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by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
The Maggid of Koznitz would say: "On Yom Kippur, why would anyone want to eat?" This spiritual man felt the holiness of the day so powerfully that eating was out of the question for him. He was lifted above the realm of the mundane and totally absorbed in the spiritual.
More than a little bit above the experience of most of us, for sure. But something we can understand. After all, haven't we heard of scientist and mathematicians who have been so absorbed in their work that they don't eat or sleep?
On Yom Kippur, what we're involved in is more stimulating than a problem in science or math. Yom Kippur is the most sacred day of the year. It was the day on which the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple, experiencing a direct bond with G-d. There was nothing else there but him and G-d's revealed presence.
In microcosm, this state of connection is experienced by every Jew on Yom Kippur. This is the heart of the Neila service, the last of our Yom Kippur prayers. Neila means "locked." During Neila, every person is "locked in," alone with G-d. Every person has his or her time to be together with Him.
Will we consciously feel this? There surely are differences between what goes on in each person's heart, but on this day, every person feels some spiritual inspiration. He or she draws closer to G-d and becomes more aware of his or her Jewish roots.
It's a function of time. Just as there are natural settings which arouse feelings of beauty and awe, Yom Kippur is a day created for spiritual inspiration. At the core of our being, beyond the "I" with which we carry on our ordinary daily experience, each of us possesses a soul that is "an actual part of G-d." And on Yom Kippur, the nature of the day causes this spiritual core to be revealed, pushing it into our conscious experience.
That's why we recite confessional prayers on Yom Kippur; it's like a couple making up. If they've felt distance and separation, and then come together again, they'll look each other up close and say they're sorry. It's got nothing to do with a guilt trip; it's a natural response when you've hurt someone you love.
And the couple promise to change their conduct in the future, to turn away from those things which cause each other pain and to do more of those things that bring them happiness.
That's what our prayers are about on Yom Kippur: coming close to G-d, saying we're sorry because we caused Him pain, and promising that in the next year we will try to do better.
For Yom Kippur is not intended to be an isolated spiritual event. Although it is unique in its holiness, the intent is that the uplifting influence of Yom Kippur will inspire changes in our conduct throughout the year. On Yom Kippur, we've got to think of what happens afterwards, how to make the spiritual feelings of that day a spur to enable us to live better and more fulfilled lives in the year to come.
Reprinted from Keeping In Touch
This week's Torah portion, Vayeilech, contains a verse which sums up the entire concept of the exile of the Jewish people. "And on that day My anger will burn against them," we read, "and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them."
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains that the concealment of G-d's presence from the Jews is only an illusion, only "as if" He were in hiding. "I will hide My face from them," G-d says, "as though I do not see their distress." In truth, however, G-d is always with the Jewish people; He always sees and observes them, and indeed senses their distress, as it is written, "In all their distress, He is distressed."
The sole reason that G-d hides Himself, as it were, is to stir the Jewish people to return to Him.
Chasidut uses the analogy of a father who hides himself from his young son to determine how smart he is. The son, being subjected to the test, can respond in one of two ways: he can fall into despair and conclude that his father has abandoned him, or, if he is truly wise, he will correctly surmise that his father would never leave him and he must therefore be nearby. When the son realizes the purpose of the "game" and understands that his father is really there, despite the fact that he cannot see him, this in itself arouses a stronger love and causes the son to express these feelings for his parent more fervently.
Furthermore, as the Baal Shem Tov explained, the double expression "haster astir" - "I will surely hide" - means that the Divine concealment itself will be concealed, especially during this final period of exile, when spiritual darkness prevails. Nonetheless, we must always remember that nothing can separate G-d from the Jewish people, and that G-dliness is forever within us.
Galut, exile, is the ultimate form of "I will hide My face from them." The sole purpose of the seeming "concealment" is to test the reaction of the Jewish people, about whom the Torah states, "You are the children of the L-rd your G-d." This, however, is no more than a temporary illusion to motivate us to seek the "hidden presence" of G-d. Thus, through being in exile, we are led to intensify our bond with G-d, culminating in the ultimate manifestation of G-d's love for Israel that will come about with the Messianic Redemption.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, 5748
Yom Kippur in Prison
by Rabbi Fishel Jacobs
Boris, 6' 4", 240 pounds of hulking muscle, in his late forties, stood poised in front of me. Etched on his face was the intense ruthless expression of a killer.
How did I meet Boris? A few years ago I spent Yom Kippur in one of the Israeli prisons where I am a chaplain. I arrived the afternoon preceding Yom Kippur and made sure all the preparations were taken care of. An hour before the holiday began, I visited the cells to wish the inmates an easy fast and a healthy new year.
It was then I met Boris, a mountain of a man, standing there in the middle of his cell, in all his awesome might, dressed only in his underwear.
"Du redtz Yiddish? You speak Yiddish?" he asked, explaining his Hebrew wasn't too good.
"Yuh," I answered. We shook hands. I patted him on the shoulder, gave him a smile.
He warmed up. A smile slowly, but only briefly, passed his lips. Nodding, he grunted to the other prisoners, "Er iz beseder, he's okay." A pass straight out of a mafia family meeting.
Covering his huge beefy shoulder was an eight-by-seven inch tattoo of an old Jew with a long white beard, wearing a fur hat. Kneeling on one knee, he held both ends of a sword horizontally above his head. Resting on top of the sword's top edge was a large Star of David.
"I'm Russian," he said.
"Why the tattoo?" I asked.
"I'm a Jew. And I want everyone to know. Especially, those lousy Russians," he muttered. "I'm also a Kohein" (priest), he said proudly.
"Do you know anything about Judaism?"
"Nothing at all." Then Boris laughed, a kind of bellowing, raspy blast, a laugh that expressed humor, hidden suffering, fear, fierce resolution. His ethnic pride was sincere and refreshing.
Later, on Yom Kippur, I asked him what he did for a living in Russia. Stammering, he muttered, "A gonif, a thief."
"How long have you been in prisons?"
"In and out," he said, "for over 27 years."
"What's it like in Russian prisons?" I continued. "I heard it's harder than elsewhere."
"The guards aren't like here," he said, his body heaving with laughter. Then, suddenly, a cold heaviness shot through his eyes, "Here the guards are human... There not."
"What did you do to spend time?"
"For years, we broke heavy boulders with huge sledgehammers for eight hours a day. The authorities took these by railroad cars and dumped them into the sea."
"What?!" I asked disbelieving.
"The imprisonment is to break the spirit. That's their tactic."
"How did they look at Jews?" I asked.
"They don't," he said, penetrating me with a piercing glance which could only be connected with death itself. "They kill the weaker ones."
"Russian thugs. Only the strongest survive in prison, especially when it comes to Jews."
"How did you survive all those years with that tattoo in Russian prisons?"
His lips smiled, his eyes did not. I shuddered.
Here was a Jew, by his own admission totally ignorant of Judaism, yet proud enough to flaunt a huge picture depicting an ethnically defiant theme, a tattoo which, were it not for his size, probably would have gotten him killed.
"Were you ever attacked?"
"Yes," he said, lifting his shirt, showing me a five inch scar above his kidney."
"One, in front, with a shovel, another behind me with a knife."
"The one in front, I killed. Then I collapsed. Woke up in the infirmary."
All during Yom Kippur, Boris kept flashing into my mind. During the closing services, as customary, I gave a speech. I spoke about the Cantonists in Russia. These were Jewish children, kidnapped by government order for 25 years of forced military service under Czar Nikolai I. The number ran in the tens of thousands.
Many of these captive youth managed to stay together, practicing whatever they remembered of their religion. Some were beaten mercilessly by their officers. Many died bitter deaths.
Once, a group of rabbis were in Petersburg to meet with the Czar before Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur itself, the rabbis went to one of the synagogues where the Cantonists prayed. When it came time for the closing prayer of Neila, the rabbis asked if one amongst them could lead this final supplication.
The Cantonists explained: "We have a tradition that one of us leads this prayer. This man sanctified G-d's name. He withstood difficult tests and was subjected to tremendous suffering."
At that, the Cantonist opened his shirt to reveal a chest covered with scars from whippings and beatings. The rabbis stood in awe of the man.
Before beginning Kaddish preceding Neila, the Cantonist offered the following petition of his own. "G-d, all of Your people Israel stand before you at this time and ask for nachas from their children, long life and livelihood. Do we Cantonists ask for nachas from children? No! We are all childless! Do we ask for long life? No, our lives are not really life. Do we ask for livelihood? We are supported by our government pensions! If so, what can we request? We have nothing to request for ourselves, therefore, we ask only that - Yitgadal Vayitkadash Shmei Raba - Exalted and Hallowed be His Great Name!"
Then I continued: "It's written, 'G-d wants the heart of man.' It's not only our minds, but our hearts the Al-mighty wants," I explained. "I think it would be fitting for Boris to open the holy ark."
Everyone nodded in agreement.
Boris gratefully accepted the invitation, but had no idea why he was being honored.
Reprinted with permission from Rabbi Jacob's book, Israel Behind Bars.
New Chabad Centers on Campus
Rabbi Yudi and Rivkie Steiner will arrive soon in Washington, DC, to establish Chabad-Lubavitch at The George Washington University. Five new campus centers are opening in England: Rabbi Pini and Gitty Weinman are on their way to open Chabad at the University of Edinburgh. Rabbi Mendy and Sara Loewenthal are off to Imperial College in London, England. Rabbi Dovid and Sora Cohen are establishing a multi-campus center in south London, based in Wimbledon, serving Kingston, Roehampton, Surrey, St. George's Medical School, Goldsmiths, Greenwich, Royal Holloway and Wimbledon School of Art. Rabbi Mendy and Brocha Lent have arrived at Nottingham University to establish a new Chabad on Campus there. Rabbi Dovid and Leah Usiskin have opened Chabad at Bristol University.
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
The days immediately preceding and following Rosh Hashanah are the time dedicated to sincere introspection and a careful and honest examination of the record of the outgoing year, with a view to the proper deductions and resolutions which are to regulate one's personal daily life, as well as that of his home, and all his affairs in the year to come.
Moreover, these are exceptionally propitious days, days permeated with the core of the Psalm: "Search my inwardness; Thy inner essence, G-d, do I seek" (Ps. 27:8). They call and demand:
Search for the innermost and the profound within you; seek out also the inwardness of everything around you, the soul of the universe; search for and bring to light the G-dliness that animates and pervades the world!
Both aspects - the honest self-appraisal and the search for the inner essence of things - are interrelated and interdependent.
In evaluating the results of the outgoing year, one is very prone to err by taking into account only the external, both in himself and in the environment. In doing so, one is on equally treacherous grounds in regard to setting the pattern of daily living in the year to come.
To forestall this misleading approach, these auspicious days sound their message and challenge:
Do not sell yourself short! Do not underestimate your capacities and abilities!
For no matter what your spiritual "stock-in-trade" is, your "visible assets" - the existing possibilities that you have to conduct your life in accordance with the teachings of our Torah; no matter how formidable is your strength of character and your ability to cope with a frustrating environment, and with undaunted perseverance to follow your path of Torah and mitzvoth (commandments) -
Much greater and richer are your "hidden reserves" of powers to create new possibilities, and of inner qualities giving you the ability to overcome obstacles and to shape your life and the life around you to be in harmony with Truth and Goodness.
In order to reveal and apply these powers, however, it is necessary that you search for and release your potential forces. But you are promised: "You will discover - because you will search with all your heart and soul" (Deut. 4:29).
What has been said above is more especially and more fully applicable to those who occupy positions of spiritual leadership and influence, from the rabbi of the community down to the individual parents who set the pace of the spiritual life of their household and family.
All too often do we see them stymied by doubt and fear, afraid to use, what seem to them, a strong word or excessive demand lest they might alienate, instead of attract.
To them these days address themselves with this message and challenge:
Search inwardly: seek deeply and you will unravel the innermost treasures of those whom you would lead and inspire; evaluate them not externally, but according to their inner resources, according to the capacity of their soul, the veritable spark of G-dliness from Above.
For with the right approach and by indefatigable effort you will be able to uncover and activate in everyone his inner spiritual resources, so that they begin to animate his daily life.
What are "kapparot"
Literally, kapparot means "atonement." Customarily on the eve of Yom Kippur, a man or boy takes in hand a rooster, a woman or girl takes a hen, and passes the fowl over the head three times while reciting a special prayer. The chicken is then ritually slaughtered and often given to the poor to use for their pre-Yom Kippur meal. The purpose of kapparot is to invoke sincere repentance through the thought that a similar fate as that awaiting the fowl might be due us for our sins, but through G-d's mercy and our true repentance it is averted.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
One of the unique points about Yom Kippur is the special service of the Kohein Gadol - the High Priest, who performed the Yom Kippur service on that day by himself.
For the part of the High Priest's service which was performed in the two outer halls of the Holy Temple, he wore gold clothing. The part of the service performed inside the Holy of Holies, however, was performed in plain white clothing.
Although the physical Holy Temple was destroyed - and we eagerly await its rebuilding - the spiritual Sanctuary within every Jew - his Holy of Holies - remains totally intact. Thus, each individual Jew is personally responsible to perform the special service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur.
The High Priest wore gold clothing for a large part of his special service to remind us that we should use the most precious and beautiful materials available in serving G-d; we should perform mitzvot in a beautiful and enhanced manner.
The white clothing of the High Priest, worn in the Holy of Holies, is a reminder though, that it is not enough to only do those mitzvot that involve us in material matters. Those mitzvot that are purely spiritual in nature, such as prayer and Torah study, must also be performed.
At the end of his service, the High Priest said a short prayer that the year should be a good year materially for himself, his tribe and all the Jewish people throughout the entire world.
This, too, is part of the service of every single Jew on the holiest day of the year and in the Holy of Holies of his heart. Each Jew on Yom Kippur should also pray for a good year not only for himself and his family, but for the entire Jewish people.
And Moses went (Deut. 31:1)
"To the study hall," adds the Targum Yonatan. Before addressing the Jewish people, Moses went to the study hall to study the matter he was about to impart. From this we learn that a person mustn't rely on his own memory and knowledge when it comes to rendering legal decisions. Rather, he must first consult books of Jewish law before issuing a ruling.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
You shall read this Torah before all of Israel (31:11)
Every seven years, when the Jewish people gathered together in Jerusalem as one entity, the king would read aloud to them the Written Torah. For the Written Torah, as opposed to the Oral Law, is the equal possession of all and thus unifies all Jews; just by reciting the words a person fulfills the mitzva of Torah study, even if he does not understand their meaning.
Assemble ("Hakhel") the people, the men and the women and the little ones (Deut. 31:12)
The Sabbatical year (in which the land lies fallow and debts are declared in remission) brings with it peace and unity, as it blurs the distinctions between rich and poor. In the Sabbatical year all Jews are equal, rendering them worthy of the commandment of Hakhel (the grand assemblage on Sukot during which the king reads aloud certain portions of the Torah).
Now therefore write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel (Deut. 31:19)
From this verse our Sages learn that every Jew is obligated to write for himself a Torah scroll (or hire someone else to do so for him). Nowadays, when we no longer study the Torah from an open scroll and writing the Oral Law is permissible, a Jew fulfills this obligation by purchasing holy books, for indeed the mitzva is to "teach it to the children of Israel."
In the past, many Jews were not strict about fulfilling this mitzva as there was generally only one Torah scroll in a community; thus it was assumed that it had been written for everyone. However, at the behest of the Rebbe, many Torah scrolls are now being written in which a person may purchase a letter and become a partner in its writing.
One time, at a farbrengen (gathering) where the Chasidim were sitting and drinking mead (a sweet honey wine that used to be very popular), a Chasid named Reb Moshe told the following story:
"Many years ago," he began, "while visiting Vienna, I sent my servant to a nearby inn to buy a bottle of mead. When he came back I discovered that it was the most delicious mead that I had ever tasted. In fact, it was so good that I immediately sent him back to buy some more. I gave him enough money for ten bottles, figuring that my family and I would enjoy it for a long time to come.
"But my servant came back empty-handed. I took out a few more coins from my pocket, but he shook his head. 'It isn't the money,' he told me. 'There just isn't any more to be had.'
"I decided to go see for myself. When I entered the inn, I saw a large crowd of people who had apparently just finished eating a festive meal. I approached the innkeeper and asked him to sell me some of his delicious honey wine.
"'I'm sorry, but there isn't even a drop left of that particular type,' he said. 'Well, when do you expect to get more?' I persisted. 'Quite frankly, never!' " The innkeeper then told me the following:
Many years before he had been a mohel, a ritual circumciser. From the very beginning of his holy work he had set himself one cardinal rule: that he would never refuse a request to make a brit mila, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
One Erev Yom Kippur, a coarsely dressed Jewish farmer had knocked on his door and asked him to circumcise his eight-day-old son. The farmer lived quite a distance away - six parasangs [about 24 miles] - and it was the day before Yom Kippur. Nonetheless, the mohel agreed to conduct the brit.
When they stepped outside the mohel realized that the farmer was too poor to have hired a carriage; neither was the mohel himself a man of means. There was no choice but to walk to whole distance. The farmer started out in the direction of his house, but he was walking so quickly that the mohel soon lagged behind. Eventually the farmer disappeared behind a bend in the road.
Hours later the mohel arrived in town and asked some neighbors where the family with the new baby lived. When he walked into the house he found the mother lying in bed with the infant. She was so weakened and frail that she could barely respond. The father, however, was nowhere to be seen. For some reason he hadn't thought it appropriate to attend his own son's brit...
The mohel now faced a serious problem: Who would serve as sandek to hold the baby during the ritual procedure? Time was of the essence; it was the eighth day of the infant's life, and he needed to be entered into the covenant of Abraham immediately. But without a sandek it would be very dangerous. Indeed, the mohel had never attempted such a thing before.
The mohel walked outside hoping to find someone on the street he could ask. For a long time he waited, but the street was deserted. Suddenly, he spotted an old beggar coming around the corner. "I'm in a big hurry," the man replied impatiently when the mohel asked for his assistance. "Today is Erev Yom Kippur, and I can collect a whole ruble going from door to door if I get to the city in time."
Desperate by then, the mohel promised to pay him a ruble if he would only serve as sandek. The beggar agreed, and the brit mila was conducted without incident. The mohel then left for the long walk back to the city.
After praying the afternoon service the mohel went home for the final meal before the fast, and was astonished to see the very same beggar waiting on his doorstep. He quickly paid him the ruble he had promised, but the beggar also demanded a drink of mead. The mohel was very tired by then and in no mood for entertaining. Nevertheless, but he invited him inside and poured the drink. But even that wasn't enough for the strange old man: he insisted that the mohel join him in a glass of mead, and that they wish each other a good and sweet new year. With no alternative, the mohel complied.
"Tell me, is there any more of this wine left in the barrel?" the annoying stranger persisted. "Very little," the mohel answered, "only a few more drops." "There will always be mead in this barrel," the beggar then pronounced cryptically, "until the last blessing is recited at your youngest son's wedding celebration." The beggar then pointed to the mohel's son sleeping in his cradle.
"The blessing was fulfilled in its entirety," the innkeeper concluded his tale. "There is no explanation other than that the old man was Elijah the Prophet. With my seemingly endless supply of mead I opened this inn, and completely forgot about the rest of his prediction. That is, until today, when the barrel suddenly fell and broke into pieces as we were reciting the Grace After Meals at my youngest son's wedding. And that is why I am telling you that there will never be any more of this particular batch of mead..."
G-d will surely fulfill the inner will of every Jew - and the will of the Jews reflects the inner will of G-d as Maimonides writes - and that inner will is for the Redemption to come. This is particularly true, because "all the appointed times for Moshiach's coming have passed." As the Previous (Lubavitcher) Rebbe explained, all that is necessary is to "stand together prepared [to greet Moshiach]" and that has also been accomplished. All that is necessary is one turn to G-d. That will come naturally, there is no need for miracles.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Eve of Yom Kippur, 5752 - 1991)