Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Yom Kippur - יום כפור

I have two Divrei Torah today, but neither of them is actually restricted to Yom Kippur itself. I hope you enjoy them.

The first D'var Torah is sourced from the שפת אמת. On the day preceding Yom Kippur we have a mitzvah found at no other time of the year: a mitzvah to eat. And not at any particular time, rather the mitzvah applies for the whole day! As he quotes from Masechet Yuma 81b,"האוכל ושותה בתשיעי כאלו התענה תשיעי ועשירי וכו. - One who eats and drinks on the ninth is considered as if he fasted (both) the ninth and tenth (of Tishrei.) etc."

We also have a Seudat Mitzvah today. I have learned that Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov, after all it is called Shabbat Shabaton - the Shabbat of all Shabbatot. The name is also indicative of a certain שמחה, the name Kippurim may be read as כ-פורים - like Purim. The joy of פורים is to be reflected on Yom Kippur. Additionally, we also we received the second set of Aseret Hadibrot on Yom Kippur. Given the day's proper status, we would normally have an obligation to eat a proper Yom Tov meal. After all, if we celebrate Shavuot in proper festive spirit, we should expect Yom Kippur to receive an equal status in this respect. Obviously though we cannot, given that the day is a fast, and eating is explicitly forbidden. Therefore we can only have this meal before the fast actually starts, and that explains why we eat the meal when we do. But this only answers part of our question; we are still left with the Mitzvah of eating the whole day. What possible reason could there be for this commandment?

The שפת אמת says that we learn from many different sources (there's too many too list, but all the sources are listed in his Sefer) that the reason for eating the whole day is that, "כי באכילת יום זה מתקנים אכילת כל ימות השנה - For through eating on this day, we rectify (any sins done through) eating during the year." It is customary for many Jews to read the Yesod HaTeshuva, written by R' Yonah of Geronah, on Erev Rosh Hashanah. There was one particular passage that struck a chord with me this year:

"וכן אמר הרב רבי אברהם בר דוד שהיה אחד מחסידי עולם: 'הגדר הגדול המעלה המפלא, מניעת המאכלות.' וכן פרש דבריו: 'אל יעזוב לגמרי מלאכול בשר ולשתות יין, כי דייך מה שאסרה תורה. אך בעת מאכלו ועודנו תאב לאכול, יניח ממנו לכבוד הבורא מתאוותיו ואל יאכל כפי תאוותו. ודרך זו תמנענו מחטוא ותזכירנו אהבת הבורא יותר מתענית אחד בשבוע, כי זה בכל יום תמיד, מדי אכלו ומדי שתתו, יניח מתאותו לכבוד הבורא.'" - And so said R' Abraham ben David who was one of the most devout people in the world, 'The greatest, finest and most wondrous barrier(to sin) is to refrain from foods.' This is how he explained his words, 'Let one not refrain completely from eating meat and drinking wine, for what the Torah prohibited is enough. Rather while one is eating and still desires to eat, let him - in honour of the Creator - set aside some of his desires, and not eat according to his appetite. This method will prevent him from sinning, and remind him more than a weekly fast to love the Creator, for this every day, continuously, whenever he eats and whenever he drinks to set aside part of his desire in honour of his Creator.' "

Judaism is often perceived as a religion of restriction, and to be fair, yes there are many restrictions. But as R' Yonah explains above in the name of R' Abraham ben David, eating can be provide a higher spiritual connection with Hashem when we conduct ourselves the right way. If we stuff food in our mouths in the manner of the proverbial pig, then we are totally missing the point. Hashem created this world for our benefit, for our pleasure. All He asks is that we credit Him for His work. (Phew, that was a lot of capital H's!) If we eat like an animal, not only are we repulsive, but we are also merely enjoying the food's taste. If we say a Bracha slowly and clearly before eating, we heighten our sense of enjoyment. If we learn to slow ourselves down, we can pause and thank Hashem for providing us with all our needs and savour the taste of our food. As they say, "Good things come to those who wait." Now compare that with gobbling an apple down. I don't think it's much of a contest, do you?

Admittedly, it's far from easy to fast for a day each week, but it's also relatively easy. To refrain from doing something altogether is much easier than continuing to benefit from this world, but in a different manner, in an Halachic manner. The real challenge in this life is to apply Torah to the physical world, the world we live in. If we can eat our breakfasts and realise the spiritual essence bound within food, we are well on our way to achieving the task Hashem has charged us with. As I heard from R' Daniel Katz of Aish HaTorah this past summer, "Halachah takes spirituality and frames it in action, in solid form. Halachah is practical Kabbalah, it is a manifestation of the divine."

That is the reason why today, on Erev Yom Kippur we have a special Mitzvah to eat as much food as we can. As the שפת אמת says, "כשבשעת התשובה זוכרין בסיבה המביאה אל החטא על ידי זה מתקנין גוף החטא. - For at the time of T'shuvah, we remember the reason that we came to sin, and through this we correct the sin itself." As I said before, Judaism is often perceived as a religion of restrictions. Yes, there are times when we fast. But it is infinitely preferable not to fast, and instead to correct our sins through the medium which we have done those same sins. On Erev Yom Kippur we have the opportunity to eat על שם קדוש השם, and thereby rectify our food-related sins from throughout the year.

The second D'var Torah is one I came up with by myself, so excuse me if it isn't quite on the same level as that of the Sfat Emet!

One of the main themes of the Aseret Y'mai HaT'shuvah is Malchuyot - Kingship. We alter our daily Shmona Esrei to make special mention of our acceptance of Hashem as our King. Once on Rosh Hashanah, and no less than three times on Yom Kippur, do we recite part of Aleinu (which behind the שמע is the cardinal prayer and testament of our אמונה in Hashem,) and prostrate ourselves before Hashem in absolute acceptance of his dominion. There is one other significant amendment to our prayers during the עשרת ימי התשובה, and that is the inclusion of אבינו מלכנו.

Imagine standing up in school as five year old kid, and being told to recite the months of the year. But not simply by saying them, but rather by saying, "The first month of the year is January. The second month of the year is February. The third month of the year is March. The fourth..." and so on. It soon becomes natural and automatic to recite the opening words, "The nth month of the year is..." It's human nature to become careless and thoughtless.

I don't know about you, but until fairly recently, I used to say the first six words of my Brachot without even thinking about them. It's easy to say the initial "ברוך אתה יהוה אלוהינו מלך הועלם...," without even thinking. I would only (if it all) really concentrate on the end of the Bracha, the more "interesting," more "applicable" part of the Bracha. But then I realised what I was doing. I have learned that in Torah not a single word is wasted, every last word has a meaning. The Rabbis who formulated our Brachot would be well aware of the importance of making each word count. It became apparent to me that these six words are important enough to warrant being mentioned for almost every Bracha we make.

As the second part of the name suggests, אבינו מלכנו clearly ties in with the theme of Kingship. But all too often this year I have had to catch myself from reciting these first two words before progressing on to "the more 'interesting,' more 'applicable' " part of the sentence. "אבינו מלכנו," I would rush, and then catch my breath and continue slowly, "חטאנו לפניך". No, no, no! I totally missed the point! There is a reason why every single last line of אבינו מלכנו begins with those words: because it's important enough to mention each time! And what is so important? Why do we use two names? My question is why de we call Hashem by these names specifically? And what is the link between them?

Well, there are two answers I can give you. The first is from Rav Taragin, where we emphasise the dual-nature of our relationship with Hashem. We have a relationship of Kindness and simultaneously, one of Justice. We have the loving father aspect, and at the same time, the relationship of a King and his subject. We have the possibility of being answered in a harsh, strict and totally fair manner, or being granted leniencies in the manner of a caring father.

The second answer is my own. In my Rosh Hashanah post, I discussed the Malchuyot theme and the meaning of our King-subject relationship with Hashem. So the word מלכנו fits in fairly obviously. But what of the first word,אבינו , how is this word relevant? I propose that there is an intrinsic link between the two words אבינו and מלכנו. A King can only really be a King when a people accept his will willingly, and proclaim him as their King. The difference between a King and a ruler is that the people willingly accept a King. They acknowledge him and consent to his reign. The concept of a father is similar. There is a specific Mitzvah for a child to call his father by the title of father. The reason given is that one can never doubt who the mother is, but even nowadays with DNA technology, we can never be sure of a baby's father's identity as much as we know the mother's. A mother cannot be denied, but a father certainly can. Therefore when a child calls a man his father, he is fulfilling a mitzvah by testifying to the truth as he knows it, and respecting his parents. Is that not similar to the concept of a King? In both scenarios, the figurehead is incomplete without somebody below to fulfill their role. There is no King without a nation. There is no father without a child. In both cases, the relationship is seemingly dependent on the less powerful role accepting the other.

That is why we call out at each line these two specific names; they complement one another perfectly.

I wish you all a G'mar Chatima Tova. May all your prayers be answered and may you fast easily. Let it be that through our tefillot we merit the coming of Mashiach. (V'nomar Amen!)

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