B’’SDתזכו לשנים רבות נעימות וטובות
As we approach Yom Kippur, I think one of our first reactions is that of fear, which is natural. But think about it, what exactly are we afraid of? The sins of our past? They already happened; fear won’t erase them. A fear of punishment? HaKadosh Barukh Hu never wants to hurt us! That can’t be it either. I think what we fear most is not living up to our potential, of not seizing everything we could possibly have if only we apply ourselves. We fear we are missing out on blessings and opportunities rightfully due to us. What we must realize however is that it all depends, not only on Ribono Shel Olam, but it also depends on US. This is the message of Yom Kippur. Who are you now and who are you capable of being? Look deep inside yourself and answer this question honestly, is there a big discrepancy between the two?
The Hovot HaLevavot relays to us a story about a victorious general coming back from war, finally conquering the world known to him. He is escorted back with much celebration and acclaim. Within the masses of the people ushering him back home, a wise man exclaims to the general, ‘Now that you have finished with the small war, get ready for the big war!’ Confused, the general responds, ‘Forgive me, but what big war could you possibly be speaking about?’ After all, he just defeated an entire country at war, the world was his! The man looks at him sympathetically and answers, ‘My son, I am speaking about the battle with yourself’. At times, we can be our own enemies. This is our war. From our victory emerges our best self. The stronger the battle, the more pronounced the victory.
Notice, if no battle takes place, can there be a victory? If no loss is incurred, can we appreciate gain? If there is no struggle, then from where will results yield? They do not happen on their own; there must be a catalyst by which change can take place. For us, that catalyst is our mistakes and sins. The sins we commit are not meant to bring us down, we were programmed to stumble over them here and there. Instead, they become a medium by which to grow. We shouldn’t stumble over our sins, instead, when we encounter them, we should stop and then step up on top of them to raise us so that we can stand at a place higher than we once stood before we sinned. Our sins are not a stumbling block, they are a stepping block. It is true that the inherent sin is detrimental to a human being, but the nature of sinning and repenting is a beneficial one. Sins are a vessel we can use to facilitate our growth. Not only do we correct our sins but we used them to become better than we once were. By taking a pause every now and then to reassess ourselves, we can realize what we did wrong and not only fix them but use them as a springboard to reach places higher than before. If we were not to sin, would we ever take that pause? Would we even stop to consider how we can become the greater people we ought to be? In order to pick oneself up, one must have fallen first.
This is why we read about the Asarah Harugei Malkhut, The Ten Martyrs, on Yom Kippur. One would think it imperative to read about the lives of these ten Sadikim to be inspired by their accomplishments, not about their gruesome deaths. Wouldn’t we be discouraged that such great men were subject to such suffering? These holy people are remembered for the hardships they endured. This was their call to greatness. Their tests and challenges are exactly what made them so great, not only their good deeds and knowledge of Torah. They exemplified steadfast dedication in the face of persecution. Despite the fact that Rabbi Akiva was having his skin raked off with iron combs, he was able to declare Shema Yisrael to the world. If Rabbi Akiva was not brought to a death like such, would he be able to truly proclaim and genuinely FEEL HaShem’s unity as effectively? If we are not challenged, then through what else can our potential become actualized? You tell me.
Yom Kippur is a time to reassess ourselves and engages in deep introspection in order to become the greatest person we could possibly be. We have the power. What a waste not to use our full capabilities. If the king were to walk up to you and tell you directly, you have 120 minutes to walk into his treasury and take anything your heart desires, would you not run in immediately and fervently collect the most valuable objects in the room. Would you not make the best of those 120 minutes? You would certainly not stand there staring at the walls, nor would you stroll around at your own leisure picking up a few treasures as you go along. You would try your hardest to collect everything in the room because you KNOW you could have more that what you currently hold. You could have it all! It just depends on how much effort you put in. If you walked out after those two hours knowing the room was still three quarters full, would you not feel remorse knowing you did not taking everything there. It could have ALL been rightfully YOURS! But you were too amused by the splendor of the room, the magnificence of tapestry and the handsome molding on the windows to make the best of your time there. We are given 120 years in this world. HaShem’s treasury is open; we can take anything we want. Will you storm through the treasury doors rushing in to collect everything that rightfully belongs to you, making the best of your time here or will you be too distracted by the world’s tapestries and furnishing to realize what you could potentially have? Haval. Don’t let it go to waste.
So how do we make the best of who we are? How do we reach the peak of our potential? We must push ourselves a little more in our avodat HaShem. Rabbi Nahman teaches us that we must inspect ourselves deeply through a meditation known as hitbodedut in order to determine where we could work on more in order to become a better person. Perhaps this is why HaKadosh Barukh Hu had Yonah isolated in the whale’s innards for three days. In order so that he would look inside himself so that he could reach the level of Teshuba he needed to become not only a better individual, but somebody that would bring an entire city to do Teshuba. And that is exactly what he did. There is a reason why we read Sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur.
To become our ideal selves we must implement change. We must CHANGE our nature. Why?
Because if we change our nature, nature will change for us. If a person is given an ultimatum to either worship avodah zara (has ve’halilah) or to die on Kiddush HaShem and they choose to make a Kiddush HaShem, there are two ways this can happen. Rashi tells us that if person decides to give his life up for HaKadosh Barukh Hu and does not expect miracle, a miracle can and WILL happen to save him. But, the individual willing to die on Kiddush HaShem but is relying on a miracle to save him, is not granted one. The Avnei Nezer asks the fundamental question: WHY? Look at the Emunah the second person has! Surely they are deserving of divine salvation! Why is the first person, who the thought of a miracle does not even cross his mind, deserve the very miracle he neglects to seek? The Avnei Nezer enlightens us with the answer that will define our task this Yom Kippur and BeSiyata DiShemaya for every day to follow. He tells us, the reason why the first person is given a nes when he does not even ask for one is because he changed his nature for HaShem Yitbarakh. It is human nature to want to live. We do anything we can to maximize our health and lengthen our lives. This individual overlooked his innate nature to want to live and offered to go against it in order to serve HaShem. He changed his nature….and HaShem changed nature for him.
As long as we are willing to change our nature, HaKadosh Barukh can change nature and take away our sins even if we are not deserving of this Mercy! We must realize that every day is a FRESH day, we can start NEW, as long as we have this willingness to CHANGE OUR NATURE FOR HASHEM YITBARAKH.
Menashe haMelekh was one of the three kings banned from Olam Haba because he placed an idol in Hekhal HaKodesh in the Beit HaMikdash. He is known to be one of the biggest resha’im that ever lived. Near the end of his life, he finally wants to do Teshuba, but midat hadin (divine attribute of judgment) is blocking his Teshuba, and he is still denied access to Olam Haba. Seeing that his Teshuba is hearfelt, HaShem Yitbarakh makes and opening under Kiseh HaKavod (HaShem’s throne) and creates an escape route for Menashe haMelekh to enter Olam Haba and no angel could say anything. Even a person as wicked and lowly as him was able to enter Olam Haba for the reason that he changed his nature. Because Menashe HaMelekh changed his nature, Ribono Shel Olam changes nature for him.
There was once a Mashgiah on outskirts of Yerushalaim, who worked at a café by gas station owned by religious Jew. Each day, he works very hard to make minyan in order to daven. One day there is an intense heat wave in Yerushalayim and he was only able to muster nine people, he could not find a tenth. As people began to leave, he begged them to stay and ran out to the highway to find that tenth partner to recruit to the minyan. All of sudden, he spots a secular looking young man, his sleeves cut out, in baggy shorts and asks him to join the minyan. ‘What is a minyan?’ asks the young man. The Mashgiah begins to explain. The man says ‘That is very nice, but I don’t know how to pray. I have never prayed before in my life.’ The Mashgiah assures him that he could daven in any language he feels comfortable with as long as he answers Amen. ‘I don’t have a kippa.’ ‘I’ll give you mine.’ ‘I’m too embarrassed….’ Until finally, the Mashgiah is able to convince this young man to join the minyan. The man enters the room and stands quietly in the back. Just as the hazan begins to say Ashrei, a Hassid walks into the room as the eleventh member of the minyan and this young man is off the hook. He leaves the room without even having to pray.
Ten years later, the Mashgiah has a dream where the young man comes to him to thank him. ‘They gave me permission in sShamayim to come down just to thank you’. This young man had left the world beforehand and in Shamayim they asked him, what zekhuyot (merits) do you have? None. As he us being sentenced, a fiery angel intercedes and says, this man actually has ONE zekhut. He once went against his nature to join a minyan and is deserving to live hayei Olam Haba! Beit din shel maalah (heavenly court) considers this and rules for this man to enter Olam Haba. Hasdei HaShem! This Young man had none but on ONE zekhut in his entire life. He never once prayed in a minyan. But only because he was willing to change his nature did he deserve Olam Haba, he didn’t even have to daven!! JUST LOOK AT THE POWER OF ONE SIMPLE CHANGE!
We have more power than we know. The Avnei Nezer calls it kohot ne’elamim, hidden powers. These are powers we don’t even know we had. We can only activate them through realization initiated by our willingness to overcome sin and fix our mistakes, the willingness to change ourselves. Don’t let these powers lay dormant.
Rabbi Lander shlita explains to us that there are two elements to Yom Kippur; Kappara and Tehara (purification). Even though our accounts may technically be cleared, are we as people purified?? Are we a changed person? Yom Kippur is not only about replacing each sin we did with a missva, it is not a system of withdrawals and deposits. It is a cleansing of the self. Teshuba has the power of an intrinsic change in the human, not just the extrinsic concept of reward and punishment. On Yom Kippur we ask to be forgiven for sins we did by coercion, sins we were forced to do. Why? We are not legally held accountable for these things. Why is it considered a sin? BECAUSE YOM KIPPUR IS NOT ONLY ABOUT A LEGAL CLEARING, IT IS ABOUT THE PURIFICATION OF THE SELF. Although we do not pay legally for these actions, we are spiritually damaged by them and must beg forgiveness.
We can better internalize this concept with a powerful story. There is a story of a boy who did not respect his parents at all Rahmana LiSlan. One day he began to understand the severity of his behavior and expressed remorse for his actions. He was told that every time he disrespects his parents, he should hammer a nail into the wall. And so he did. One nail, two nails, three nails, forty nails….Until he began to feel terrible and wished to change. He told himself, every time I do something positive for my parents, I will take a nail out. Finally, after some time and some deep Teshuba, this boy is able to pull every nail out of the wall. He is elated with joy, ‘Look! I restored the harm I caused my parents. I fixed the problem. Good as new!’ His elders told him, ‘Look again my son, for the holes you have created in the wall still remain’. Even though this boy cleared his account, there was still an effect his actions caused that could not be repaired. The damage was done. The only way to fix this wall is to replace it completely, to CHANGE it. And so, this is how we stand at Yom Kippur. Maybe we have cleared our account balance, but have we really purified ourselves? Do we still have residual ‘holes’ in our Neshama? On Yom Kippur, not only do we pray for Kappara, but we also pray for Tehara; ‘Lifnei HaShem Titharu’, you will be purified before HaShem.
Be’ezrat HaShem Yitbarakh this Yom Kippur, may we all be zokhim not only to attain a full Kappara but also to be purified by HaKadosh Barukh Hu with lucid Tahara in order to serve Him wholeheartedly. May we each be blessed with the clarity and will to change our nature in order to become the best people we can possibly be and to inspire others by doing so. May this year and every year be one of spiritual growth and closeness to HaShem and may He bless us with every Berakha there is be’Shefa u’be’Nahat. May HaShem answer all our Tefillot letova. Wishing everybody a meaningful and fulfilling Yom Kippur!
Gemar Hatima Tova and Shana Tova uMevorekhet! May we be zokhe to bring Mashiah this year, Amen!
Insights from shiurim and sihot with Rabbi Herzfeld, Rabbi Lander, Rabbi Goldwasser, Rav Lazer Brody, and Rebi Mori: Rebbi Abba with help from none other than the one and only, HaKadosh Barukh Hu.