Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Ellul 5762 - September 4, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Becoming Tohor on Yom Kippur

by HaRav Mordechai Gifter

The Time of Our Tohoroh

Hashem gave yomim tovim to plant certain principles firmly within every Jew's nefesh -- the fundamental idea that each particular yom tov teaches us. Optimal observance of the yomim tovim also involves our knowing and understanding their principal message. The Anshei Knesses HaGedolah therefore laid down a fixed text of tefilloh for each yom tov according to its essence: Pesach, the time of our freedom; Shavuos, the time we were given the Torah; Succos, the time of our rejoicing; Rosh Hashonoh, the day for blowing the shofar; Yom Kippur, a day dedicated to atonement and forgiveness (mechiloh, selichoh, kaporoh).

The basis for asserting that Yom Kippur's essence is a day of atonement and forgiveness is an explicit posuk: "For on this day He will be mechapeir you, to be metaheir you, that you may be tohor from all your sins before Hashem" (Vayikra 16:30). The Torah determined very clearly that Yom Kippur's avodas hayom -- the prohibition to do melochos and our obligation to fast -- has one central point: the power of kaporoh embodied in that day which brings about tohoroh.

Fulfilling the obligatory mitzvos of any yom tov helps us to entrench within ourselves the fundamental principle that yom tov teaches. It is consequently quite reasonable that someone who makes an explicit, conscious effort to instill the principle within himself performs a different avodoh altogether from someone who does not have this in mind. The first person's fulfillment of the yom tov's mitzvos has a different content from that of someone who does the mitzvos without knowledge of their objective.

This is our avodoh on Yom Kippur: aiming at the objective, which is atonement and forgiveness. Doing the mitzvos of Yom Kippur while we are guided by that aim makes kaporoh become a kinyan in our soul. This is, of course, dependent upon the individual effort a person puts into doing the mitzvos of Yom Kippur.

Indeed, when we carefully examine the essence of Yom Kippur we realize that the Torah has established a special level of kaporoh: the level of tohoroh --"For on that day He will be mechapeir you, to be metaheir you, that you may be tohor from all your sins before Hashem." On Yom Kippur we do teshuvoh and say vidui, and when the Beis Hamikdosh is built we will also carry out the avodas hayom of korbonos and ketores in the Beis Hamikdash. What tohoroh is referred to? How will we be zocheh to it through our special spiritual efforts on Yom Kippur?

Actually, R' Pinchas ben Yo'ir has already laid out an exact blueprint for man's duty on earth: "Torah leads to cautiousness . . . perishus (abstinence) leads to tohoroh . . .." (Avodoh Zorah 20b). HaRav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal, in Mesillas Yeshorim) spells out at length every detail of the fulfillment of this beraissa. In Chapter Fifteen he explains: "Tohoroh mends the heart and thoughts . . . Its substance is that man should not allow the yetzer any control over what he does. All that he does should be by virtue of his intelligence and yirah and not caused by his sin or his desires. This refers even to physical and material acts done while acting with perishus. Even the person who only takes from this world what is absolutely necessary, still needs to be metaheir his heart and thoughts. Even in the little that he does take, he should not intend to derive enjoyment from it or to fulfill his desires. He should aim for the good resulting from that act -- wisdom and avodas Hashem."

In Chapter Seventeen the Mesillas Yeshorim adds: "He should not follow his yetzer in any act whatsoever. All his material acts should be as if forced upon him by someone else."

The Ramchal is instructing us that the way to be metaheir ourselves is to allow wisdom to guide our deeds. When dealing with any material matter that a person is forced to deal with, he must feel that all the enjoyment he derives has been forced upon him. This feeling will free him from the yetzer's influence.

The objective of Yom Kippur, the day of fasting, is this type of tohoroh. Its essence is freeing man from imprisonment within his yetzer and material desires.

Not Only a Taanis, A Shevisah

The Rambam (Hilchos Shevisas Osor 1:4) writes: "There is another positive mitzvah on Yom Kippur. It is to make a shevisah (to refrain) from eating and drinking, as is written, `In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls' (Vayikra 16:29)." The mitzvah is not to fast or afflict ourselves through fasting. The mitzvah is a shevisah from eating and drinking.

The Rambam inferred this definition of the mitzvah from the gemora (Yoma 74a): "From where do we know that one may not wash on Yom Kippur? . . . `It shall be a shabbos shabboson to you' (Vayikra 16:31)."

See Rashi (Yoma 74a, s.v. Shabboson), who learns that just as Rabbonon (with regard to Shabbos) included other melochos that were not done in the Mishkan and some which are even not full melochos, in an asmachta from the word "shabboson" which is written in connection with melochos of Shabbos, so too the "shabboson" written in reference to inui (affliction) on Yom Kippur comes to add other limitations to the basic inui of not eating and drinking.

The Rambam (2:5) learns differently: "We discern from our tradition that it is prohibited to wash . . . and it is a mitzvah to abstain from all these just as we abstain from eating and drinking, as is written, "shabbos shabboson" in reference to eating, and "shabboson" in reference to these matters."

The essence of inui is abstaining from these types of pleasure. Since, as mentioned above, the objective of Yom Kippur is freeing man from being a prisoner of his yetzer and of his material desires, Hashem decreed that on this day we should abstain from all types of material pleasures. In that way man will be liberated from his lusts and will live solely according to wisdom's radiance.

The duty to fast on Yom Kippur is not like the duty to fast on other fast days. On regular fast days we fast because of tragedies that happened on those days. We must feel grief about what happened and our suffering during the fast should compel us to return to Hashem.

On Yom Kippur the reason we fast is not because we should be in a state of inui, but we must have a shevisah.

On Shabbos and yom tov it is forbidden to fast, since a person is forbidden to afflict himself on a day when the Torah requires him to enjoy himself and to be engulfed in simchah. The source of our obligation to fast on Yom Kippur is the necessity to be in a state of shevisah, which is our need to emerge from confinement by the pleasures of eating.

It is by fasting that a Jew fulfills the essence of this yom tov. We learn this from the Mishnah (Taanis 4): "Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: `There were no yomim tovim for Yisroel like the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.' " The gemora (Taanis 30b) comments: "We understand [why] Yom Kippur [is such a special yom tov]: because it is a day of selichoh and mechiloh." The selichoh and mechiloh is achieved through fasting -- freeing ourselves from the yetzer -- and that is the essence of the yom tov of Yom Kippur. Accordingly, fasting on Yom Kippur does not contradict its essence.

Compared to Mal'ochim

On Yom Kippur we are obligated to bring a so'ir to Azozeil. See the Ramban (Parshas Acharei Mos, Vayikra 16:8), who explains that the so'ir to Azozeil is a "bribe to the Soton" -- to the power of evil and destruction in the world. Although with our feeble powers we cannot understand what this bribe is (the Ramban concludes that "he cannot explain this secret to us"), nevertheless we can learn from this that on Yom Kippur we must remove ourselves from any contact with the Soton. We must emerge from his prison on this holy day. On this day the Soton does not have the power to denounce us.

We learn in Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer (chap. 46, cited in the Ramban) that when the Soton saw that Yisroel did not have any sins on Yom Kippur he said before HaKodosh Boruch Hu: "Master of the World! You have one people in the world who are like mal'achei hashoreis in heaven. Just as mal'achei hashoreis go barefoot, just as mal'achei hashoreis do not eat or drink, so are Yisroel . . ."

We see that the point of the fast on Yom Kippur is to make ourselves like mal'achei hashoreis, and not to torment our bodies. On this day we fulfill Hashem's avodoh by going out of the prison of nature and entering the world of mal'ochim who have no need or even possibility of physical pleasures.

To the degree that a person is privileged to fulfill the avodoh of Yom Kippur, so is he freed from the burden of the yetzer, from the yoke of the Soton. He escapes from his net. There is no Jew in the world who, as long as he does not chas vesholom deny Yom Kippur, will not in some measure be released from the Soton's control on this holy day. We must utilize this opportunity, given us through Hashem's chesed and goodness, to fulfill the special mitzvos of this day as much as possible. We must exert ourselves to the utmost to internalize the segulah of tohoroh -- the root of this holy day.

Eating on Erev Yom Kippur: An Integral Part of the Mitzvah of Tohoroh

Since tohoroh is the basis of Yom Kippur, the preparation for this day is more meaningful than that of other yomim tovim. Chazal infer from the posuk, "And you shall inflict your souls on the ninth of the month" (Vayikra 23:30) the lesson, "Do we fast on the ninth? Do we not fast on the tenth? This teaches that someone who eats and drinks on the ninth is considered as if he has fasted on the ninth and the tenth" (Yoma 81b).

The Meiri (Chibur HaTeshuvah, p. 440) explains that a person eats on erev Yom Kippur to prepare his body for the tenth of Tishrei so that on Yom Kippur it will be completely free from physical needs, and thus he will not need to use his body for anything except avodas Hashem and perfecting his soul. The implication is that pursuing even pleasure for the sake of a worthy goal can bring us what we seek.

The upshot is that the preparation for Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur itself both aid in perfecting one's soul, according to the efforts he invests at both these times. That is what is meant by "as if he fasted on the ninth and on the tenth." Since the aim of the fast on the tenth [of Tishrei] is fleeing from materialism's prison, a person should accordingly act in advance to satisfy his physical needs. This type of behavior is an integral part of the mitzvah of tohoroh. It is not like other preparations for a mitzvah, that are not part of the mitzvah itself. (See Orach Chaim 604:1 in the Ramo, Mogen Avrohom 1, and Taz 2).

Making the Impression Remain for the Whole Year

The aim of all yomim tovim is to make an impression that will remain after the yom tov has passed. We must spread the tohoroh we have gained during these yomim tovim throughout our lives. It is said in the name of HaRav Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the mussar movement, that on motzei Yom Kippur a person's avodoh begins, to prepare himself for next Yom Kippur!

HaRav Hai Gaon wrote that "he had not found a reason to assert that our blowing the shofar after ne'ilah is obligatory . . . . Perhaps its purpose is to confuse the Soton." The Meiri (Chibur HaTeshuvah, p. 532) explains that HaRav Hai Gaon means that "these yomim tovim . . . were not given only to cleanse ourselves while they last, and then afterwards we forget our yirah and teshuvoh. Our thoughts should always remain pure and clean. We should listen carefully to the shofar, as we did at the beginning, and should continue to concentrate only on avodas Hashem in everything we do. Our initial intentions during these yomim tovim should be aimed at the ultimate objectives to be reached. When we finish we should have the same intentions we had at the very beginning; there should be neither beginning nor end to these intentions."

How marvelous! We want to confuse the Soton, not to let the yetzer within us gain control after we have reached the tohoroh of Yom Kippur. With the blowing of the shofar we confuse the Soton and encourage ourselves to act with tohoroh throughout our lives, although we are firmly attached to crude physical reality.

This is an extremely difficult avodoh. The difficulty is not only that it is a war with the yetzer. There is an added difficulty because man's neshomoh and body are firmly connected. This naturally requires that whatever he does for the neshomoh must be done with his body.

Man is made up of body and nefesh, and no ma'alah in a person's nefesh can remain implanted unless it is connected with and passed through his senses. Every ma'alah of the nefesh must take on some physical form. Even the pleasure of elevated wisdom, with all its refinement, must be felt by man's senses if he is to really grasp it.

Even when a person's neshomoh ascends to a new level, or when the essence of his material being becomes more refined, it still remains material. Man in this world can never be entirely spiritually pristine; he is always somewhat mixed with the material. All of the most uplifted spiritual pleasures are sensed by the body, and actually we have no notion of any completely pure spiritual pleasure. About this is written, "Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, Elokim, besides You, what You will do for him that waits for Him" (Yeshaya 64:3). This is not an insignificant difference. It is definitely a crucial distinction. The future pleasure is not in accordance with our essential nature in this world. All of our present concepts and feelings are concepts drawn from this world.

It is man's avodoh to focus all that he does solely on acting for Hashem's sake. He must be careful that all of his beliefs, convictions, and feelings about spiritual matters will not become materialistic. This is liable to happen since, as mentioned before, all lofty ideas must be sensed by the body.

Actually this is man's avodoh of tohoroh. Yom Kippur is, one day in the year on which HaKodosh Boruch Hu did a chesed for His creatures and granted them an abundant source of tohoroh on the most sublime level obtainable by a human being. Someone who puts aside all his physical demands, puts himself in the best possible position to become like a mal'och. He should then draw strength from that blessed state of spiritual heights so as to elevate his life during the whole year.

Who Can Claim to Have Purified Himself?

Since we have discussed tohoroh -- the foundation of Yom Kippur -- let us look at the entire life cycle of man. Our world is one of falsehood, accompanied by ever-increasing wickedness. "The fool has said in his heart, `There is no Elokim'" (Tehillim 14:1). Today fools do not only deny Hashem's presence silently: they do so loudly and publicly. There was never such a generation of deceit. How great a vacuum, left by the Shechinah's absence, there is among Jews! "He blesses himself in his heart, saying, `I shall have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart'" (Devorim 23:18). People are not worried any more about tomorrow. Even bnei Torah, who live according to a different value system, the people of the Torah World, are still far from tohoroh.

How immersed we are in the yetzer's falsehood. We are all more or less ensnared in lust's web. Who can say that he is unstained by any wrongdoing? A discerning person realizes that our life exemplifies the saying, "Their tears are their drink and their sighs are their bread" (a pizmon of erev Yom Kippur).

Besides the regular reflections that we should make during the entire period of teshuvoh, Yom Kippur obligates us to think again into what we do. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvoh 2:7) writes: "Yom Kippur is a time of teshuvoh for everyone: for individuals and the public in general. It is the climax of mechiloh and selichoh for Yisroel. We must therefore do teshuvoh and confess on Yom Kippur."

The Rambam has taught us that there is a particular mitzvah of teshuvoh on Yom Kippur. We have now learned the source and reason for this mitzvah. Since this day is in essence designated for teshuvoh, of itself it requires man to do teshuvoh. This is the plain meaning of the posuk, "For on that day He will be mechapeir you, to be metaheir you," and therefore "you will be tohor from all your sins before Hashem." (At the present I do not know of any direct source for this ruling of the Rambam's.)

This halocho is frightening! Therefore, even if we have failed to do teshuvoh during the whole year, how can we not do teshuvoh on Yom Kippur? On that day an intense radiance is unveiled to our sight, and an abundance of kaporoh is bestowed upon us. This tremendous brilliance surely makes us into a "vessel full of shame and humiliation." Our having departed from Hashem is a source of great humiliation, from which we cannot find any refuge. It fills our life's vacuum.

The "therefore" of the Rambam rebukes us and says to us: "Repent! Let us accept on ourselves the intense kedushah of the day. Let us become tohor before Hashem!"

HaRav Mordechai Gifter zt"l was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telz in Cleveland, Ohio.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.