RETURN TO THE SOURCE
The Torah refers to Yom Kippur as Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths (Leviticus 16:31). Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr, a great Torah leader of the past generation, explains that Shabbat represents the withdrawing or resting from the physical aspects of this world.
The Torah refers to Yom Kippur as Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths (Leviticus 16:31). Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr, a great Torah leader of the past generation, explains that Shabbat represents the withdrawing or resting from the physical aspects of this world. He explains further that on Shabbat everything returns to its source. On Yom Kippur both conditions apply as we rest from worldly concerns and seek to return to our original righteous condition through repentance.
In addition, we attempt to reach beyond our normal limitations and enter the domain of angels. We jettison our physical side by not eating or drinking, and by refraining from all other extraneous bodily needs. We try to scale the walls which separate us from Hashem, since atonement for our sins and the gift of another year of life can only be granted by the King of kings who anxiously awaits our repentance on this day.
Another objective on Yom Kippur is to eliminate evil. It is a first step toward a time when evil will be completely banished from the world. Therefore, on this day, each person tries to uproot all traces of evil which may reside within himself. This process takes the form of separating the good from the bad. The good is reserved for holiness; the bad is discarded. Even good deeds of a person are subject to scrutiny to determine whether they contain any slight deficiencies in performance or motivation. The commandment concerning the casting of lots to determine which goat will be brought as an offering in the holy Temple, and which one will be pushed off a jagged cliff in the desert, is reflective of this separation process.
The day of Yom Kippur itself has an awesome power to cleanse sin. However, just as the High Priest is isolated and prepped for the highly sensitive Temple service involving entry into the Holy of Holies, so too, we must prepare ourselves before facing our Creator on this day. The cleansing action comes from the high degree of closeness to Hashem which one is able to achieve on Yom Kippur. In addition to the preparation, coming before Hashem requires negation of self. This can be seen by the full bowing which took place during the Temple service when Hashem's name was uttered by the High Priest. Nullification of self is also evident in the custom of immersing in a ritual pool prior to Yom Kippur.
We are given an opportunity to rectify past mistakes on Yom Kippur. The scales of justice are tipped in favor of those who present themselves before Hashem in sincere repentance. Sincere repentance requires a thorough and sifting self-examination. We are obligated to carefully scrutinize every aspect of our being, including deeply ingrained behavior and convictions which we may have erroneously justified over the years.
We pass before Hashem in judgment as helpless sheep. There are no secrets, no excuses, and no strategies to employ. The soul stands fully revealed. The deepest truth emerges into clear view. Only by virtue of Hashem's great love and compassion for his beloved children, is one allowed to pass through the narrow gates of judgment into the Book of Life.
Since Yom Kippur commemorates the giving of the second set of tablets, one's portion in Torah for the entire year is determined on this day. Just as Moses supplied the raw material on which the second set of commandments were engraved, we offer ourselves as vessels to receive a new, deeper understanding of Torah. The greater the repentance, the greater our capacity treceive.
The awesome nature of Yom Kippur makes it not only a time of great trepidation, but also a time of joy. It is supercharged with the most powerful positive spiritual forces in the Jewish calendar. Man is allowed to cross over the boundaries which separate the spiritual from the physical. For 24 hours he can venture into the company of angels and gain atonement for misdeeds, provided he takes hold of this precious opportunity. Even his most potent adversary, the evil inclination, is powerless on this holy day. Hashem is willing to grant forgiveness to the penitent man who can admit before Hashem that he has erred; that he is ashamed, and regrets his past actions; and resolves that he will not repeat the same conduct in the future. This is the formula for repentance.
Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.
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