Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur - יום כפור

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, we stand before Hashem to confess our sins and attempt to mend our errant ways.

In each of the Amida prayers we say, we recite a major part of this confession in the form of "Al-Cheit" - a prayer which goes through many different types of sins. At its end, we read the haunting words, "אלוהי, עד שלא נוצרתי איני כדאי, ועכשיו שנוצרתי כאלו לא נוצרתי - My God, before I was formed I was unworthy, and now that I have been formed, it as if I had not been formed."

While the literal translation of these words seems perfectly understandable, Rav Kook saw a problem in the wording of this line. We say that before we were born we had no worth; well isn't that obvious? Something that doesn't exist quite clearly has no worth. Similarly, Rav Kook sees a problem in the words "as if I was not formed;" do I exist or not?

Rav Kook's understood this passage in rather unique manner. Although we can take the passage to mean that humans are practically worthless when compared to Hashem, and that our achievements are essentially zero, Rav Kook reads here a deep insight into the meaning of our existence.

Rav Kook explains the troubling words, "Before I was formed, I was of no worth" as meaning that each and every one of us was born at exactly the right moment. Before that moment, there was no need for us to have been born. Before our births, there was no need for our presence in this world. Nothing in this world required our existence, and had we been born we would have had no purpose - before we were born we were of no worth. This phrase, previously so hard to comprehend, now reveals to us a deep insight as to our existence. If we were deemed worthless before we were born, then it is implicit that now that we have been born, there is a reason for our existence. We have each been born for a reason, and each of us has a mission to complete in our lifetimes.

Now to the next part of the sentence, "And now that I have been formed, it is as if I had not been formed." Now that Hashem has seen fit to breathe live into our bodies, there must be some mission for me to accomplish. But because of our willfull abandon of Mitzvot and Hashem's rule as a whole, our whole reason for existence is called into question. As long as we are engaged with mitzvot and performing the task that gave rise to us being born, we are fulfilling our role in this world. The moment we forsake our burden, there remains no reason for our continued existence other than Hashem's mercy.

[Adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. II, p. 356]

It is my hope that we all have a meaningful and constructive Yom Kippur, that we rectify our wrongs both towards one another and to Hashem and that we all realise and be strengthened in finding our roles in life. Fast well!

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