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8 Tishrei 5772 - October 6, 2011 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Returning to Hashem on Yom Kippur

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

On the evening of Yom Kippur we enjoy special nearness to Hashem. We are like sons to our Father in Heaven and beg Him to forgive us, as a father forgives his sons. "Please forgive this nation's sin according to the greatness of Your mercy, and according to how You have forgiven this people from Egypt until even now." We afterwards make the berochoh of shehecheyonu with great joy and unquestionably sincere thankfulness to the Creator for our having merited reaching this yom kodosh. Jews overflow with simchah at being numbered among the King's loyal legion, a King "Who pardons and forgives our sins and the sins of His people beis Yisroel, Who removes their iniquities year by year."

The Ralbag (I Melachim 8:2) explains that Tishrei is called yerech he'eisonim (the month of the mighty) because during Tishrei fall the mightiest yomim tovim, days that guide a person in how to perfect himself. It is a month of rising to sublime levels of ruchniyus and kedushah. Tishrei teaches us the uniqueness of am Hashem, who received Torah from Heaven. Writes HaRav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch zt'l, "Only in Judaism does one find such a process, that lends an atmosphere of kedushah to an entire month. It is a month whose influence extends to and embraces the whole nation. Everyone, even those who have gone astray, feel this kedushah. It resuscitates the ideology of spiritual life and of self- preparation for such a life. Anyone wishing to see the victory march of Torah's mitzvos and to envision Judaism's salvation should reflect about the array of mitzvos during Tishrei. These mitzvos envelop us from the moment we hear the first shofar blast, something that even today recalls the sound of the shofar we once heard at Sinai and with holy trembling awakens bnei Yisroel to the revelation of Hashem's glory. [The mitzvos] continue until sunset on the seventh day of Sukkos, the yom tov of simchah, when we are in the shade of the Shechinah. A Jew prays with reverence for the coming rainy season and is full of simchah when he has finished the yearly circuit of kerias HaTorah. This is the Torah, that always renews itself and that bestows eternal life on a Jew.

"Doubtless this month's focal point is Yom Kippur. On this day the process of return that starts on `the day of remembrance' - - the day of self-contemplation, which is also the `day of the shofar- blast,' should lead a Jew on to arouse himself and accept the obligation to do teshuvah and renew his life by atoning for the past and purifying himself for the future. The process ends with Sukkos, when the fruits of simchah and emunah are harvested." EDITOR'S NOTE THESE TWO PARS. ARE NOT, REPEAT NOT, WHAT R. HIRSCH SAID. SEE COLLECTED WRITINGS VOL. II P.105 END NOTE

Yom Kippur steers the process of teshuvah and coming nearer to the Creator to its climax. It fully utilizes the spiritual perceptions obtained during the days of "Seeking Hashem while He may be found, calling upon Him while He is near" (Yeshaya 55:6). R' Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that a Jew whose heart trembles on Rosh HaShanah when he hears the shofar, who understands to what degree he needs inner purification and external freedom [from the yetzer], who knows and feels the great need to be saved from the many dangers surrounding him on all sides — one who understands that he must make practical use of these special days of teshuvah — has tirelessly utilized each moment to entirely change his inner self and his external lifestyle, to purify himself inwardly and improve his deeds outwardly. He stands on Yom Kippur before Hashem as a Jew who is afflicting his body with fasting and is engulfed in an atmosphere of yom tov, full of hope and anticipation for the gift of mechilah that Hashem will grant him after he severs the chains tieing him to his past. Now he can proceed to a new future, one purified and laden with lavish aspirations, one with lofty objectives.

"How fortunate are you, Yisroel! Before Who are you becoming tahor, and Who is metaheir you? Your Father in Heaven" (Yoma 85b). HaRav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch zt'l continues: "[Who is metaheir you?] Not a foreign god, not some power remote from your essence and your objective as Jews, not a powerless idol that is itself dependent upon the physical laws of nature, nor a mortal who can sin like you, a person all of whose kedushah is summed up in his clerical gown and who needs no less than you to become tahor from tumah and to be saved from the curse of his decadent past. Not these will be metaheir you. They are powerless even to be mataheir themselves. Can their feeble and tomei mouths tell you: `Be tahor'? Who, then, is metaheir you? Your Father in Heaven Himself! He is our Father in Heaven and you are his children who have returned to Him with complete teshuvah. There is no place for anyone to intercede between a father's heart and that of his children. No one will stand between these people and their Father in Heaven. You run towards Him and He embraces you with His arms. Only He can be metaheir you as He has promised you: `for on this day He will atone for you for all your sins.'"

Yom Kippur is a day of complete and unequivocal breaking off from all earthly events and man's abundant physical lusts. It is both a day of total cessation of work and a day on which we afflict the body. "Therefore because of Your great mercy You have given us this fast day of Yom Kippur and this day of forgiveness for sins, of forgiving iniquities and atoning for transgressions, a day when eating is forbidden, a day when drinking is forbidden, a day when washing is forbidden . . . a day of forsaking jealousy and rivalry" (an excerpt from the techinah said after the seder ha'avodah at Musaf). This total awakening raises the Jew on this holy day to inner spiritual pinnacles, to a unique elevation, until even the Soton comes before HaKodosh Boruch Hu and says: "Ruler of the World! You have one nation on the earth; they are like malochei shoreis in heaven" (Pirkei deR' Eliezer).

Salvation from the chains of materialism helps man reach the annulling of all worldly vanities on this holy day. He acquires purity of thought and an exalted understanding of his duty in this world. This has been caused by his suffering and regret over what he has perverted in the past and his sincere acceptance upon himself to improve his future. On this day man is stripped of all his raiment of self- deception that wraps around him in his daily life; now his only aspiration is to come nearer to the source of truth.

This one-time reality to which we are zocheh once a year prepares not only the individual for teshuvah but also the public at large. If during the whole year a person is emerged in the delusions of Olam HaZeh, and the smut of ideological fantasy that pollutes the atmosphere is likely to cling to him, the kedushah of the yomim nora'im comes and dissolves all false popular ideologies; it dwarfs the idols of falsity and crumbles them to dust as if they had never existed.

Shattering the idols of heresy, of trusting in physical means and bodily power, is a prerequisite for the teshuvah process. "Return, Yisroel, unto Hashem Your Elokim," (Hoshea 14:2) says the novi, and "take words with you and return to Hashem" (v. 3). Among the conditions necessary for teshuvah is included the recognition of the truth that "Ashur will not save us, we will not ride on horses, and we will no longer say `O our gods' to the work of our hands, for it is with You that an orphan finds mercy" (v. 4). The commentaries explain: "Ashur will not save us" — we will not ask for the aid of man, neither from Ashur nor from Egypt. "We will not ride on horses" — we will not trust the might of a horse in war. "We will no longer say `O our gods' to the work of our hands — we will not say that the work of our hands is our Elokim. "For it is with You that an orphan finds mercy" — You alone can have mercy on an orphan. If someone does not have strength, You will give him strength and save him. So will You do for us, since we do not trust or have any hope from anything else; therefore we will find mercy with You (according to Rashi, Radak, Metzudos Dovid, and Malbim).

If this crucial contemplation has been a Jew's duty throughout the generations, then it is still more so in our period. We are living in a generation in which the heretic view of `My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth" (Devorim 8:17) is widespread. The competitive race and aspirations to material achievements in the modern era cause people to invest all their power in accumulating possessions, wealth and imagined esteem. Their aim is to improve the quality of their lives — that is, to satisfy their lusts. Above all this hovers the make-believe feeling that man has the power to attain everything he wishes if he can only find out how to invest his efforts and resources in the correctly productive way. This refers to both the individual and the general public. Nations and countries fight to gain control and political influence over extensive areas while arming themselves with sophisticated and powerful weapons. In these weapons they put their hopes to gain military superiority and international status by frightening their enemies.

The secular bodies that have controlled klal Yisroel in recent generations has tried to copy these alien desires. They have, unfortunately, succeeded in diffusing aspirations for vanity within the hearts of multitudes of Jews. These Jews have been poisoned by these improper feelings. How great is the influence of one's environment, when these feelings of power have unintentionally penetrated even among the Torah- observant, although they are diametrically opposed to the Torah way. They have made their progress within the fringes of the camp that defines itself as "dati." It is therefore especially fitting today to pay attention to the nevu'ah of "Return Yisroel," that calls out to us not to trust in man's help or in the might of the horse, and not to idolize man's abilities. We must cling only to the Creator, with emunah and trust in Him, and in that way the rest of the prophecy will be fulfilled: "for it is with You that an orphan finds mercy."

The events of recent years make it easier for us to contend with these attempts to disseminate false views. Vain beliefs have been collapsing one after the other. All the futile hopes and haughty declarations are smashing to pieces against the rocks of reality. A chain of failures and blunders that has cost am Yisroel a painful price of blood, and has brought completely opposite results from those declared in the pretentious declarations that preceded them, are causing many of our brethren who have previously strayed from the Torah to open their eyes and wonder if the ideologies of power that they have followed in the last decades are reliable.

Among these "beliefs" is included also the delusion that political daring and diplomatic wisdom will change the relationship of the nations to am Yisroel, and that am Yisroel will become a nation like other nations, living "normal lives" without hatred or animosity. Sad reality shows us that although we are surely obligated to take measures to prevent bloodshed and obviate the dangers of terrorism and the like, no peace agreement will bring salvation to am Yisroel. We will continue to live as a sheep among seventy wolves until the Moshiach comes, as the techinah says in Selichos: "Look, please, upon the lowliness of the smallest of the nations, spread out and separated among the nations, given over to smiters, their bodies [given over] for strokes. In the morning they say, `Who will bring the night?' and in the evening they say, `Who will bring nearer the light of day?' They have no rest, tranquility, or peace, with which to comfort themselves and find consolation. They look to see peace but instead are fighting; they hope for good but are paid with evil."

All the exaggerated anticipation of a period of complete peace and love among the nations, for a constructive, gracious attitude towards us from the nations, are repeatedly met and countered by the ancient sinas Yisroel. Although those who trust their power and wits still adhere to their foolish way, more and more Jews today understand that no earthly acts will bring us salvation. We can only rely on our Father in Heaven. The declaration of "Ashur will not save us, we will not ride on horses, and we will no longer say `O our gods' to the work of our hands" is being voiced by many Jews who have merited in the last few years to discern true light, after all their hopes from heretic initiatives has been frustrated.

Out of these bothersome thoughts and the stress of the present period we are approaching the gates of Yom Kippur and are busy purifying ourselves and preparing with cherdas kodesh for the avodah of this holy day. On erev Yom Kippur we must remember what our mentors, the eminent mussar giants, have taught us: that the avodah of man during this time is to prepare his heart to recognize the exalted level of this day.

HaRav Chaim Friedlander zt'l (in Sfas Chaim, Yom HaKippurim) explains: "The greatness of Yom HaKippurim is shown by the fact that `the day itself atones.' It has a special power not found in other days of the year. All this depends upon how much we `make the proper preparation to mend our ways' (Or Yisroel, letter 7). How can we do this? Let us learn from what the gaon R' Naftoli Amsterdam zt'l wrote in his letter to R' Yitzchak Blazer zt'l, in which he describes the way R' Yisroel of Salant zt'l used to behave during the month of Elul: `The Rebbe would darshan during the whole month, almost every day, until after Yom Kippur, with a great and wonderful hisorerus. He would, however, not speak loudly but softly, without much emotion and modestly. The root of what he would say was that we need to pray b'tzibur about the precious pearl that Hashem has given in the world, that is Yom Kippur, that it should make an impression on us and not pass by without teshuvah, chas vesholom' (Kochvei Or, pg. 256). The main message of R' Yisroel (during the period that he was feeling weak) was about the importance of Yom Kippur, its preciousness, and the great possibilities it offers. Since our utilization of the day is dependent upon the degree to which we appreciate it, he therefore urged us to prepare ourselves properly and pray about this, so that we can be zocheh to utilize the holy day fully.

"There are two sides to Yom Kippur: the first to merit being forgiven by Hashem, as is written, `for on this day He will atone for you' (Vayikra 16:30), and the second is our mitzvah to do teshuvah, as is written `Before Hashem you will become tohor' (see Sha'arei Teshuvah 4:17). It is such a great gift that Rebbe (Yoma 85b) held that the day itself atones even if a person has not done teshuvah. Although Chachomim disagree about this point, they agree that the day alone atones providing the person does teshuvah. This means that a person must toil to prepare himself well for Yom Kippur so that he can be able to receive the power hidden in this day. This should be our avodah too: to prepare ourselves well so that we will merit the atonement of `the day itself.'"

Gmar Chasimah Tovah to all of Beis Yisroel.

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