The Torah Podcast Transcript
074 The Torah Podcast – Connect with the Essence of Life – Yom Kippur
Rav Dessler starts out by saying, even though we know there’s a principle in the Torah called lo lishma, bo lishma, that if you do something for the wrong reason, eventually you’ll come to do it for the right reason. For example, even if you learn Torah lo lishma, you’re learning it for kavod, honor, or who knows what, eventually you’ll come to learn it for pure motives. Or you might be doing mitzvos to show off, and eventually you’ll do the mitzvos and you’ll come to pure motives.
The way it works is that the outer movements affect the inner. But when it comes to repentance he says it doesn’t apply. It’s not going to help you from the outside in. You have to start from the inside. You have to awaken your heart, your inner spark, with a direct decision to come back to Hashem. He says like this. “True teshuva can only come from concentrating on the point of truth in one’s heart – the spark of truth that has the power to penetrate the wall that we erect around our hearts. Emotions are valuable.” He says, “They can open up the heart for the truth to penetrate, but only a deliberate and determined attempt to penetrate that opacity and reveal the point of truth beneath it, only that will lead to teshuva. Like the possuk says, ‘After the storm and the earthquake and the fire must come the still, small voice of clear, inner perception.’ We see from here that the avoda on Yom Kippur is to cut to the essence of our beings, to get to the very, very foundation. If we do that, there’s a chance that we can really return to Hashem.”
And we can see this clearly in the siddur, prayer book. What changes do we make during the ten days of repentance? The first change we make in the first beracha, blessing of the shemona esrei, we add the words, “Zachreinu lechaim,” remember us for life, “Melech chofetz bechaim,” that You desire life. “Katveinu be sefer hachaim,” write us in the book of life. “Le ma’ancha Elokim chaim,” the God of life. Everything there’s to remind us about life. Then on the next beracha it says, “Zocher yetzerav lechaim”, remember us for life. Later on it says, “Vekatevu chaim tovim,” write us for a good life. At the end we say, “Besefer chaim, beracha veshalom.” All the extras in the siddur are prayers for life, the most basic, fundamental thing that we have is our lives. And this is the only way that we can return to Hashem by realizing that our lives are dependent on Hashem, when we contemplate our own mortality, when we realize that the basis for everything we have is life itself.
Chazal tells us that everything that’s physical has six dimensions. You have the four directions and you have up and down. But there’s another dimension, the seventh dimension. And that dimension, that’s where the thing stands. That gives the place for the thing to exist. That gives the place for existence. That’s why it’s the most important dimension. That’s why the seventh day is represented by Shabbos. Shabbos is the most important day of the week, and Tishrei is the seventh month, the most important month of the year. During this month where we get back to the foundation, to our very existence, to the fact that we’re here, we have a place, and we exist. This theme is constantly repeated on Yom Kippur. Rav Wolbe says, “There are two days, two holidays in the year when we say the term, ‘be’etzem hayom hazeh,’ in the midst of this very day.’ It only says that by Yom Kippur and Shavuos. And the Ramban explained that that terminology reflects that those days where it says, “in the midst of this very day.” can bring atonement. Those are days of atonement. What’s interesting and unique about them is both Shavuos and Yom Kippur do not have any physical mitzvos. There’s no shofar, ram’s horn. There’s no sukka, booth. There’s no arba minim, four species. There’s no matza, unleavened bread. What do you do on Shavuos and Yom Kippur? The answer is, that this atonement that we can receive on these two days is through the feeling that we have in our hearts. It’s a day where the avoda is the avodas halev, the work of the heart. Our commitment to live by the Torah and to do the right thing, that is the avoda of the day. There are no other mitzvos. He says, “These days cannot be accessed with our hands, but only with our hearts.” That’s why we spend the whole day in shul, synagogue, because it’s avodas halev. The whole service, the whole thing we’re supposed to be doing on Yom Kippur is connecting with our hearts to our Creator.
The Sefas Emes says, “Yom Kippur hu yom echad miyhud beshana.” Yom Kippur is a day that’s unique in the entire year. “Me ain olam haba,” It’s like the world to come. Why is it like the world to come? Because when we do not eat and we do not drink, we take on the behavior of melachim, of angels. We become like angels. Yom Kippur is a day le mala min hateva, above nature. It defies the normal rules of our everyday life during the rest of the year. It’s like a supernatural day. We have the ability to uplift ourselves, to become new people, to change ourselves. It’s much, much easier. Chazal tells us that Yom Kippur is a day lechaper al benei Yisroel, it’s a day to atone for the sins of the Jewish people, achas beshana, one time during the year. It’s one special day. The gematria, the value of the numbers, of Ha Satan, of the yetzer hara, of the evil inclination, equals to 364. We’re missing one day, which day? In other words, the Satan, the evil inclination of a person, his drive to do physical things, is completely removed on that one day. Which day is that? Yom Kippur we’re like angels. We have the ability to get in touch with our true essential selves.
But what does that mean, to connect to our true, essential selves? It means that we have consciousness. We are aware that life is a gift. The Ramban says the three basic fundamentals of emunah, of faith in God – first, that God exists. Second, that there’s hashgacha pratis, that God runs the world. And third, the Torah is min hashemayim, from the heavens. Those three things, Rav Chatzkel explains, have to do with the three parts of the davening of Rosh Hashana. The first part is malchius, that Hashem is the King. Hashem exists. The second part is zichronos, the hashgacha pratis to remember all the maasim, all the things that happened to man throughout history. And the shofar has to do with Torah is min hashemayim. He says, “These three things will bring a person to teshuva, when he realizes that there’s Hashem and his whole life is dependent upon hashgacha pratis. Everything that happens to him is min hashemayim. Every person he meets, everything he hears. All his blessings and all of his curses and all the things that are happening in his life are dependent on God. And third, the Torah is min hashemayim.
What’s the compass by which we have to live our lives? How do we know the right way to go? It’s the Torah. This is the teshuva that we need to do on Yom Kippur, to realize that we’re here as a gift. God’s giving us life, zachreinu lechaim, remember us for life. This is truly an opportunity for us. It’s a blessing. It’s a tremendous blessing, Yom Kippur.
It’s not a fast like Tisha B’Av. It’s a fast where we become like angels. It’s a fast where we’re lemala min hateva, we’re above nature. It’s a chance to really connect, because during the rest of the year we’re not so connected. Chazal tells us that in the end of days when God is going to shecht the yetzer hara, He’s going to kill the evil inclination, he says a tremendous stench, a tremendous, horrible smell is going to come into the world. Why is that? Now, what smells the worst? I’ll tell you what smells the worst. A dead person, that’s what smells the worst. Why is that? Because the higher something is, the more life something has, when you take away that life force and it rots it has the worst smell. So, why is it true that when Hashem is going to schecht the yetzer hara there’s going to be a tremendously bad smell? Because most people in the world put tons of life energy into their yetzer haras. Their essential life direction, their essential purpose for living is in the yetzer hara. It’s going shopping, and doing this and doing that. They’re missing the point of what life is about. They’re not doing avodas Hashem at all, so of course when they schecht that yetzer hara it’s going to stink, because the whole world’s putting their life force into the yetzer hara. But now we have a chance on Yom Kippur, one time a year, where the Satan, the yetzer hara’s not in the picture any more. We go to shul, we stay there all day. We don’t eat, we don’t drink. We’re like angels. We can contact our inner selves. It’s le mala min hateva, above nature. That’s when we can hear like the possuk said, “The still, small voice,” the consciousness, the awareness that wow, I’m alive. It’s the greatest miracle in the world that I can move my finger. What could be a greater miracle than I can see, a person can see, a person can hear, a person has consciousness, a person’s awake, a person’s aware, a person’s alive. What could be a greater miracle than that? A person has to ask himself, “What am I doing here? Why am I here? Why am I alive? How did I become alive? How did I get here?” If a person would go to sleep at night and he would wake up the next morning in a tent in the Sahara Desert, wouldn’t he get out of bed and say, “How did I get here?” The same thing in your own room. You wake up in the morning, modeh ani, thank you God, I’m alive, I’m here. What am I doing here? How did I get here? Who am I? These are the questions of Yom Kippur. Life! why am I alive?
Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that it’s these feelings that brings us to purity. You’ve got to hear this. He says in Masechta Yoma it says – there we’re dealing with all the laws of Yom Kippur. He explains the possuk, the possuk says, “Mikveh Yisroel Hashem,” Hashem is the mikveh of the Jewish people. Hashem purifies the Jewish people. What does the Sefer haChinuch say? The Sefer haChinuch says, “The reason why a mikveh purifies us is because it brings us back into the state of water.” We go into water, which is the original state of creation. We go back to our very beginnings, our creation. And by immersing ourselves in the mikveh, we go back to tohu ve vohu, we go back to before we were created. It’s those things that purify us. When we contact the reality, that we came out of nothing, yeish meayim, we’re not supposed to exist and we’re here and we exist, and we have chaim, that’s the thing that purifies us. Mikveh Yisroel Hashem. By connecting with Hashem and the fact that He created us, that’s what makes us pure.
I just want to end off with the Shem Mi Shmuel, he says like this. “Every person consists of three parts – the body, the soul and the intellect.” He wants to explain that the intellect is taken care of on Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the year is also rosh, it means the head, the head of the year. On Rosh Hashana we think about two days we’re spending contemplating that Hashem is the Melech, Hashem is the King. We’re directing our intellect to serve God. When do we take care of the soul? Yom Kippur. We bring kapparos. We shecht a chicken and we say, “bimkom,” instead of God-forbid, the person themselves, the chicken is going to slaughter, that it should be a soul for a soul. When do we refine our bodies? On the meal before Yom Kippur. That meal is a mitzvah, where we can demonstrate that eating can be for a holy purpose. Once we submitted our intellect, our body and our soul to Hashem, at that point we can enter into Yom Kippur with holiness, with a clear mind and the heavenly help to really contact the essence of life. And therefore, to come back to Hashem with a full heart, full of appreciation for life. And have charota that we should feel bad for our sins. How could we go against the Master of the Universe who gives us life? How is it possible? And with those two perceptions we will come back to be a true eved Hashem, a servant of the Creator.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff