web analytics
July 1, 2015 / 14 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Yom Kippur Thoughts


That, on this night of nights, is what Jews do. The synagogue is full of the faces of those who rarely visit it. During the year – albeit less dramatically than their medieval predecessors – they may have been Marranos, hidden Jews. They have worn other masks, carried different identities. But on Yom Kippur night the music of Kol Nidre has spoken to them and they have said: here is where I belong. Among my people and its faith. I am a Jew.

* * * * *

In ancient Israel, there were holy places. The land itself was holy. Holier still was the city of Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem the holiest site was the Temple. Within the Temple was the supremely sacred place known as the Holy of Holies.

There was holy time. There were the festivals. Above them was the Sabbath, the day God himself declared holy. Above even that was the one day in the year known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the most holy day of all: the Day of Atonement.

There were holy people. Israel was called “a holy nation.” Among them was a tribe of special sanctity, the Levites, and within it were individuals who were holier still, the kohanim (priests). Among them was one person who was supremely holy, the high priest.

In ancient times the holiest man entered the holiest place on the holiest day of the year and sought atonement for his people.

Then the Temple was destroyed. Jerusalem lay in ruins. Devastated, too, was the spiritual life of Israel. There were no sacrifices and no high priest. None of the rites of the Day of Atonement, spelled out in the Book of Leviticus, could be performed. How then could sins be purged and the people of Israel annually restore their relationship with God?

One saying has come down to us from that time, a sentence that rescued Judaism from the ruins. Its author, Rabbi Akiva, lived through the destruction. His early years were spent as an illiterate shepherd. Tradition tells us that he fell in love with Rachel, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Jerusalem. She agreed to marry him on condition that he studied and became a Torah scholar. Her father disinherited her, but she remained devoted to Akiva, who eventually became the supreme scholar of his day and one of the architects of rabbinic Judaism. He died, a martyr, at the hands of the Romans.

Rabbi Akiva was a remarkable man. It was at his insistence that the Song of Songs was included in the biblical canon. He framed a number of enactments to foster love as the basis of marriage. He said, “Beloved is mankind, for it is created in the image of God,” and declared that “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is the fundamental principle of Judaism. But above all he could see through catastrophe. When others wept at the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva preserved a spirit of hope, saying that since it had been prophesied, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which had also been prophesied, would also come to pass. “Whatever God does is for the best.” About the Day of Atonement he said this:

“Happy are you, O Israel! Before whom are you purified and who purifies you? Your Father in heaven, as it is said: ‘And I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be purified’ ” (Ezekiel 36:25).

Israel did not need a Temple or a high priest to secure atonement. It had lost its holiest place and person. But it still had the day itself: holy time. On that day every place becomes a holy place and every person a holy individual standing directly before God. By turning to Him in teshuvah it is as if we had brought an offering in the Temple, because God hears every cry that comes from the heart. When there is no high priest to mediate between Israel and God, we speak to God directly and he accepts our prayer. So it has been for almost two thousand years.

So we fast and remove our shoes and dress in white shrouds. We spend the day in prayer and confession as if each of us stood in the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem, because God heeds not who or where we are, but how we live. And though we no longer have a Temple and its offerings, we have something that is no less a powerful prayer: the “service of the heart.”

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Yom Kippur Thoughts”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
ISIS in Egypt, according to an image it posted on social media.
All-Out War South of Israeli-Sinai Border
Latest Judaism Stories
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

To my dismay, I’ve seen that shidduch candidates with money become ALL desirable traits for marriage

800px-Gustav_Jaeger_Bileam_Engel

Bil’am’s character is complex and nuanced; neither purely good nor purely evil.

Staum-062615

Amalek, our ultimate foe, understood that when unified, we are invincible and indestructible.

Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

Perhaps on a deeper level, the mitzvah of parah adumah at this junction was not just to purify the body, but the spirit as well.

Halacha isn’t random; it’s a mechanism guiding individuals and society to a higher ethical plateau.

Question: Should we wash our hands in the bathroom with soap and water, or by pouring water from a vessel with handles three times, alternating hands? I have heard it said that a vessel is used only in the morning upon awakening. What are the rules pertaining to young children? What is the protocol if no vessel is available? Additionally, may we dry our hands via an electric dryer?

Harry Koenigsberg
(Via E-Mail)

Less clear, however, is whether the concept applies to the area of civil law such as the law of transfer of property.

The greatest of men, Moshe, had to wait for Hashem to sprinkle purifying waters on Bnei Yisrael to mark the conclusion of the period of death.

My Plate, My Food
‘My Loaf Is Forbidden To You’
(Nedarim 34b)

Of Chukkim “Satan and the nations of the world made fun.” They may appear irrational & superstitious

I realized from this story that I was sent as a messenger from above. Hashem has many helpers in this world to help do his work.

Tosafos answers that nevertheless the sprinkling is a part of his taharah process.

“What difference does that make?” replied Shraga. “What counts is the agreement that we made. I said two hundred fifty and you accepted.”

Zaidie’s legacy of smiles and loving words was all but buried with him, now the family fights over $

Israel’s complaining frustrated Moshe, making it increasingly hard for him to lead effectively

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Of Chukkim “Satan and the nations of the world made fun.” They may appear irrational & superstitious

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Heaven answered Moshe dramatically. He was proved right. End of revolt. End of story- Not at all…

There’s no obligation TO wear tzitzit; opting to wear them symbolizes free acceptance of the mitzvot

Sadly, we’re no longer an edah; We’ve fissured and fractured: Orthodox & Reform; religious & secular

The desert, with its unearthly silence & emptiness, is the condition in which the Word can be heard

This week’s parshah inspired the Jubilee 2000 initiative leading to debt cancellation of $34 biilion

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

There is something quite distinctive about the biblical approach to time.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/yom-kippur-thoughts/2012/09/25/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: