Friday, October 07, 2011

Yom Kippur - יום כפור

The topic of sound and its place in Judaism is one that I have covered from time to time in my Divrei Torah. Once again, I would like to refer to it in order for us to make more sense of Yom Kippur.

In Judaism, a basic concept in emunah (faith), is that one retains the capacity to listen. For this reason, the most basic sentence that encapsulates the essence of what it is to be Jewish begins with the word שמע, meaning "listen!" By way of contrast, the reigning school of thought in Western society today is one that clashes with this perspective - we are not expected to believe in anything unless it is 100% provable. Judaism requires the patience to listen and piece things together for ourselves, but the modern man all too often finds it hard to listen at all. We are busy, immersed in a hundred different things. We are restless and want things given to us on a plate. Consequently it shouldn't really be much of a surprise that we are often unable to tune into the "קול דממה הדקה" - that silent, still voice inside of each of us.

In a well-noted passage found at the end of Mishnah Masechet Yuma, we read that "אמר רבי עקיבה, אשריכם ישראל, לפני מי אתם מיטהרין ומי מטהר אתכם--אביכם שבשמיים - Rabbi Akiva says: Happy are you, Israel: For before whom are you purified, and who makes you purified? Your father in heaven... "

Upon close examination, we may note that two types of purification, separated by a subtle difference, are hinted at here. First we come across a more passive form of purification, as the verse asks, "before whom are you purified?" Then we come to a more active form: "And who makes you purified?" The distinction is a deep one and could be elaborated upon at length in its own right, but for the purposes of this D'var Torah, it is enough to know that two types of spiritual purification exist; one active and one passive.

On Rosh Hashanah, over 100 hundred blasts of the Shofar are sounded in most synagogues. Thus, the process of teshuvah starts in earnest. But for all its obvious grandeur and clear power, the shofar reduces our role to an almost passive one. On Yom Kippur, though, we hear no shofar blasts at all - at least, not until right at the very end. I think that there is a very deep lesson here. On Yom Kippur, we need no artificial stimulation from tools like the shofar. On Yom Kippur, we raise ourselves to a higher level, the level of angels, and so instead of relying on the voice of the shofar, we are able to listen to our own inner voices.

As such, I believe that it is no coincidence, that we are "treated" to one last shofar blast, right at the end of Yom Kippur. After all our activity in reaching the level whereby we are able to hear our own inner voices, we may then realise that the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah and then the almost total absence of these blasts on Yom Kippur were not antithetical to one another at all. On the contrary, on Yom Kippur, we finally reach the level where we hear our own voices, our own inner shofar blasts, and we hear how they were connected all along. And once we have reached that level, right at the end of the process of spiritual purification, when we hear that final shofar blast, we hear not only an artificial stimulus, but also our own voices at the same time.

Wishing you, and all of Am Yisrael, a good Yom Kippur. May you have a meaningful fast and all your prayers be answered in the only the best way possible.

Collected and adapted from essays by Rav Moshe Dov Kasper, Rav Yaakov Ariel and augmented with some thoughts of my own.

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