HaRav Yisroel of Salant zt"l said, "How great is the
mercy that HaKodosh Boruch Hu shows His creation! If we
had only experienced Yom Kippur once in seventy years, if we
had only received repentance and forgiveness for our sins and
wrongdoings at these rare occasions -- even then we would have
had cause for unbelievable joy and happiness! It would have
been a time of tremendous gratitude for the special
chessed that we experience from the One who is All
Merciful and Forgiving.
However, since we are blessed to encounter Yom Kippur every
year we should be overflowing with feelings of joy and elation
because of this chessed! Once a year Hashem has
bestowed on us a day of forgiveness and repentance -- "How
happy we are! How wonderful is our lot in life!"
* * *
How would you describe a robber? Human beings would portray
the man something like this: a towering, broad shouldered
fellow with bulging muscles and unkempt hair. He probably has
a coarse face, a booming voice and his eyes burn fiercely. In
his huge muscular hand he grips a double- edged sword. With a
blood curdling voice he roars, "Hands up! This is a robbery!
Empty your pockets and your purses! Open the safes and show me
all the treasures -- otherwise your blood will flow like
HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt"l opened our eyes to another
kind of robber. This thief has a pleasant and humble manner.
He speaks quietly and his behavior is modest. He prays to the
Creator of the world with the purest of intentions and with
sincere devotion, and he keeps the mitzvos of the Torah
However, on Yom Kippur, without noticing, he stands next to
the window of the synagogue. The synagogue is filled with
people, amongst whom are the old, the weak and the sick. While
he is davening with emotion and fervor, his body blocks
out the light and prevents the fresh air from entering the
This person is only aware of himself; his concern is that he
alone should benefit from the light and that the fresh air
should fill only his lungs. He is a person who does not
consider the needs of others, and so he is, in HaRav
Salanter's terms, a person who steals from the public.
* * *
Yom Kippur. The most intense moment of the holiest of days.
The soul is straining upward. The heart beats with fervor. The
soul of this man, who is wrapped in his tallis, is
filled with sorrow as he goes through a detailed process of
introspection and he prepares himself to bow down and
prostrate himself before the King of kings, HaKodosh Boruch
Hu. HaRav Yisroel Salanter warns that at this point a
person might become irritated with his neighbor for taking up
a tiny portion of the ground that he intended to use when
Exaltation of the soul means that one is obligated to lift
oneself above the small irritations that affect ones earthly
existence. Our mussar teachers understood the secret
workings of the heart and pointed out that it is more
agreeable for a person to bow down and prostrate himself
before the King of kings than it is to give anything at all to
his fellow man. When one is irritated with one's neighbor for
taking a little of his space, it could destroy all the efforts
he has invested in climbing the ladder of repentance.
On Yom Kippur, towards evening, the community prepares itself
to say the mincha prayer with deep fervor, and
thereafter to face the time when the gates are shut. It is a
time when a man's thoughts are concentrated on the sealing of
the awesome judgment and he musters all his forces for the
last efforts to repent earnestly and to pray more sincerely.
His heart trembles with panic before the sealing of the
judgment. Who will live, and who -- choliloh -- will
At this moment, HaRav Yisroel would remember that he had a
supply of pastries in the drawer next to his seat in the
As night approaches HaKodosh Boruch Hu places His seal
on the judgment. All the Heavenly army stands around -- to the
left and to the right, and every neshomoh stands before
the Throne to defend itself. Two mal'ochim stand with
their wings outstretched, each reaching from one end of the
world to the other. One counts those whose judgment is sealed
for death, the other counts those who will live, and Hashem
places His seal with Truth.
Until the time of the sealing, however, any individual can
repent. In these last moments, if he tears his heart asunder
with remorse, his repentance will be accepted.
At this time, what could HaRav Yisroel be doing looking
through his pile of cakes?
HaRav Yisroel's primary concern was for the well-being of any
person feeling weak -- someone who might possibly collapse due
to tiredness and the strain of fasting. He was prepared to
carry out the mitzvah of pikuach nefoshos at a moment's
notice, and to provide food for anyone who might find himself,
chas vesholom, in such a situation.
In his writings we find that when a man thinks about himself,
the neshomoh should always take precedence over the
body. On the other hand when relating to one's fellow man,
one's primary concern is for that person's physical needs.
This is because the other person's physical needs are the
responsibility of his own neshomoh. Our spiritual duty
is to concern ourselves with the physical well-being of our
* * *
Before every Yom Kippur in Kovna, the local commanding officer
would be approached in a bid to have the Jewish soldiers who
were billeted there, released from the army for Yom Kippur.
One Yom Kippur night, HaRav Yisroel found out that this had
been forgotten. He was greatly upset. It was decided that they
should daven at netz and approach the commanding
officer early in order to bring about the release of the
soldiers. HaRav Yisroel did not want to rely on others and so
he himself davened before the omud and shortened
the davening as much as possible in order to bring
about the release of the soldiers at the earliest
Our leader, the Ohr Yisroel, determined that it is worthwhile
for a person to spend his whole life in order to save one
* * *
The Chofetz Chaim used his drosho on Yom Kippur in
order to counsel his community on the subject of stealing.
Once, before Neilah, he gathered his students and
lectured to them for a full hour on this topic
This is what he said: You have all certainly repented fully
for those sins committed between yourselves and Hashem, and
have undertaken never to repeat them. However, sins between
man and his fellow are not forgiven on Yom Kippur unless a
person reconciles himself with his fellow man and requests
forgiveness directly from the person he has wronged.
Some of you might have borrowed money and forgotten to repay
it. The rule is that one is not forgiven until one has repaid
this. What should we do now? How can we declare at Neilah,
"We will cease from committing extortion?"
And now -- pay careful attention! Each of you must undertake
to examine your financial dealings and consider all financial
transactions that you might have had with others. If there is
a possibility that you have an unpaid debt, you must undertake
to repay it immediately. This undertaking has to be with one's
whole heart. Then it will be considered as if the person has
already carried it out, and we will thereby merit atonement on
the Day of Judgment.
The same reasoning prompted the Chofetz Chaim to try to change
the order of Tefilla Zakkoh. He felt that one should
first say the vidui concerning those matters that are
between man and his fellow man, and only afterwards one should
turn to the issues between man and Hashem. He was concerned
that there might be people who start to daven Kol
Nidrei and who do not manage to complete all of Tefilla
Zakkoh. The result would then be that the most important
part is left out -- the vidui dealing with man and his
fellow man, which only comes at the end.
On Yom Kippur we confess to "the sin which we committed before
You through confusion of the heart." What is "confusion of the
This is the explanation of the Alter of Kelm. Sometimes a
person is acquainted with someone wealthy. He has money and
many possessions, a house and beautiful furnishings. Servants
run to minister to his every need. Peace reigns in his home,
and tranquility surrounds him. A person might also see a
merchant, successfully carrying out his business ventures.
Many customers patronize his store and his till is always
The onlooker thinks to himself, "The wealthy man and the
successful merchant have it really good! This is the life!"
These thoughts strike poisonous roots in a man's heart and the
produce will be rotten to the core.
Therefore a person must strive, immediately and energetically,
to uproot these thoughts from his heart. "Confusion of the
heart" is the confusion brought about by not uprooting
thoughts of another person's financial status -- this is the
sin. An impression of wonder and amazement, which perhaps
seems to be meaningless, could -- choliloh -- break a
* * *
HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt"l used to say, "I thank Hashem
Yisborach for the fact that I was able to hear
mussar lectures from HaRav Yitzchok Blazer zt"l
when I learned in the Talmud Torah of Kelm. Those mussar
lectures totally changed my perspective on the Yomim
Noraim. The impression of the gathering, the content and
the emotion that it stirred in us remains engraved in our
hearts all our lives."
HaRav Eliyohu went on to describe how HaRav Itzele Peterburger
(HaRav Yitzchok Blazer) would be agitated and fearful on Rosh
Hashonoh, but when the holiest day, Yom Kippur, arrived he was
calm. HaRav Eliyohu explained that on Rosh Hashonoh we are
judged by the Heavenly Beis Din, made up of gedolei
hador who have passed away. They are part of this Beis
Din because they have come from our world, and relative to
them we do not function well.
This is not the case on Yom Kippur. Then we are judged by
HaKodosh Boruch Hu alone, and He is Merciful and
* * *
The elders of Yerushalayim used to tell that when HaRav
Yitzchok Blazer got up to deliver a mussar lecture
during the days of mercy and forgiveness, and he would say,
"All flesh melts in fear of You," the whole community burst
into tears. All were aware that the Gates of Repentance were
open. The sages of Jerusalem understood that HaRav Itzele's
words of mussar opened up the fountains of awe of
Heaven, which began to flow out strongly and anyone who wished
to do so was able to fill his jug.
* * *
On erev Yom Kippur HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt"l used
to speak about HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi -- the Beis Halevi --
from Brisk, who, on this day, used to recall the dinei
Torah and other matters that had been brought before him
throughout the year.
A student of HaRav Isser Zalman explained that one could feel
that he too conducted a detailed soul-searching into the
events of the year that had passed.
* * *
Every year on erev Yom Kippur HaRav Isser Zalman zt"l
would go into one of the rooms of his house and a bitter
weeping would come from the depths of terrible sorrow. This
crying lasted a full hour. His student, HaRav Yitzchok Epstein
zt"l felt that there was a special reason for this
shattering grief. He summoned all his courage and asked, "What
is the reason for this terrible sorrow?"
The Rosh Yeshiva answered that when he had served as rabbi of
Salochek he had given an unfortunate agunah a
heter to get married. He felt that the heter had
been given under duress due to the wretched circumstances that
faced the woman and afterwards he felt terrible remorse over
his decision to allow her to remarry.
Some time later the Rav and his student sat down and reviewed
the heter that the Rav had given to this poor woman,
and it became clear that the heter had been based on
solid ground. At last this tzaddik was able to face the
issue with serenity.