Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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27 Ellul 5760 - September 27, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Imagination and Reality on Yom HaKippurim

by HaRav Y. D. Rosenberg

"If only Yom Kippur's influence on us would last until we walk out of shul on motzei Yom Kippur!" This saying, this clear-cut diagnosis, by Maran HaRav Yisroel of Salant ztvk'l, the founder of the mussar movement, about the extent to which Yom Kippur changes our daily behavior, seems to indicate that its influence is insignificant.

Although surely distressing, this saying does present us with the right prospective. Actually, anyone who studies mussar clearly sees how that activity acts like a mirror to reflect all of our minor and major faults, focuses an intense beam of light on all we do, and distances us from the unrealistic ideas that we tend to cling to, from the illusions that warp our view of ourselves and others.

How should we study mussar? The answer to this can be illustrated with a moshol:

During the dreadful European Holocaust, a certain Jew who wanted to escape a bitter fate decided that the best way to do so was to appear as a full- fledged Christian. He sat near the entrance of the local church together with the non-Jews. Afterwards he began to fear that someone might expose him, so he reasoned that his best bet was to go to work as the priest's helper. Surely, he reasoned, no one would think that a Jew was the priest's helper.

That particular priest had a plot of land on which he grew various vegetables. The Jew's job, among others, was to bring the produce to the city's marketplace and to sell it for the highest price. One day when traveling to the marketplace with the wagon loaded to overflowing with various vegetables, the Jew noticed a group of hapless Jewish slave workers being led by their Nazi oppressors. A brilliant idea flashed through his head. He jumped on to his wagon and began pelting the slave workers with everything he could get his hands on. He threw tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and any other vegetables he could find in the wagon.

At first the unfortunate Jews stared angrily to see who was so cruelly hurling vegetables at them. However, it did not take long for these Jews to figure out what to do. It was no time to be insulted; those vegetables were invaluable for their survival and that of their families. The Jews immediately began gathering the vegetables as quickly as possible.

An intelligent ben Torah will only initially be dismayed when caustic mussar rebukes that shake the most refined chords of a person's heart are hurled at him. These astute individuals quickly come to their senses and grasp that these reprimands are truly the most precious items of all. Mussar sustains the nefesh and acts as a salve for the neshomo. A yerei shomayim grasps these invaluable treasures firmly and stores them for use at the correct time.

Maran R' Yisroel of Salant intended to sharpen the awareness of what is our real spiritual situation on motzei Yom Kippur. Just a few minutes ago we cried out from the depths of our heart, "Seal all the children of Your covenant for a good life." Seven times we proclaimed wholeheartedly, "Hashem is the Elokim!" blew the shofar, and reached the summit of the spiritual.

Yom Kippur is the climax of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and Ne'ilah is the climax of Yom Kippur (Mishnah Berurah 623:3). For ten days, two hundred and forty hours, we have prepared ourselves for Ne'ilah. After reaching its zenith we conclude with Kaddish and immediately afterward start ma'ariv by saying, "Vehu rachum yechapeir ovon -- He, the merciful One, is forgiving of iniquity."

What iniquity are we referring to? Did Hashem not forgive us on Yom Kippur for our aveiros? Would it not have been more fitting to say "Vehu rachum" on the night of Kol Nidrei, when we are beginning to ask for forgiveness and atonement?

Imagination clouds our spiritual senses and misleads a person into thinking that on motzei Yom Kippur he has reached his highest possible level of ruchniyus. Thinking that way is a grave mistake, and R' Yisroel helps us penetrate this dense cloud of falsehood. This particular mistake is rooted in our renewed connection with gashmiyus on motzei Yom Kippur. At that time, after having fasted for an entire day, we imagine we have reached the most sublime level we are capable of.

The truth is that on the night of Yom Kippur, although we ate a full meal at the seuda hamafsekes, we are ready to start our exhausting avoda of Yom Kippur and to pour our hearts in tefillah to the Creator. We realize that our entire fate is being weighed; we are determined to make only virtuous things our goals; we focus our senses on kodesh; we are occupied only with what is sacred, with the purest of thoughts: we are then on the highest level of doing our Creator's will.

On motzei Yom Kippur we head toward chullin, regular profane life, and towards breaking our fast. The sword has been removed from our neck and we again return to our trough, to our small village. We should not deceive ourselves. This is the reality of life. It is time to say, "Vehu rachum yechapeir ovon."

Our original question has become intensified. What purpose is there in afflicting ourselves during Yom Kippur when its effects are minimal and our imagination once again rules over our senses?

Before we attempt to disperse the foggy obscurities that we have discerned just now, let us broaden our knowledge by examining what our Sages have taught us so we can arrive at the truth of the matter.

The Torah specifies our obligation to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur: "You shall afflict your souls" (Vayikro 23:27). Although the meaning of these words seems obvious, their real meaning is far from simple.

We are unaware of what "afflicting our souls" actually is. The gemora (Yoma 74b) considers several types of affliction -- such as sitting under the scorching hot sun or outside during a chilly cold night -- and finally proves that the posuk refers to afflicting ourselves through fasting.

This is surely amazing. Why didn't the Torah just tell us not to eat on Yom Kippur?

Furthermore, we must understand what exactly afflicting a soul is and how it is done.

The Ksav VeKabboloh writes that "afflicting the soul" alludes to purging impurities that emerge from the nefesh: sinful, unworthy thoughts that cause chato'im and spiritual diseases (see Yoma 74b and the Tosafos Yeshonim, ibid.). When it comes to afflicting our bodies through fasting, we are lenient if mortal danger arrives; but we are never lenient in cases where unworthy thoughts of arayos are involved (Sanhedrin 75a). The Torah hints to us when it writes "you shall afflict your souls" that we should distance ourselves from unworthy physical desires. This is a prerequisite to any form of teshuvah and coming nearer to Hashem.

Our chachomim explain at length that it is easy for a person to afflict his body by refraining from eating, since the stomach is not an organ that controls irresistible desires and lusts.

On the other hand, what a person sees with his eyes is the greatest stimulant for sin. Man's eyes wander on all sides. The natural process prompting man to sin is quite clear: the heart and the eyes are like the body's spies and act as middlemen for the aveiros. "The eyes see, the heart craves, and the body carries out the aveiros" (Rashi, Bamidbar 15:39). Many statements of Chazal's run in the same vein: it is more difficult to "starve" the eyes than the stomach, but this starving is a must, an essential requirement for any spiritual achievement.

"Starving" the ears from hearing anything improper is many times more valuable than starving the stomach. "Starving" the mouth from talking what is forbidden is invaluable. We imagine that by our starving the stomach, through our fasting, we atone for our aveiros.

Our avoda of Yom Kippur is actually a process of severing ourselves from the Satan. In gematria the word hasoton (hey 5, shin 300, tes 9, nun 50) has the numerical value of three hundred and sixty four, but a solar year is one day more: three hundred and sixty five days. On one day in the year the Soton has no control over us and that is on Yom Kippur (Yoma 20a). Maran HaRav Dessler zt'l explains that in reality there is a yetzer hora on Yom Kippur, but it is the yetzer hora that man has acquired for himself during the whole year. It is his "private" yetzer.

Man's thoughts are of paramount importance. These thoughts are his highest spiritual point of success or failure. "Hirhurim of aveiros are more devastating than aveiros" (Yoma 29a). Although abstract thought does not use tangible tools, these thoughts come directly from the nefesh.

Thoughts on Yom Kippur night stem from man's power of kedusha and likewise have a direct effect on kedusha. The stomach that is loaded with food does not determine a person's spiritual level that night. Rather, imagination based on our spiritual state dresses itself with sacred values.

On motzei Yom Kippur imagination drapes itself over the physical--the vapors wafting from coffee, the sweet piece of cake waiting at home.

A person's imagination begins working on Yom Kippur afternoon, when his stomach, which is accustomed to eating at a certain hour, starts complaining. Man's imagination rules his thoughts. This sublime imagination, which should be used for limitless spiritual goals, instead begins to calculate the hours left until the end of the fast. What has happened is that the head serves the stomach.

How will staring longingly at his watch every half an hour, or even every hour, help a person? asks the Yesod VeShoresh HoAvodah. Will the time pass any sooner because of his impatience? Is our imagination not taking control over us?

On the contrary, writes the tzaddik, a person should delight in every moment he has. Although this is self- evident, a thing whose truth is not doubted, only a select few really internalize it. With those precious moments on Yom Kippur man can attain additional heights in ruchniyus, change his future, overcome his tendency to sink into illusions, and repel yet another lowly physical desire. Everything depends on the longings for ruchniyus that he entertains on that sacred day, Yom Kippur.

HaRav E. E. Dessler z'l writes that by increasing this desire for spiritual achievement on Yom Kippur a person acquires eternal wealth for his nefesh. This is our main goal on Yom Kippur: taking advantage of the day on which one's imagination does not function as strongly as usual and on which one can release himself from its strong hold.

The wonderful experience of severing oneself from earthly desires, peering beyond the reach of imagination, gazing down from a spiritual height and surveying earthly reality from the summit of clinging to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, must leave more or less of an impression on man. Naturally, how much a person changes because of this depends upon himself. According to the degree that he feels the Satan's power neutralized on this day, how much he distances himself from his previous tainted habits, can he continue to advance in avodas Hashem.

How wonderful is the world of chassidim and tzaddikim! These true yirei Hashem, those who cling to Hashem and sense how He conducts the world, those who see Hashem's hand at every step and guide their acts according to this sublime revelation, those who are careful not to do anything that comes even near to an aveira because of their fear of Hashem's majesty, which is revealed throughout their life, live prosperously.

May it be that we shall be a head and not a tail." We do not know the full essence of this tefillah, this request tendered to Hashem, the siman of this yehi rotzon. According to the above, however, we can understand it as follows: The head must lead the tail and not the opposite. The head and the tail of an animal are perched at the same level. The beast's stomach and intestines are on a straight line with its head, teaching us that they are the same. No difference exists between an animal's head, stomach, intestines, and tail.

A human being, however, stands on his two legs. His head is above and all other organs are underneath. A person's head, his thoughts and powers of reasoning, must activate the stomach and intestines according to the needs of the head: the Divine part of man.

Yom Kippur is a day when the Divine rules over the physical, the ruchani over the gashmi; and from this day each person will, according to his capability, draw spiritual nourishment for accomplishments for the coming year.

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