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24 Ellul 5761 - September 12, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Behavior of Tzaddikim on Yom Kippur

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 water!"

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 wholeheartedly.

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 synagogue.

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 bowing down.

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 die?

At this moment, HaRav Yisroel would remember that he had a supply of pastries in the drawer next to his seat in the beis haknesses.

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 fellow man.

* * *

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 opportunity.

Our leader, the Ohr Yisroel, determined that it is worthwhile for a person to spend his whole life in order to save one Jewish soul.

* * *

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 heart?"

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 full.

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 person spiritually.

* * *

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 Forgiving.

* * *

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.

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