On Yom Kippur

This week’s Torah reading is Emor in Eretz Yisrael and Acharei Mos – Kedoshim elsewhere. Both readings have a connection with Yom Kippur: Acharei Mos describes the Yom Kippur Temple service, while Emor, in presenting the yearly festival cycle, includes a section on Yom Kippur. Accordingly, this week I present a selection from one of the Maggid’s essays on Yom Kippur (taken from Ohel Yaakov, parashas Emor).
It is written (Tehillim 57:3): “I shall call upon God, Most High – to the God who concludes matters for me.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 98:1, paraphrased): “‘I shall call upon God, Most High’ – on Rosh Hashanah. ‘To the God who concludes matters me’ – through the lots between the goats on Yom Kippur [arranging for the lot marked ‘for Hashem’ to be the one that appears in the Kohen Gadol’s right hand, as an omen for good].” The Maggid explains this Midrash through a parable.
A poor man had a son who made a good impression on a rich man. The rich man decided to make a match between his daughter and the poor man’s son. The rich man offered a large dowry and a regular stipend for the couple’s living expenses. He imposed only one condition: that the groom have a proper suit to wear at the wedding. The poor man was in a quandary, for he was so short of money that he could not afford a good suit. He was sorely pained that such a small hindrance was keeping him from such a great fortune. Clearly, if someone would give the poor man a suit for his son, he would be doing him a favor worth a thousand times more than the amount he spent.
The parallel is as follows. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is one during which a Jew can acquire a large measure of holiness. He need only fulfill the Torah’s charge (Vayikra 16:30): “Make yourselves pure before Hashem.” That is, he need only prepare his heart, through sincere repentance and regret over his past misdeeds, to receive the infusion of holiness that Hashem is ready to convey to him. If a person is unable to take this elementary preliminary step, he loses the opportunity for a great gain. Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah we stand up and declare: “I shall call upon God, Most High – to the God who concludes matters for me.” We plead with Hashem to help us make the necessary start, so that He can then conclude the matter on Yom Kippur and grant us the wondrous spiritual treasure that He has in store for us.
The Maggid compares our situation during the Ten Days of Repentance to the Midrash’s description of David HaMelech’s plight after the incident with Bas-Sheva. The Midrash states (Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 764):
What was David’s plight like? We can portray it with a parable. A person with a wound on his arm went to a doctor, and the doctor told him: “I cannot treat you. The wound is extensive, and you don’t have the money to cover the cost.” The person replied: “Please, do me a favor and have mercy on me. I beg of you, take all the money I have and cover the rest of the cost from your own resources.” In this vein, David pleaded (Tehillim 51:2-3): “Show me favor, O God, in accordance with Your kindness; in Your abundant compassion erase my sins. Abundantly cleanse me of my iniquity, and purify me of my transgressions.”
David was telling Hashem: “I have made a start at cleansing myself, but I need You to finish the job.”
The final Mishnah in meseches Yoma, the tractate that deals with Yom Kippur, states: “Said R. Akiva, ‘Fortunate are you, O Yisrael. Before whom do you become purified, and who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven.’” The Maggid explains the double language in this teaching as follows. There are two key differences between a human doctor and Hashem, the Supreme Healer. First, no human doctor can heal every illness. Rather, doctors specialize in certain areas – some are eye specialists, some are heart specialists, and so on. Hashem, however, can cure every malady; in Tehillim 103:3, David HaMelech, speaking to his own soul, describes Hashem as “the Healer of all your illnesses.” Second, a human doctor demands payment for the treatment he provides, to the point where a human doctor will sometimes say, as in the parable in the Midrash above, “I cannot treat you. The wound is extensive, and you don’t have the money to cover the cost.” Hashem, however, seeks only words of contrition, as it is written (Hoshea 14:3): “Take with you words, and return to Hashem.” The double language in R. Akiva’s teaching corresponds to the above two aspects of Hashem’s care. To whom do we go to be purified? To Hashem, the Supreme Healer, who is capable of curing every malady. And who purifies us? Hashem, our loving Father, who is ready to help us as soon as we call out to Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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