Yom Kippur

We present here another selection from the essays on the Yamim Noraim by Rav Avraham Beirush Flamm, redactor of many of the Maggid’s commentaries, that appear in the last volume of Ohel Yaakov. This selection is from an essay entitled “Mussar (Moral Exhortation) Before Kol Nidre.”
We are now at the threshold of Yom Kippur. How should we approach this day? We can explain with a parable. A group of merchants decided to have a large ship built for them for sea travel. Obviously the building of the ship took place on land, close to the shore. Eventually the ship was finished and the time came to set it to sea. The ship had to be pushed into the water, gotten out of the shallow water where its bottom was still lying on the sea bed, and moved into the deep water. This process involved an enormous amount of toil and strain. Finally, the ship made it out into the heart of the sea. The younger seamen said: “Great, now we can relax.” One of the older seamen said: “Don’t be foolish! It is true that up to now you had to work very hard to get the ship out to sea. But you weren’t in any danger. But now that we are in the heart of the sea and subject to the rushing waves, we have to be extra careful. If we slacken now, we’ll be in really big trouble.”
So it is with us. On Rosh Chodesh Elul we began the process of repentance. We put in much effort. We performed a cheshbon ha-nefesh – a spiritual and moral accounting, a soul-searching, assessing our conduct over the past year. We pleaded profusely to Hashem for forgiveness. We gathered for the selichos services, where we all prayed to Hashem together for forgiveness – the Sefardim starting from the second of Elul and the Ashkenazim from the Motzoei Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah. Many of us rose early to go to shul to recite the selichos an hour or so before dawn, which is the most favorable time. Some of us fasted for a portion of the week before Rosh Hashanah and the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many of us got worn down and developed some negative feelings toward these days on account of the extra prayers and afflictions. And now we have reached Yom Kippur, the awesome Day of Atonement, the last day of the Ten Days of Repentance. We no longer have to wake up extra early to squeeze in selichos amongst our regular daily activities. We might think that now we can relax. But the truth is just the opposite. The responsibility we bore in Elul, on Rosh Hashanah, and during the other days of repentance is modest compared to the responsibility we bear on Yom Kippur. We are in the depths of the sea now. As we say in the Unesaneh Tokef prayer, on Rosh Hashanah the decree is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
As we recited this prayer on Rosh Hashanah, we described how Hashem decrees who will live and who will die, who by fire and who by water, …, who will be poor and who will be rich, and so on. Yet there is a very big difference between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is like the difference between the time a baby is a fetus inside the mother and the time the baby is born and enters the world. So long as the baby is in the fetal stage, compositional changes can take place, but once the baby is born such changes cannot take place anymore. The days between Rosh Hashanah and erev Yom Kippur are like days of gestation. Rosh Hashanah is the day of conception; in our prayers on Rosh Hashanah we speak of the day as the day of the conception of the world. On Rosh Hashanah our decree is written, but during the remaining days of repentance it can be changed. On Yom Kippur, however, the decree is sealed. Yom Kippur is the day of birth; it is a day when the potential is actualized.
The prophet Tzefaniah exhorts (verses 2:1-3):
Examine yourselves, examine each other, O nation unshamed. Before the decree is born, the day you pass along like the chaff; before Hashem’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of Hashem’s anger comes upon you. Seek Hashem, all you humble of the earth who have fulfilled His law; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden on the day of Hashem’s anger.
Tzefaniah is telling us that we are not doomed to be shamed forever, with Hashem rejecting our prayers. Although our decree was written on Rosh Hashanah, we should not give up. Let us examine ourselves and examine each other. There is still time. The decree is not yet born. Hashem’s anger may be, so to speak, welling up, but right now it is only potential anger – we have not yet reached the day when Hashem’s anger becomes an actuality. We should repent and plead to Hashem fervently for forgiveness. If not now, when? 
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.