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In the midst of the Yom Kippur services, the Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, interrupted his prayers and departed from the synagogue. Left behind was a room filled with stunned worshippers, who wondered what awesome and lofty mission had prompted the Rebbe to leave in these spiritually uplifted moments.
The Rebbe made his way to the nearby forest. There, he collected dry wood and branches. He carried them to a small house. He knocked on the door and then entered. Once inside, the Rebbe kindled a fire from the wood he had brought. He prepared a soup and he fed it, spoon by spoon, to the woman in the house who had just given birth.
It is easy, even comfortable, to read stories such as the one about Rabbi Shneur Zalman, and be inspired to enhance our fulfillment of the mitzvot between ourselves and each other. At the very beginning of Jewish history, we are told of our ancestor Abraham, who showed us the importance of tending to the needs of others. In the midst of a Divine "conversation," he asked G-d to "wait" while he greeted and provided for tired wayfarers who approached his tent.
If we look at the story of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, what distinguishes it from other examples of selflessness and caring? First, that the Rebbe chose to go himself although he could have sent his assistant, a son, or one of his Chasidim to tend to the new mother. But to fully appreciate the significance of the Rebbe's actions, we must take into account the magnitude and intensity of the Rebbe's Yom Kippur prayers which were on behalf of all the Jewish people. Yet, he saw that caring for a new mother was more precious before G-d than his exalted prayers.
Society encourages and sometimes even takes the time to applaud humanitarian deeds, acts of goodness and kindness, volunteerism, etc. However, the Jew's compassion and caring is driven by the fact that these mitzvot are an integral part of his/her relationship with G-d.
In the words of Rabbi Shneur Zalman when asked which is the superior Divine service, love of G-d or love of the Jewish people, "Both love of G-d and love of the Jewish people are equally engraved in every Jew's soul. It follows that love of the Jewish people is superior, however, for you love whom your beloved loves."
Ultimately, then, these mitzvot are also an expression of our love of G-d. We are not enjoined to fulfill mitzvot between ourselves and our fellow humans because they "feel good" (or we "feel good" after doing them) or because they are politically correct. We are to perform them as a Divine imperative, a part of what our Creator demands of us.
Yom Kippur is the day when G-d gave the second set of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, after the Jews were forgiven for the sin of the golden calf. On one tablet were those mitzvot between a person and G-d. On the other tablet were those between a person and his fellow. This teaches us that both types of mitzvot are parallel parts of our relationship with our Creator, to be approached, performed and carried out equally.
Is repentance necessary to receive atonement on Yom Kippur? Most of our Sages say that it is. Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi), however, contends that, though one certainly achieves a higher level of atonement with repentance; even without repentance the holiness of the day itself effects atonement.
In this debate in the Mishna, both Rebbi and the Sages agree that the G-dly revelation of Yom Kippur brings atonement. However Rebbi holds that it can occur automatically, whereas the Sages teach that repentance is needed first to reach the level where Yom Kippur can be effective.
Atonement means that a person's misdeeds have been forgiven. Yet, beyond forgiveness, its true meaning is that the person's soul has been cleansed. This cleansing requires the level of repentance where all traces of the sin's impression are erased and even deliberate misdeeds are considered as merits. This only strengthens the question: how can Yom Kippur itself erase this defilement -- without any effort by the sinner?
A Jew's attachment to G-d exists on many levels, the first of which is achieved through the performance of mitzvot. When a Jew declares his willingness to obey G-d's laws, he forges a connection with the One Above.
A deeper level of connection expresses itself in repentance. If a Jew transgresses G-d's command, he is disturbed by the resultant weakening of his relationship with G-d. Thus, the impetus for teshuva is his deep sense of attachment to G-d. By removing all taint of sin, he can restore this bond. And yet, even this level of connection is still limited.
The loftiest level is the intrinsic bond between the soul and G-d's essence. It is above all limitations, transcending even repentance. A bond of this nature cannot be created through man's actions, nor can it be improved through his Divine service. It exists solely by virtue of his Jewish soul.
Conversely, because it is so essential, this highest degree of connection with G-d cannot be weakened by anything at all, not even by sin. It is always intact, untouched by repentance or lack thereof. Thus, as regards the supreme level of our relationship with G-d, Yom Kippur itself is sufficient to achieve atonement.
On Yom Kippur, this essential connection with G-d is revealed within each and every Jew. Because it is so intense, all sins are atoned for as a matter of course. The stains that mar the soul are automatically cleansed.
To sum up: The lower levels of our connection with G-d require repentance. But on the highest level that is completely untouched by sin, the atonement of Yom Kippur itself is sufficient.
Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4
The following is excerpted and translated from the memoirs of Rabbi Moshe Segal (1904-1985), a Lubavitcher chasid who was active in the struggle to free the Holy Land from British rule.
Reprinted from The Week in Review, published by V.H.H. For subscription info call (718) 774-6448
In the years that Jerusalem was under British rule, the area in front of the Western Wall did not look as it does today. Only a narrow alley separated the Kotel and the Arab houses on its other side. The British forbade us to place an ark for the Torah scroll, tables or benches in the alley; not even a single chair or stool could be brought to the Kotel. We were also forbidden to pray out loud, to read from the Torah, or to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Policemen were stationed at the Kotel to enforce these decrees.
While praying at the Kotel on Yom Kippur of that year (1930), I overheard people whispering to each other: "Where will we go to hear the shofar? It'll be impossible to blow it here. There are as many policemen as people praying!" The Chief of Police himself was there to make sure that the Jews would not, G-d forbid, sound the single blast that traditionally closes the fast.
I listened to the whisperings and thought to myself: Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of G-d? Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? True, the sounding of the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is only a custom, but "a Jewish custom is Torah"!
I approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as the rabbi of our "congregation," and asked him for a shofar. The rabbi abruptly turned away from me, but not before he cast a glance at the prayer stand at the left end of the alley. I understood: the shofar was in the stand. When the hour of blowing approached, I walked over to the stand and leaned against it.
I opened the door and slipped the shofar into my shirt. I had the shofar, but what if they saw me before I had a chance to blow it? I was still unmarried at the time, and following the Ashkenazi custom, did not wear a tallit [prayer shawl]. I turned to the person praying at my side and asked him for his tallit.
I wrapped myself in the tallit. At that moment, I felt that I had created my own private domain. Outside my tallit a foreign government prevailed, ruling over the people of Israel even on their holiest day and at their holiest place, and we are not free to serve our G-d. But under the tallit is another domain. Here I am under no dominion other than that of my Father in Heaven; here I shall do as He commands me, and no force on earth will stop me.
When the closing verses of the Neilah prayer were proclaimed, I took the shofar and blew a long, resounding blast. Everything happened very quickly. Many hands grabbed me. I removed the tallit from over my head, and before me stood the Chief of Police, who ordered my arrest.
I was taken to the Kishle, the prison in the Old City, and an Arab policeman was stationed there to watch over me. Many hours passed; I was given no food or water to break my fast. At midnight the policeman received an order to release me, and he let me out without a word.
I then learned that when the Chief rabbi of the Holy Land, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, heard of my arrest, he immediately contacted the secretary of the High Commissioner of Palestine and asked that I be released. When his request was refused, he stated that he would not break his fast until I was freed. The High Commissioner resisted for many hours, but finally, out of respect for the rabbi, he had no choice but to set me free.
For the next eighteen years, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. The British well understood the significance of this blast - they knew it would ultimately demolish their reign over our land as the walls of Jericho crumbled before the shofar of Joshua, and they did everything in their power to prevent it. But every Yom Kippur, the shofar was sounded by men who knew they would be arrested for their part in staking our claim to the holiest of our possessions.
Eat, Drink, Rejoice, Build
At the conclusion of Yom Kippur we eat, drink and rejoice, for the Midrash states: "On the conclusion of Yom Kippur a heavenly voice goes forth and says: 'Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink with a merry heart your wine, for G-d has already accepted your deeds favorably.' " That same night, one does something about -- or at least talks about -- building a sukka. For, we should not put off a mitzva until later; until now we were busy with the "work" of the Ten Days of Repentance, but now we are free to do the mitzvot associated with the Sukkot Festival.
Editor's Note: This year Yom Kippur is on Shabbos (October 11, 1997).
Since the day of Yom Kippur is holier than Shabbos, we begin the fast 18 minutes before sundown on Friday and it ends on Saturday after nightfall - (42 minutes after sunset). On Friday we eat 2 meals - one in the early afternoon and one later in the day. No drinks or foods are consumed for the 25 hours.
Extra food is cooked on Friday and refrigerated in preparation for the breaking of the fast Saturday night. For more details on this see the High Holiday Guide on the home page of Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace - www.chabad.org/holiday/tishrei/
People who are on medication should consult with their local Rav on how to go about with the fast.
This "free translation" of a letter, dated 25th of Elul, 5750 (1990) continues on the topic of the previous week's letter concerning the fact that the two days of Rosh Hashana go directly into Shabbat, creating "a chazaka [strength] of three consecutive days filled with holiness":
For our readers' ease we have substituted "Israel" and "diaspora" for "Eretz Yisrael" and "chutz la'aretz"
It is worth noting how this point relates somehow differently in the Holy Land vis-a-vis outside of it.
In the diaspora, the said chazaka of three consecutive holy days recurs three times (in the month of Tishrei); with the first days of Sukkot, hence also the last days, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, likewise occurring on Thursday and Friday, erev Shabbat. Thus there is an additional chazaka, reinforcing the original chazaka -- i.e., a three fold chazaka of three consecutive holy days.
In Israel, however, there is only the one chazaka in conjunction with Rosh Hashana, inasmuch as also in Israel Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two days; but not so in the case of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.
To understand more deeply the significance of the said threefold chazaka that is found only in the diaspora, it is necessary to reflect on one of the specific differences between the Holy Land and the diaspora:
There is a well-known dictum of our Rebbes-Nesiim reflecting the enormous effects of a Jew's serving G-d: "Make Israel here (in the diaspora)." This means that it behooves a Jew to achieve the spiritual preeminence and excellence of Israel in the diaspora. Hence it is certain that one can accomplish it, and with joy and gladness of heart.
A basic difference between Israel and the diaspora is as follows:
Of course, "Hashem's Glory (Presence) fills the world." But in the world at large, the G-dly holiness abides in a manner that does not permeate the physical soil; therefore, no such mitzvot as Trumot and Maasrot, [tithes on produce of the earth] etc.-- of manifest G-dliness -- are pertinent in the diaspora. However, the holiness of Israel does pervade the physical matter of the land, making the very ground of Israel the "holy land." Hence, the holiness of the land imposes obligatory laws on the land (and on its produce).
This concept may be better understood by means of an illustration from the soul animating the body. There are soul-influences whose effects remain concealed in the inner being of the individual, with no visible bodily signs (e.g. facial expressions and the like). But the soul may also exert its influence in a way that brings forth also bodily reactions, plainly visible on the surface, in the movement of the limbs, or other parts of the body. So it is in regard to the holiness ("soul") of Israel -- it finds expression in the profound spiritual nature of the land, which thoroughly permeates also its external part, the "body" of Israel, the physical matter of the land.
The above perception calls for further explanation. It may be asked, what preeminence is gained by holiness manifesting itself also in the realm of the material and superficial? Isn't the inner spiritual quality of a thing the core of its true existence?
But in truth it is not so. The real preeminence of holiness is found precisely when the inner spiritual quality permeates also the physical aspects of the surrounding world.
This truism is underscored in the practice of Torah and mitzvot: The essence of a mitzva is not (so much) in its spiritual profundity, namely, in its spiritual content, but specifically in its physical performance -- in the actual, concrete performance of mitzvot.
This principle is clearly enunciated in Jewish law: The rule is that however sublime and important kavana (intent, meditation, etc.) is in the performance of mitzvot -- so much so, that it has been stated that "a mitzva (performed) without kavana is like a body without a soul" -- nevertheless, if a person should meditate on all the kavanot of a mitzva, but does not actually perform it in deed, he is considered as not having fulfilled the mitzva (not even in part), whereas when one actually performs the mitzva, without any kavana, one is considered to have performed the mitzva ex post facto (bdi'eved).
The reason for the said rule is explained by Rabbi Shneur Zalman in the holy Tanya. It is based on the Midrashic saying, "The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lowermost world." This abode for the Shechina [Divine Presence] is made through the mitzvot which Jews perform in this physical world through the use of material objects (leather for tefilin, wool for tzitzit, etc.), thus spiritualizing the physical world. Indeed, this is the ultimate purpose of performing G-d's mitzvot. Performing them by means of precisely material objects, accomplishes the Divine purpose of the Creation of the world, namely, that physical matter becomes a fitting abode for the Creator.
Continued in next issue
The personal journal of the Rebbe - Reshimos - is now available on line from Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace. The Reshimos are in Hebrew. The on-line version is a scanned copy of the printed version (Hebrew) and provided as a .zip of a .pcx file.
The audio tapes of the Chabad Heritage Series by Sichos In English are now on-line in RealAudio format (at www.chabad.org/tapes/heritage/). The tapes can be purchased from Sichos In English.
Yom Kippur is called the "one and only day in the year." The words "one and only" teaches us that Yom Kippur is the day that unites the Jewish people and makes them "one," as if they were one person with one heart.
Yom Kippur also unites the Jewish people with the One Hashem. We see this unity between Hashem and the Jewish people very clearly at the end of Yom Kippur, when everyone cries out in one voice, "Shema Yisrael - Hear, O Israel." In essence, we are saying, "We accept, all of us together, the rule of the One and Only G-d."
Immediately afterwards, we repeat three times, "Baruch Shem K'Vod - Blessed is the name of His Glorious Kingdom Forever and ever." Thus, we are declaring that G-d rules in all the worlds and we accept Him as our King."
Finally, in one united heart-rending voice, we cry out seven times, "Hashem Hu HaElokim - G-d, He is the L-rd." This is our unequivocal acceptance of the King of Kings.
Yom Kippur is the end of the Ten Days of Repentance. On Rosh Hashana, the first of the Ten Days of Repentance, we began the process of "coronating" G-d as our King. On the final day, the "one and only day," we complete His coronation - we stamp and seal it
At the very end of Yom Kippur, a mighty shofar blast is sounded. We call out with hope, faith and belief, "L'Shana HaBah B'Yerushalayim -- Next year in Jerusalem" These last moments remind us of the time when the sound of the shofar will announce the coming of Moshiach and the complete Redemption.
May it be G-d's will that the Holy Temple will be rebuilt and the words "Next year in Jerusalem" will be fulfilled, quickly in our days.
Allow us to pray with the transgressors (The Kol Nidre)
This prayer was added by the Marranos, Jews who had converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition, but continued to cling to their Jewish faith and practices in secret. In public, however, they had to act as devoted members of the Christian community, or risk torture and death. On Yom Kippur they gathered in secret and prayed to G-d to forgive them of the commandments they had transgressed in order to deceive their neighbors. So they assembled, and they asked permission to pray in the company of their fellow transgressors.
(Book of Our Heritage)
And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they had come close to G-d and died. (Lev. 16:1)
Thus begins the Torah portion read on Yom Kippur. Several commentaries explain that the two sons, Nadav and Avihu, experienced such an intense and lofty state of spirituality that there was no way that they could return to the material world. On Yom Kippur we experience a heightened sense of spirituality, and on that day we all "come close to G-d." But we have to carry that spirituality with us after Yom Kippur and into our everyday material lives.
For the sin we have sinned before You (From our Yom Kippur prayers)
For each sin we enumerate we pound our hearts with our fist. One explanation for this is the rule which states that in a case of capital punishment, the condemning witness casts the first stone. Since we are accusing our hearts of being responsible for our sins, we strike our hearts heavily.
Reb Nota achieved fame as Rav of the city of Chelm, but as a young man he was a tutor in a small village. Unfortunately, his young charges were slow learners, but Reb Nota did his best to instruct them in the basics of Torah.
It was not long before the householder and his wife discovered that their sons' tutor was a hidden tzadik. One night, the villager's wife was awakened by a strange noise. Following the sound, she found herself in front of the tutor's door. From inside, came the most beautifully sublime sounds of prayer that she had ever heard. From that moment on she observed his every action, and when her suspicions were confirmed, she discussed it with her husband.
The couple was awestruck at their good fortune and felt privileged to support the tzadik in their home. Their only request was that he set aside time to teach their sons how to live as honest and G-d fearing Jews.
Reb Nota agreed, and life continued in this manner until finally his reputation as a scholar and tzadik spread throughout the region. Young scholars from the surrounding towns came to learn from him, and whenever these visitors arrived in their home, the villager and his wife hosted them generously. All this time, the villager prospered in all his business dealings and he became quite a wealthy man.
Reb Nota, however, grew in stature and eventually the day came when a delegation from Chelm offered him the post of rav of that city. By this time his fame had spread far and wide and Jews flocked to him for advice and blessings.
Many years passed and the wheel of fortune spun around, leaving Reb Nota's former employer in the small village on the bottom. One day the husband and wife sat down to discuss how they could deal with their problems. The wife recalled Reb Nota and suggested to her husband that he travel to Chelm and get his blessing. Surely he would recall the myriad of favors they had done for him and bless them and perhaps their luck would turn around.
The villager set off for Chelm, anticipating a warm reunion with Reb Nota. But when he arrived, he found himself just another Jew amid the large group that had assembled there. When he passed before Reb Nota he received the same greeting as every other person. Searching his mind for an explanation, he thought, "Now it is right before the holy Shabbat and the tzadik probably has no time for elaborate greetings. At the Shabbat table he will welcome me far differently."
But when Shabbat had ended, the man had to admit that the warm reunion he had hoped for would not be and his disappointment was unbearable.
When, at last, he passed before Reb Nota to say goodbye, he couldn't restrain himself from making a remark. "Rebbe," he ventured, "I have one important question which is really bothering me, and I would like to ask you to explain it to me." "Please, ask," Reb Nota replied.
"Every day of the year we mention the names of the Patriarchs in our prayers and we list all their merits. When we recite the Penitential Prayers before Rosh Hashana we also mention them, beseeching G-d to remember 'Your covenant with Abraham and the binding of Isaac.' Again on Rosh Hashana and on Yom Kippur we ask for help in the merit of our Patriarchs. Then comes the Ne'ila prayer -- the time when our fates are sealed, and we add something new to our ardent prayers. What new element do we add at this awesome hour? We say to G-d, `The Patriarch Abraham who knew You from his childhood.'
"This is my question: We mention our Patriarchs constantly. Why then at Ne'ila do we mention them yet again. What does this phrase add to everything we said before?"
A smile played across Reb Nota's lips and he replied, "You must have some answer in mind, so please, tell me what it is."
"Yes, this is my answer: At Ne'ila, the climax of the Day of Atonement, we fear the challenge of some Heavenly prosecutor who will say, 'What's so important about these Patriarchs? Had they never existed, the world would still know that G-d is great, that He created and sustains the entire universe!'
"This is why we add these words. Had the Patriarchs never lived, G-d would still be the Creator and Author of everything. But, only Abraham, and no one else, recognized His greatness. It was Abraham who made His existence and greatness known in the world.
"The same could be said of me. Even without me, you would be a holy man. But who ever heard of you? I allowed your name to become known in the world. Why, then, do you not acknowledge my need when I am desperate and in despair?"
Reb Nota's face broke out into a broad smile, for this is what he had awaited from his erstwhile employer and host. "Go in peace, my friend. From this time on, may G-d Almighty cause you to succeed in all that you do."
The villager returned home and soon had regained all his previous wealth. Reb Nota liked to tell the story of this man, remarking on the wisdom of his words. The Chasidim would say that their Rebbe had held himself, hoping to elevate his friend to such a pinnacle of wisdom.
The connection between the ultimate Redemption and Yom Kippur is reflected in that Yom Kippur is the tenth of Tishrei and the number ten is associated with several dimensions of the Era of the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, the eve of Yom Kippur, 5752)