which they are being considered.

    On Rosh Hashana, which is a day of judgment mitigated by mercy, a person must establish his right to be present in the next world by answering the objections of the prosecution. One must pass through the dark corridors of justice before he can bask in the sunshine of mercy. On Yom Kippur one is armed with the benefit of the decisions of mercy before he is subjected to the harsh scrutiny of justice.


    Let us attempt to bring these ideas down to earth a little more. Jewish tradition teaches us that a person has five levels to his soul. The three main ones are:

    nefesh which is in his body,
    the neshama which is the point where he is joined with God,
    in between, there is the ruach which unites the nefesh with the neshama.

    The neshama, which is with God, is in the next world already. The neshama is at the root of being, the nefesh at the furthest extremity.

    As long as all the parts of his soul constitute a single integrity, no matter how porous such an integrity may be, a person stretches all the way to the next world. He is a single entity at all levels. He belongs in the World to Come in some fashion. What he needs to do is to straighten out the contradictions and inconsistencies between the various levels of his soul till they fit together in perfect harmony.

    But what if he is a split personality, a spiritual schizophrenic?

    His nefesh is so far away from expressing the personality of his neshama, that for all intents and purposes there is no correspondence between the two. As all the levels of the soul are fully alive in themselves even when considered independently of each other, such a person really breaks into two people. He is one person down here in this world, on the level of his nefesh, and a totally different person at the level of the neshama, which is with God in the World to Come.

    Such being the case, he is treated by God as two separate people who have nothing to do with each other. The nefesh being of this world as it is in the body has one fate and the neshama another.

    The commandments of Yom Kippur are two:

    to refrain from any sort of work as on Shabbat, and
    to fast (the rabbis extended the commandment to fast to include washing, wearing shoes and sexual intercourse).

    The commandments of Yom Kippur are designed to demonstrate that our neshama and our nefesh are parts of a single integral unit that is inseparable. Our nefesh behaves in the same way as our neshama. It neither eats or drinks, or engages in intercourse or labor. It sits the entire Yom Kippur in the synagogue, engaged in prayer and basking in God’s divine presence.

    Integration of the soul is called teshuva, which means “to return” in Hebrew. Through teshuva we return to ourselves. As long as we are ourselves there is no need to return to God. We are already fully united with His presence.

    A day of atonement can be a day of judgment after all. Atonement allows the various parts of the soul to integrate and return to each other once again. When we succeed in this endeavor, the united soul is automatically assured of being able to pass judgment.

    Atonement, spiritual purity and judgment really do fit together very well.

  10. One day after Rosh Hashanah commemorates a tragedy in Jewish history whose message reverberates for us today.

    Fast of Gedalia
    by Shraga Simmons

    The day after Rosh Hashanah marks the Fast of Gedalia, one of the “minor fast days” in the Jewish calendar year. The fast begins in the early morning at dawn, and ends in the evening at dusk.

    What is the meaning of this fast, and why does it occur during the intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

    The Story of Gedalia

    After the destruction of the First Temple 2,500 years ago, the majority of the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon. The conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, eventually eased some of his harsh restrictions and allowed some Jews to remain in the Land of Israel. He even appointed a righteous Jew named Gedalia to administer the territory. Gradually, more Jews who’d escaped from the horrors of the war into neighboring countries began to return to their homes in Israel.

    Gedalia was realistic about the limitations of Jewish sovereignty. He understood that for their own self-preservation, the Jews in Israel needed to fully cooperate with the nation who had conquered their land.

    But this political subservience was intolerable to some Jews. A man named Yishmael ben Netaniah, spurred on by jealousy and foreign influence, arose and ignored the King of Babylon. On the third of Tishrei, Yishmael treacherously killed Gedalia as well as many other Jews and Babylonians.

    Answer On Yom Kippur

    In the aftermath of Gedalia’s murder, the Jews feared reprisal from the King of Babylon. They thought to flee to Egypt to save themselves. But since Egypt was a morally corrupt society, the Jews were in a quandary ― weighing the physical threat against the spiritual danger. So they turned to the prophet Jeremiah, who was secluded in mourning, to ask for advice.

    For an entire week, Jeremiah pleaded with God for an answer. Finally, on Yom Kippur, he was answered. Jeremiah called the Jews and told them to stay in Israel and everything would be fine. God was planning to make the Babylonians act mercifully toward the Jews, and before long, all the exiled Jews would be permitted to return to their own soil. But, Jeremiah told them, if the Jews decided to go to Egypt, the sword from which they were running would kill them there.

    Unfortunately, the prophet’s words did not penetrate, and the people refused to believe. All the Jews remaining in Israel packed their bags and went down to Egypt. They even kidnapped Jeremiah and took him with them! Now the destruction was complete; the Land of Israel was completely barren.

    You can guess what happened next. A few years later, Babylon conquered Egypt and tens of thousands of Jewish exiles were completely wiped out. The lone survivor of this massacre was Jeremiah. His prophecy had become painfully true.

    The initial event ― the murder of Gedalia ― has been likened to the destruction of the Holy Temple, because it cost Jewish lives and brought the end of Jewish settlement in Israel for many years. The prophets therefore declared that the anniversary of this tragedy should be a day of fasting. This day is the third of Tishrei, the day immediately after Rosh Hashanah.

    Lessons for the Fast of Gedalia

    Lesson #1 ― The Jewish people had sunk to one of their lowest levels in history. The Temple was destroyed, the majority of Jews were exiled, and things looked hopeless. But God changed their desperate situation and had the righteous Gedalia appointed. Yet Gedalia was murdered by a Jew and all hope was wiped out.

    It was at this point that Jeremiah prayed to God for some insight and assurance. This was during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This story is memorialized to teach us an important message for these days: No matter how far away you are, you can return and God will forgive you.

    Lesson #2 ― The Jews who went to ask Jeremiah for advice were subconsciously sure that God would give the answer they wanted to hear. So when God answered differently, they rebelled.

    Yet these were not evil people. What happened?

    Though these Jews were in one sense dependent on the will of the Babylonians, they were unwilling to be dependent on the will of God. The lesson is that attaching oneself to God means following Him at all times, not just when it happens to coincide with what you want.

    A good rule in life, when faced with a tricky moral dilemma, is to ask yourself: “What would God say? What does He want me to do?”

    Lesson #3 ― When one Jew murders another, it is a deep, terrible tragedy, which can have enormous historical repercussions. There is no excuse for such violence. Do we have philosophical and political differences? We must work them out with calm and tolerance. It is the only acceptable way.

  11. Vayelech(Deuteronomy 31)

    Yom Kippur: Confession and Redemption
    by Rav Zev Leff

    Beset by many evils and troubles, they will say, “It is because God is no longer with me that these evil things have befallen me.” On that day I will utterly hide My face because of all the evil that they have done… (Deut. 31:17-18)

    Maimonides says that this admission of guilt and regret is still not a full confession, and therefore God continues to hide His face. But the hiding is different: no longer is it a hiding of God’s mercy, allowing evil to befall them, but rather a hiding of the ultimate redemption. That change in God’s relationship contains a hint to their ultimate redemption when their repentance is complete.

    To better understand this, we must first understand the function of verbal confession in the teshuva process. Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 364) offers two explanations of the benefit of verbal confession. First, verbalizing one’s repentance creates the feeling of conversing with a second party, which, in turn, sensitizes a person to the reality of God’s presence, God’s awareness of his every deed, and the need to render an account before God. The greater a person’s awareness that his sin was one in God’s presence, with His full knowledge, the greater His shame and regret.

    Secondly, verbal expression intensifies the process and leaves a more lasting effect.

    In addition to regret over the past, teshuva also requires a commitment not to repeat the sin again. That commitment must be so decisive, resolute, and firm that God Himself can testify that at the moment of confession, the sinner does not contemplate ever committing that sin again. Just as a vow to do (or not to do) something in the future requires verbal expression, so, too, does the commitment not to repeat past sins.

    Sefer Yerey’im specifies another dimension to verbal confession – supplication for atonement. There must be a clear recognition of the seriousness of the damage caused by the sin, both in terms of the damage to one’s soul and one’s relationship to God, and in terms of the effect on the world by closing the conduits of blessing. For this, one must entreat God to forgive, heal and repair the damage. Just as prayer and supplication must be verbalized to establish a feeling of communication, so, too must one’s entreaty for atonement.



    There is yet another aspect of confession that relates to the nature of sin itself. Sin, says the Maharal, is only incidental to the soul of the Jew. It cannot blemish the soul itself. Rather it superimposes layers of impurity that separate one from his essence. Since the Jew’s connection to God is through that untainted essence, when he becomes distant from his essence, he also becomes estranged from God.

    Teshuva, then, is the return of the Jew to his essence and the breakdown of the barriers that separate him from God. God does not leave the Jew when he sins; rather the Jew loses contact with God, Who still resides within the essence of his soul. As the Sages say on the verse, “I am asleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Songs 5:2), “my heart” refers to God. Though the Jew sleeps and loses consciousness of God, God still occupies his heart.

    By articulating his sin in the “Vidui” confession, the Jew makes it something external to himself. Then he is able to detach those layers of sin that have accreted on his soul. Vidui itself becomes an act of purification. Thus, Targum Yonasan translates the word “purify” in the verse “Before God should you purify yourself” (Leviticus 16:30), as “confess.” The confession is itself the act of purification.

    It is this last aspect of full Vidui which is lacking in the confession, “Because God is not with me, all these misfortunes have befallen me.” Although this statement expresses regret, recognition of the devastation resulting from sin, and even hints to a commitment to avoid this state in the future, it is still lacking. There is no recognition that it is not God Who has deserted us, but we who have become detached from ourselves and therefore from God.

    When a Jew feels God has abandoned him, says Sforno, he gives up hope, since he thinks that it is God Who must first return. But in truth it is man who has strayed from his essence, and he can find God where he originally left Him. Teshuva is thus literally redemption: “Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22). One redeems his untainted essence from the layers of sin and impurity that encrust it.

    As long as we fail to comprehend this aspect of redemption, God continues to hide the face of redemption from us. When we appreciate all the aspects of Vidui, including that recognition that God remains where He always was, waiting for us to strip away the barriers, we can look forward to both personal and national redemption.

  12. Appeasement and Forgiveness: A Prerequisite for Atonement
    by Rav Doniel Neustadt

    A well-known principle in the Mishnah states that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins committed bein adam l’chaveiro, between man and his fellowman, unless one has first sought to appease whomever he has wronged and obtained his forgiveness. The Divinely ordained power of Yom Kippur to atone for sins cannot be activated, so to speak, unless one has assuaged any hurt feelings that he has caused1.

    Asking for forgiveness is usually an unpleasant task, where one must lower himself to admit his wrongdoing to his fellowman. Since people naturally wish to avoid such painful or embarrassing encounters, they delay asking for forgiveness for as long as possible. Recognizing this factor, the Rabbis established erev Yom Kippur as the final “deadline.” Since everyone wants to maximize Yom Kippur’s potential to cleanse and purify a Jew from sin, that desire becomes the impetus to ask for forgiveness2.

    One must ask to be forgiven for any type of act that may have harmed another person, whether it is of a physical, verbal or financial3 nature, etc., and whether the act was committed directly to the person’s face or behind his back.

    Before the advent of Yom Kippur, one should review in his mind any comments he has made or acts he has done that would require him to approach the injured party and ask for their forgiveness. Many people ask forgiveness from their friends for routine, relatively inconsequential slights; forgiveness in such cases is easily asked for and easily given. But one must also approach those whom one has seriously wronged, and obtain their forgiveness. This is much more difficult yet absolutely essential.

    Question: Does Shimon need to appease or ask for forgiveness from Reuven if he knows that Reuven has already forgiven him in his heart?

    Answer: There are two opinions. Some hold that as long as Reuven is appeased and no longer bears a grudge, then there is no reason for Shimon to ask forgiveness, since the goal has been achieved4. Others, however, maintain that the process requires that Shimon humble himself before Reuven and make up for hurting him by asking forgiveness. The embarrassment involved is part of the purification process, a form of yisurim that the sinner must go through before Divine forgiveness may be granted. The fact that Reuven has already pardoned him does not remove that obligation5. While the major poskim, including the Mishnah Berurah, do not explicitly discuss this issue, we may support this point by mentioning that the Chafetz Chayim urged that the Declaration of Forgiveness paragraph, whose original place in the lengthy Tefillah Zakah was towards the end, be moved up to the beginning of the prayer so that everyone would recit e it6. Apparently, it was his view that reciting this paragraph is crucial since it allows for forgiveness to be granted despite the fact that Shimon did not humble himself and expressly petition Reuven for forgiveness.

    Question: Reuven, who in the past spoke lashon ha-ra about Shimon, now seeks his forgiveness. If Shimon is unaware of what exactly was said about him, is Reuven required to repeat to Shimon what he said about him in order for Shimon to forgive him completely?

    Answer: If the lashon ha-ra that was spoken was not “accepted” by the listeners and no harm was done to Shimon, Reuven does not have to ask Shimon’s forgiveness at all. He must, however, repent for his sin and ask forgiveness directly from Hashem7. If the lashon ha-ra did cause harm to Shimon, and Shimon is aware of the lashon ha-ra that was said about him, Reuven must beseech Shimon directly. If Shimon is unaware of what was said about him, Reuven must tell him8. If the information will cause Shimon embarrassment or pain, then Reuven need not elaborate upon the lashon ha-ra that was spoken9. A general request for forgiveness will suffice. Rav Yisrael Salanter10 explains that there is no need to hurt Shimon by letting him know the lashon ha-ra that was spoken about him. He adds that the custom of asking forgiveness of everyone on erev Yom Kippur avoids such unn ecessary embarrassment11. Question: Reuven feels that Shimon is upset at him for no reason at all. Does Reuven have to appease him anyway?

    Discussion: Yes, for two reasons. First, because Reuven must clarify whether or not Shimon has a legitimate claim of which Reuven is unaware. Secondly, Sefas Emes12 proves from the Talmud that even when someone is unjustifiably upset, he must still be appeased. It is reasonable to assume, however, that this is only required if Reuven actually did something that could cause Shimon to be upset. But if, in fact, Reuven did absolutely nothing wrong, and Shimon’s grievances are irrational—possibly because he is jealous of Reuven or he is an insecure, neurotic individual—then Reuven would have no obligation to appease Shimon.

    Question: Can the appeasement be made through a messenger or must it be done in person?

    Discussion: L’chatchilah, it is preferable that it be done in person. If, however, this is difficult to do, or if there is a better chance of forgiveness being granted if a third party mediates, then it should be done through a third party [or by phone or mail13].

    Question: How is Reuven supposed to react to Shimon’s appeasement?

    Discussion: Reuven is required to let his anger towards Shimon—even when justified—dissipate and abate. Reuven must do this not only for the sake of Shimon who otherwise will be denied atonement, but also for his own sake. The following four reasons are offered:

    As children of Avraham Avinu, we are expected to learn from him and follow his example when he graciously forgave Avimelech for abducting Sarah14. Anyone who conducts himself differently is, in the words of the Rambam15, cruel and akin to the hard-heartened Gentiles.

    Middah Kneged Middah—Hashem deals with us in the same manner that we deal with others. If Reuven pardons Shimon for anything Shimon may have done to him, including acts that Shimon did intentionally or spitefully, then Hashem will forgive Reuven for any sins committed against Him, including those sins done intentionally or spitefully16.

    One who allows hatred towards another person to remain in his heart blocks his prayers from reaching heaven17.

    According to some Rishonim18, one who refuses to forgive transgresses the Biblical prohibition of Lo sitor (Do not bear a grudge).

    Question: If Reuven refuses or rejects Shimon’s appeasement, what should Shimon do?

    Discussion: If Reuven rebuffs Shimon, Shimon must return twice more19 to ask for forgiveness. When he returns he should not go alone, but with three people who stand by while he appeases Reuven20. If that, too, fails, Shimon has done his duty and is no longer required21 to ask for forgiveness22.

    Question: Are there any situations where Reuven is not required to forgive and may continue to hold a grudge against Shimon?

    Discussion: Yes. There are several such cases:

    If Shimon owes him money and refuses to pay or denies his debt23.

    If Shimon slandered him falsely (motzi shem ra) and there is a possibility that some people who heard the slander will not hear its retraction24. If, however, such a possibility does not exist, then Reuven is obligated to forgive him25.

    If Reuven fears that the episode will repeat itself; i.e., he will pardon Shimon and Shimon will hurt him again26.

    If Reuven withholds forgiveness in order to reform Shimon’s future conduct towards people27.

    Question: After Shimon petitioned Reuven for forgiveness, Reuven forgave him, but only outwardly. In his heart Reuven is still angry. Has Shimon fulfilled his obligation?

    Discussion: In the opinion of Alter of Kelm28, Shimon has fulfilled his obligation once Reuven has verbally expressed forgiveness. The fact that in his heart he has not done so does not negate his spoken word in keeping with the rule of devarim shebelev einam devarim. But other poskim disagree and rule that Shimon has not fulfilled his obligation and must further pacify Reuven29.

    1. See Birkei Yosef 606:1; Hirhurei Teshuvah (Rav M. Gifter), pg. 121; Yechaveh Da’as 5:44.

    2. Mishnah Berurah 606:1. See Tur for another reason why erev Yom Kippur was chosen as the appropriate time to take care of this need.

    3. While erev Yom Kippur seems an unlikely time to settle monetary claims, actually, it is a very good time to do so, for there is no greater impediment to atonement than wrongful possession of someone else’s money (Mishnah Berurah 606:1).

    4. Teshuvos D’var Yehoshua 5:20; Az Nidberu 7:65. See also Meshech Chachmah, Ki Savo, last paragraph.

    5. Pele Yoeitz (Teshuvah). See also Tanchuma, quoted in Beiur ha-Gra 606:1. For a detailed explanation see Moadim u’Zemanim 1:54, quoting Rav Itzel of Peterburg. See also Hirhurei Teshuvah, pg. 123.

    6. See the ArtScroll Machzor.

    7. R. Yonah in Sha’arei Teshuvah 207, quoted by Chafetz Chayim, Hilchos Lashon ha-Ra 4:12

    8. Chafetz Chayim, ibid.

    9. Mishnah Berurah 606:3.

    10. Quoted by Rav E.E. Dessler and published in Moadim u’Zemanim 1:54.

    11. See Halichos Shelomo 2:3-6, Devar Halachah 6 and Az Nidberu 7:66, who rule in accordance with this view. According to this opinion, as long as Shimon is unaware that lashon ha-ra was spoken about him, there is absolutely no requirement to inform him of what was said.

    12. Yuma 87b.

    13. Mishnah Berurah 606:2. See Yechaveh Da’as 5:44.

    14. Aruch ha-Shulchan 606:2.

    15. Hilchos Teshuvah 2:10.

    16. Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 606:8. See also Tiferes Yisrael, Yuma 8:54.

    17. Mateh Efrayim 606:4, quoting Kabbalists.

    18. See Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 2:10 and Sefer ha-Teshuvah, pg. 221; Terumas ha-Deshen 1:307 and 2:212. See also Chezkuni Vayikra 19:18. See, however, Ritva (Rosh Hashanah 17a), who disagrees.

    19. If Reuven is Shimon’s rebbe, however, then there is no limit to how many times Shimon must ask for forgiveness.

    20. Rama 606:1.

    21. According to some poskim, he has done his duty and his atonement on Yom Kippur will no longer be blocked (Pri Chadash). Most poskim, however, hold that while he is not required to ask more than three times, if he wishes to do so he may [since, after all, he was still not forgiven]; Mishnah Berurah 606:5 and Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 6.

    22. Shimon, however, should announce [in the presence of ten people] that he did his very best to appease Reuven and it is not his fault that Reuven refuses to be appeased (Rama 606:1). See explanation in Beiur ha-Gra.

    23. Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 2:9.

    24. It is middas chasidus, however, to forgive even in this situation; Mateh Efrayim 606:4.

    25. Aruch ha-Shulchan 606:2.

    26. Mishnah Berurah 606:10. This is similar to the case cited in Tefillah Zakah where the sinner says, “I will sin against him and he will forgive me.”

    27. Rama 606:1. Reuven must, however, remove the hatred from his heart and only show it outwardly; Mishnah Berurah 606:9.

    28. Quoted by Rav R. Grozovsky (Sefer ha-Zikaron Even Tzion, pg. 542). See also Ohr Yisrael (Nesivos Ohr, pg. 116).

    29. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (oral ruling quoted in Toras ha-Adam le-Adam, vol. 3, pg. 36); Alei Shur, vol. 2, pg. 240. See also Teshuvos v’Hanhagos 1:739.

  13. Vayelech(Deuteronomy 31)
    Actions Speak Loudest
    by Rav Noson Weisz

    For this commandment that I command you today — it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven [for you] to say, “Who can ascend to heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, “Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Rather, the matter is very near to you — in your mouth and in your heart — to perform it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

    As Nachmanides understands it, “this commandment” is a reference to the commandment of teshuva, “repentance.”

    If God tells us that something is very easy and accessible it must indeed be so. Moreover, the Torah does not refer to the performance of any commandment on the minimally acceptable level; when the Torah speaks of fulfilling a commandment, it is always speaking in terms of its highest possible expression.

    After all, it is the optimum performance of commandments which results in the establishment of the most powerful connection to God. We are thus being informed here that not only is repentance accessible, but that it is accessible on the highest level.

    But this seems extremely difficult to swallow at first glance.

    * * *


    Here is Maimonides’ description of complete repentance:

    What constitutes teshuva? That a sinner should abandon his sins and remove them from his thoughts, resolving in his heart, never to commit them again…Similarly, he must regret the past…(He must reach the level where) He who knows the hidden will testify concerning him that he will never return to this sin again…(Laws of Teshuva, 2,2)

    In other words, Maimonides is referring to a complete personality change. Only a drastic alteration of the entire personality could possibly guarantee that the sinner would never return to his sin. As long as he remains basically the same person, with the same desires and weaknesses, he is likely to repeat his past behavior when faced with the same temptation.

    But is a complete personality change readily accessible? Surely, it is a lot easier to cross the ocean!

    * * *


    Maimonides writes later in the same chapter:

    Yom Kippur is the time of teshuva for all, both individuals and the community at large. It is the conclusion of forgiveness and pardon for Israel. Accordingly, everyone is obligated to repent and confess on Yom Kippur… The confessional prayer customarily recited by all Israel is, “For we have all sinned.” This is the essence of the confessional prayer.

    But this seems hardly adequate. An affective confession should be an accurate verbal expression of the process of teshuva. Inasmuch as teshuva really involves a personality change, as we have shown from Maimonides’ previous statement, it cannot be effective without mentioning regret over the past and a resolution never to return to the sin again in the future. (Indeed, Maimonides indeed lists both regret and resolution as necessary elements in the confession of teshuva, except on Yom Kippur.) So how is it that on Yom Kippur we are content merely to confess that we have sinned as an expression of our teshuva?

    The answer to this question lies in the very name kipur, which means “cleansing.”The answer to this question lies in the very name kippur, which means “cleansing.”

    What in us needs cleansing?

    The answer to the question is obvious — our confusion.

    We really do not know who we are or what we really stand for. Because of our need to think well of ourselves we are constantly rationalizing the things that we have done and inventing theories and beliefs to defend them. Parents abuse their children and spouses each other and rationalize that the children or the spouse really deserved the abuse, and that it was even good for them. People constantly cut corners in their jobs and businesses and justify it on the grounds that they are exploited and underpaid or they have been cheated in the past.

    We all do these things so that we can look at ourselves in the mirror. But, in the meantime, we adopt all sorts of false positions that we are then forced to defend, in the process distorting who we really are and what we really believe is right.

    Very rarely, we do get a glimpse of our true selves when we encounter the same situations confronting other people. We often find ourselves all too ready to condemn in others the same things that we condone and even justify in ourselves.

    In the final analysis, we breed confusion about ourselves — who we are and what we stand for.

    * * *


    Repentance is not over deeds, although that is definitely a part of it. Repentance involves getting rid of all the accumulated dross of all our rationalizations and compromises and coming back to who we truly are and what we truly believe.

    When the soul is swept clean of all the confusion that we have heaped upon it by our need to defend ourselves against our own wrongdoing, we get a glimpse of who we truly are. When this happens we automatically experience a personality change — that is, we revert to the people that we really are.

    The Hebrew word teshuva means literally “return” — return to God and return to ourselves.

    We return to ourselves and in so doing we also return to God who created us pure and unsullied and connected to Him.

    Unless we undergo this cleansing, we will continue to force ourselves to defend what we really believe to be wrong. This only causes further turmoil and confusion and this is why the sages say that “one sin leads to another” (Avot 4,5).

    Rabbi Huna said: “When a person repeatedly commits a sin it becomes a perfectly acceptable and allowable act.”(Kidushin, 40a)

    The evil of a sin is always compounded by a deterioration of the sinner’s judgment and character. That is why God gave us Yom Kippur.

    * * *


    Yom Kippur is a backwards day. Repentance without Yom Kippur involves rejecting our own rationalizations and defenses so that we can finally see ourselves clear behind the accumulated garbage. But Yom Kippur gives us the clarity of vision to see our true selves without our having to do any prior cleansing. It enables us to identify what is not ourselves as accumulated garbage and reject it.

    On Yom Kippur we can state with clear knowledge that we have sinned.On Yom Kippur we can state with clear knowledge that we have sinned, whereas on a normal day this statement requires that we first throw away our rationalizations and defenses.

    Unfortunately, all spiritual experiences that come to us from the outside have a downside. While the experience of repentance on Yom Kippur is very real at the time, as it was not generated by our own potential, it recedes very quickly and ends up being filed under the cabinet of “entertainment” in our minds. For whenever we are greatly moved we are also stimulated and entertained. Ordinary life is humdrum and routine. Any extraordinary feeling is entertaining.

    We can face Yom Kippur every year the same way with all our accumulated dross, which is lifted for a moment. We can become inspired and go right back to what we were the next day when the spiritual uplift is gone. How do we keep it with us since we know it will go?

    The answer is action. But to understand the answer we have to understand the function of action in the formation of personality according to Jewish thought.

    * * *


    Maimonides presents a thought provoking position (“Laws of Teshuva” Ch. 5). He says that we should not entertain the thesis held by the fools that at the time of a man’s creation God decrees whether he will be righteous or wicked. This is untrue. Each man is fit to be righteous or wicked. Similarly, he may be wise or foolish, merciful or cruel, miserly or generous, or any other character trait. There is no one who compels him, sentences him, or leads him toward either of these two paths. Rather, he, on his own initiative and decision, tends to the path he chooses.

    But why is the other position so foolish? Isn’t it an undeniable fact that people are born with different characters? Some people are innately kind whereas others are cruel, some are indeed cheap and miserly, whereas others are generous and so on. Why isn’t it true to say that God creates them this way?

    The answer is quite simple. We are what we do, not how we feel. God does indeed create all of us differently, but we are not compelled to act out our characters. In fact, our characters are the very things that we were created to act against. Thus, the cruel person should act kindly regardless of how he feels, because that is the right thing to do, and the miser should be generous for the same reason and so on.

    This is a revolutionary concept at first glance but on reflection it seems quite reasonable. We are accustomed to judge both ourselves and other people on the basis of character, but this is really untenable rationally. Our characters are not formed by ourselves, and we exert very little control over them if any. If what we think of as our characters were the sum total of who we were, we would be no one at all.

    A piece of wood is fashioned by outside forces and its resultant form no matter how beautiful or ugly really reflects the character and interest of the sculptor far more than itself. The human being who judges himself and/or others in terms of the common idea of character is really equating himself to a piece of wood. The only things that we sculpt are our actions. Our actions are who we really are. If our actions are benevolent, then we are benevolent regardless of the fact that our innate character is merciless and cruel. If our actions are cruel, then we are really cruel regardless of the benevolence of our characters. In the eyes of God our actions are really our characters.

    In the eyes of God our actions are really our characters.Let us take two people. One has a sunny disposition, is generous, good-natured and naturally exuberant and he loves people. He would gladly give you the shirt off his back at the drop of a hat. The only problem is that he is undisciplined and destitute most of the time and in need of help himself. The other is miserly and introverted, never has time to hold a conversation with anyone and is always walking around tense. But his rabbi convinced him that charity is a very important social duty, and he helps many people with loans and gifts out of a sense of duty, very much not because he feels like it. At the end of the day who is a greater lover of people?

    Although we all know that actions speak the loudest, we tend to forget this crucial piece of knowledge when we judge people.

    * * *


    The Torah is full of action. It doesn’t enjoin us to be generous. It tells us what to do. This is the percentage of our income and produce that must be distributed among the poor; these are the conditions that govern loan transactions; this is the maximum amount of profit we are allowed.

    In the area of interpersonal relations it does not tell us how to relate. Rather, it gives us the rules of allowed and forbidden speech; this is what we are allowed to say about another person, this is what we are not; this is when we have to admonish him, this is when we should remain silent and tolerant. The commandments replace the promptings of character and translate them into commanded or forbidden action.

    With the rules of the Torah to guide us, pure character is not our only guide to behavior when questionable circumstances arise. By giving us commandments, God redefined character for us and put us in charge of our destinies. It is He who transformed character and defined it as action.

    There is a fascinating illustration of this point in this week’s Torah portion which helps to drive home how profoundly important this concept is:

    God said to Moses; “Behold you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will rise up and stray after the gods of the foreigners of the land…” (Deut. 31:16)

    The Talmud (Yuma 52b) says that this verse is one of five in the Torah whose reading is ambiguous. Because of Hebrew syntax, it can be read as “you will lie with your forefathers and then arise, and this people will stray…” According to this reading it foretells of the resurrection of the dead as it speaks of Moses arising after he dies. But it can also be read that “this people will rise up and stray…” the rising up is then a reference to what the people will do and has nothing to do with Moses and there is no reference to resurrection in it at all.

    The commentators are bothered. What significance does the fact that the Torah tells us that the people will arise and stray or simply state that they will stray? Surely it is a sin to stray no matter what. Let us add our own question to theirs: How does this verse square with the concept of free will? God seems to have legislated in His Torah, His blueprint for reality, that the people shall stray. How can He do that?

    The answer lies in action.

    * * *


    In fact, God positively states that the people will stray. But this does not mean that they will stray in their actions. The only definite prediction made here is that they will surely be drawn and tempted to follow a foreign culture. But as long as they resist the temptation, there is no sin no matter how powerfully they want to in their hearts. And even if as a result of the powerful feeling they experience in their hearts they do stray, it is no great sin and will not bring any dire consequences down on their heads.

    It is only if they arise and stray that there is a great sin.It is only if they arise and stray that there is a great sin.

    Arising means action. Choosing the action of straying voluntarily (by arising to do it) gives the sin of straying a much more severe dimension. In fact, had they not chosen to arise and stray, the word “arise” would have referred to Moses and would have constituted a clear reference to eventual resurrection instead of a mere hint.

    Because there is a choice of action involved, the word “arise” could only be written ambiguously. God could not make this future choice to act an unambiguous part of reality. The difference between the consequences of the two scenarios of straying is so profound that the resurrection of the dead depends on it.

    We can finally return to the problem of teshuva and how to retain the inspiration of Yom Kippur.

    Like everything else which is a profound part of the personality, teshuva is action, not feeling. The Torah commands us to do teshuva. As in all other cases, when we transform our actions, we transform our characters.

    If this were not the case, no one could possibly command anyone to do teshuva at all. Since we do not have a switch at our disposal that we can push to transform ourselves into different people, we could never be commanded to do teshuva.

    At most, teshuva could be offered as an option for solving the problems caused by sin for someone who is able to put in the heroic effort involved in changing his character, if indeed there is such a thing. Yet Maimonides (Ch.2,7) tells us that this is precisely what we are all commanded to do on Yom Kippur — everyone is obligated to repent and confess on Yom Kippur.

    God knew what He was doing. He told us, “Look, on Yom Kippur I will allow you a glimpse of your true self for nothing. I realize that you will not be able to retain this clarity of vision a day later, but you don’t need to. Just do teshuva now. Study yourself in all your fully revealed clarity, analyze what you are doing, and resolve to change some of your actions. I do not expect you to change everything, nor to change any one thing very drastically, for this would require a serious inner character change which is not on offer.

    But you can surely resolve to change some of your actions and stick to your resolve. After all your actions are completely in your control. What is more, as actions are really character, if you truly resolve to change them then I can really testify that you are a changed person. When you alter your actions you really are a changed person.

    Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it. (Deut. 30:14)

  14. ABCs of Yom Kippur
    the Day of Atonement.
    by Rav Shraga Simmons

    Following the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses pleaded with God to forgive the people. Finally on Yom Kippur, atonement was achieved and Moses brought the second set of Tablets down from Mount Sinai.

    From that day forward, every Yom Kippur carries with it a special power to cleanse our mistakes (both individually and collectively) and to wipe the slate clean.

    This works on two conditions:

    (1) We do a process called teshuva – literally “return.” Teshuva involves four steps:
    •Regret – acknowledging that a mistake was made, and feeling regret at having squandered some of our potential.
    •Cessation – Talk is cheap, but stopping the harmful action shows a true commitment to change.
    •Confession – To make it more “real,” we admit our mistake verbally, and ask forgiveness from anyone we may have harmed.
    •Resolution – We make a firm commitment not to repeat the harmful action in the future.

    (2) Though the combination of teshuva and Yom Kippur atones for transgressions against God, it does not automatically erase wrongs committed against other people. It is therefore the universal Jewish custom – some time before Yom Kippur – to apologize and seek forgiveness from any friend, relative, or acquaintance whom we may have harmed or insulted over the past year.

    Angel for a Day

    On Yom Kippur, every Jew becomes like an angel. In the Jewish understanding, angels are completely spiritual beings, whose sole focus is to serve their Creator. The Maharal of Prague explains:

    All the mitzvot that God commanded us on [Yom Kippur] are designed to remove, as much as possible, a person’s relationship to physicality, until he is completely like an angel.

    Just as angels (so to speak) stand upright, so too we spend most of Yom Kippur standing in the synagogue. And just as angels (so to speak) wear white, so too we are accustomed to wear white on Yom Kippur. Just as angels do not eat or drink, so too we do not eat or drink.

    This idea even has a practical application in Jewish law: typically, the second verse of the Shema, Baruch Shem, is recited quietly. But on Yom Kippur, it is proclaimed out loud – just like the angels do.

    Five Aspects

    There are five areas of physical involvement from which we refrain on Yom Kippur:
    1.Eating and drinking
    3.Applying oils or lotions to the skin
    4.Marital relations
    5.Wearing leather shoes

    Throughout the year, many people spend their days focusing on food, work, material possessions (symbolized by shoes) and superficial pleasures (symbolized by anointing). On Yom Kippur, we restore our priorities to what really counts in life.

    As Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes:

    On Yom Kippur, the power of the [physical] inclination is muted. Therefore, one’s yearning for spiritual elevation reasserts itself, after having lain dormant as a result of sin’s deadening effect on the soul. This rejuvenation of purpose entitles a person to special consideration and forgiveness.

    Structure of the Day

    On Rosh Hashana, the Books of Life and Death are open and God writes who will be granted another year of life. For many, this decision hangs in the balance for nine days until Yom Kippur, when the final decision is sealed. With this in mind, the prayers of Yom Kippur are designed to stir us to mend our ways:
    •The Yom Kippur prayers begin before sundown with the haunting melody of Kol Nidrei. The Torah scrolls are all removed from the Ark, and the chazzan (cantor) chants the Kol Nidrei prayer three times, each with greater intensity.
    •The special Yom Kippur Amidah (standing prayer) incorporates the Al-Chet confession of our various mistakes. With each mention of a mistake, we lightly beat our chest with the fist – as if to say that it is our impulses that got the best of us.
    •The Yizkor service – said in memory of loved ones – is recited following the morning Torah reading.
    •The lengthy Mussaf service features a recounting of the Yom Kippur rite in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. A highlight was the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies – the only person to do so, this one time a year. The Mussaf service also records how the High Priest would pronounce God’s holy name, and in response the assembled Jews would prostrate on the ground. When reaching these passages, we too prostrate ourselves on the ground.
    •At the Mincha service, we read the Book of Jonah, the biblical story of a prophet who tried to “flee from God” and wound up swallowed into the belly of a huge fish.
    •While a regular weekday has three prayer services, and Shabbat and holidays have four, Yom Kippur is the only day of the year that has five. This final prayer is called Ne’ilah, literally the “closing of the gates,” which serves as the final chance to ensure that our decree for the year is “sealed” in the Book of Life. At the conclusion of Ne’ilah, the shofar is sounded – one long blast, signifying our confidence in having passed the High Holidays with a good judgment.

    The Fast Itself

    The Yom Kippur fast begins before sundown, and extends 25 hours until the following nightfall.

    During the afternoon hours leading up to Yom Kippur, it is a special mitzvah to eat a festive meal.

    For making your fast easier, hydration is the key. Avoid coffee or coke, because caffeine is a diuretic. Heavy coffee drinkers can also avoid the dreaded headache by slowly reducing the amount of consumption over the week leading up to Yom Kippur. (See Aish’s “Guide to an Easy Fast”)

    At the festive meal, eat a moderate portion of food so as not to speed up the digestion process. After you complete the festive meal, leave some extra time before sundown to drink.

    In Case of Illness

    If someone is ill, and a doctor is of the opinion that fasting might pose a life-danger, then the patient should eat or drink small amounts.

    The patient should try to eat only about 30 ml (one fluid ounce) and wait nine minutes before eating again. Once nine minutes have passed, one can eat this small amount again, and so on throughout the day.

    With drinking, try to drink less than what the Talmud calls “melo lugmav” – the amount that would fill a person’s puffed-out cheek. While this amount will vary from person to person, it is approximately 35 ml (just over one fluid ounce) and one should wait nine minutes before drinking again.

    How does consuming small amounts make a difference? In Jewish law, an act of “eating” is defined as “consuming a certain quantity within a certain period of time.” Otherwise, it’s not eating, it’s “nibbling” – which although is prohibited on Yom Kippur, there is room to be lenient when one’s health is at stake.

    The reason for all these technicalities is because eating on Yom Kippur is regarded as one of the most serious prohibitions in the Torah. So while there are leniencies in certain situations, we still try to minimize it.

    Note that eating and drinking are treated as independent acts, meaning that the patient can eat and drink together during those nine minutes, and the amounts are not combined.

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    Having said all this, if these small amounts prove insufficient to prevent the health danger, the patient may even eat and drink regularly. In such a case, a person does not say Kiddush before eating, but does recite “Grace After Meals,” inserting the “ya’aleh veyavo” paragraph.

    Now what about a case where the patient’s opinion conflicts with that of the doctor? If the patient is certain he needs to eat to prevent a danger to health, then we rely on his word, even if the doctor disagrees. And in the opposite scenario – if the patient refuses to eat despite doctors’ warnings – then we persuade the patient to eat, since it is possible that his judgment is impaired due to illness.

    Wishing you a meaningful Yom Kippur!

  15. Sfas Emes
    by Nosson Chayim Leff

    Yom Kippur

    The Sfas Emes begins this ma’amar by quoting the Gemara in Yoma (2b): “Seven days before Yom Kippur, the kohein gadol (the High Priest) would be away from his wife [in preparation for the] one day.”

    So far, so good. But then the Sfas Emes moves on to a theme that seems totally unrelated to what came before. He tells us that Yom Kippur is unique. How ? Because this is the one day in the year in which this world (olam hazeh) even distantly resembles the world-to-come (olam haba). How so? Because by not eating or drinking on Yom Kippur, we take on the behavior of mal’achim ( “angels”– who do not eat or drink).

    The Sfas Emes continues here to develop a new perspective on some features of Yom Kippur. He starts by noting another way in which Yom Kippur resembles olam haba. In the world-to-come, life is le’ma’ala min ha’teva ( i.e, unconstrained by Nature). So, too, on Yom Kippur, we can more easily conduct ourselves in a way that defies normal rules of human behavior.

    What behavior does the Sfas Emes have in mind when he says that, in principle, we can conduct ourselves in a manner that is “le’ma’ala min ha’teva”? He has in mind Teshuva (“return to one’s true self”; repentance). For Teshuva requires changing one’s behavior. And if you think about it, you will soon agree that such change is truly “above” Nature. How so? Because Nature would have a person’s past misconduct continue, and thus reinforce itself. As the proverb says: “Hergeil na’aseh teva”. That is, a person’s habitual behavior becomes his (second) nature.

    Into this context comes Teshuva, transforming the person’s long-time way of living. Such change is “above Nature”; i.e., “supernatural”. Hence, the close fit between Teshuva and Yom Kippur, the most ” holy” (that is, le’ma’ala min ha’teva) day in the year.

    Continuing in this vein, the Sfas Emes tells us that Yom Kippur is also the day in the year in which Teshuva is most feasible. In support of this statement, the Sfas Emes quotes a pasuk in Tehillim (139:16). (Before you see this pasuk, be aware that it is exceptionally hard to translate. Also, I am not sure whether the English translation makes it easier or harder to understand.) With this warning in mind, here is the pasuk: “Galmi ra’u ei’necha, ve’al sif’re’cha kulam yi’ka’seivu; ya’mim yu’tzaru ve’lo echad ba’hem.” (ArtScroll: “Your eyes saw my unshaped form, and in Your book all were recorded; though they will be fashioned through many days, to Him they are one.”)

    What is this pasuk saying? Read on and see.

    The pasuk is saying: one day in the year is unique (“ve’lo echad ba’hem”). Unique in what way? Unique inasmuch as on that day, one can more easily break out of the mold within which we are constrained and to which the pasuk refers (“Galmi ra’u ei’necha…”). On which day of the year are we granted this special chessed that reforming ourselves is easier? Rashi — quoting Yalkut Shim’oni on the pasuk — answers: “Zeh Yom HaKippurim”.

    The Sfas Emes has given us new perspectives on some basic features of Yom Kippur. He has told us not to regard our fasting on Yom Kippur as a negative (e.g., as a punishment). On the contrary, he views our fasting on Yom Kippur in potentially positive terms. For ideally fasting can put us in the mode of the mal’achim, who neither eat nor want to eat. Our fasting on Yom Kippur makes that one day in the year in which we demonstrate (to ourselves) our ability to live in a state above our physical wants. That liberation can make it easier to aspire to live at a higher level of ruchniyus the rest of the year.

    The Sfas Emes has also taught us not to see our fasting as a “stand-alone” mitzva. Instead, we should view our fasting as part of a comprehensive spiritual CARE package designed to help us reach a higher level of ruchniyus. The Sfas Emes articulated this possibility when he said that on Yom Kippur, we can experience some olam haba.

    Thus, note the contrast between fasting on Yom Kippur and fasting on Tish’a Be’Av. Fasting on Tish’a BeAv conveys a message of bereavement and mourning. By contrast, the Sfas Emes has told us to view fasting on Yom Kippur as an instance in which we strive to rise above our physical needs. The message conveyed can be the aspiration for a life with more spirituality. The difference in messages comes out clearly if we consider the very different moods of these two fasting days. Tish’a BeAv is a sad day; Yom Kippur can be a happy day.

    The Sfas Emes’s other lesson focuses on Teshuva. Changing one’s behavior — i,e,.. Teshuva — is the ultimate in le’ma’ala min ha’teva, and hence, very hard to do. But help is at hand. HaShem has designated Yom Kippur as the day in the year on which overcoming Nature — that is, transforming ourselves by doing Teshuva — is unusually feasible.

    Before concluding, we must address one more question. We know — from long experience — that the disparate parts of a Sfas Emes ma’amar all fit neatly together. We may therefore wonder: why did the Sfas Emes begin this ma’amar with the quotation from ithe Gemara in Yoma? To a naive observer, that quotation seems totally unconnected with the rest of the ma’amar.

    I suggest that we can find a possible answer if we have another look at the text: “Seven days … the one day “. Adding these two numbers gives us the number eight — a number well known to indicate special kedusha. For example, bris mila takes place on the eighth day. Likewise, Shemini Atzeres is a day of unique kedusha. Most tellingly, the significance of the text — “Seven days … the one day” — is clear if we consider another context in which the Gemara makes the very same statement. Chazal make that statement in the context of the seven days of the Mishkan’s inauguration. As with the kohein gadol and Yom Kippur , the seven days were preparation for ( Vayikra, 9:1) the — you guessed it — eighth day (“…bayom ha’shemini.”)

    What is special about the number eight? A cube — the prototype of a “thing”; i.e., Nature — has six sides. With its internal point, a cube has seven aspects. If Nature (teva) is seven, eight is le’ma’ala min ha’teva — above and unconstrained by Nature. As we have seen, Yom Kippur is about Teshuva. Teshuva, in turn, is about trying to live “le’ma’ala min ha’teva”. Similarly, fasting is also a prime feature of Yom Kippur. For a human being to abstain from food and drink for 26 hours is also behavior unconstrained by Nature.

    Hence, we can appreciate the care with which the Sfas Emes crafted this ma’amar. Thus, he began by citing the passage from Yoma which refers to the number “eight”. Referring to that number immediately brings to mind “le’ma’ala min ha’teva.” And that reference sets the stage for the Sfas Emes’s discussion of two features of Yom Kippur — fasting and Teshuva.

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