Yom Kippur

The Torah concludes its account of the Yom Kippur service with the following words (Vaykira 16:34): “And this shall be unto you an eternal decree (chok olam), to bring atonement to the Children of Israel for all their sins, once a year.” The Maggid expounds on the description of Yom Kippur as a chok olam that operates “once a year.”
He quotes a statement of Dovid HaMelech that also uses the term chok (Tehillim 2:7-8): “I shall tell of Hashem’s decree (chok) – He said to me, ‘You are My son, this day I have begotten you. Ask of Me, and I shall grant you nations as an inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your estate.’” The Maggid explains this statement in terms of differing perspectives on the way Hashem dispenses blessing.
To the average observer, it makes sense when Hashem blesses a righteous person and baffling when He blesses a wicked person. But the recipients themselves hold a different view. A wicked person, with his warped outlook, considers himself righteous and thus feels he deserves the blessing he receives. A righteous person, on the other hand, in his humility, considers himself undeserving of blessing. He therefore regards the blessing Hashem grants him as a chok – a Divine decree which no man can understand. This was the attitude Dovid HaMelech took toward the greatness Hashem granted him, and he therefore spoke of it using the term chok.
A similar pattern is seen, the Maggid says, in regard to sin and atonement. When a wicked person sins, even very grieviously, he views the matter lightly. He feels he deserves only a minimal punishment. At the same time, he considers the strictures of Yom Kippur extremely onerous. He thus feels that, by observing Yom Kippur, he has more than paid the price for his misdeeds, and therefore most certainly deserves to be forgiven. A righteous person takes precisely the opposite attitude. He regards any sin he commits, even a slight lapse, as a major offense for which he deserves to be punished severely. He is prepared to accept – as just – any punishment Hashem might bring on him. Furthermore, he views the strictures of Yom Kippur as very modest. He is therefore amazed that Yom Kippur, a single day of mild affliction, purges the sins of an entire year. He would not believe it possible, had Hashem not laid it down in the Torah as a decree.
When a wicked person is in the process of committing a sin, his attitude toward sin and atonement can easily lead him to believe that he has nothing to fear – that Yom Kippur will erase the sin he is now committing. Our Sages teach, however, that when a person deliberately sins under the presumption that Yom Kippur will bring atonement for this sin, Yom Kippur will not bring atonement for it (Yoma 85b). The proper attitude to take during the course of the year, as a person goes about his affairs, is to focus on acting uprightly without even thinking about Yom Kippur’s power to wipe away sin – for this power is, in truth, beyond the natural order of the world. Yom Kippur’s power is granted to us by a special Divine decree which we are meant to rely on only once a year – on the day of Yom Kippur itself.
Gmar chasimah tovah!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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