On Yom Kippur we devote the entire day to imitating the angels. Angels don’t eat or drink. They don’t wear shoes. They “wear white” in the sense that they are pure of heart and deed. They do not have marital relations nor do they anoint themselves, since they are spiritual creatures.
On Yom Kippur we emulate them, but we could not sustain this behavior for more than a day, because we’re not really angels; we’re just trying somehow to raise ourselves to their level of service to Hashem.
What’s the point of acting like angels for one day?
I think one answer is that we should know that we are in fact able to attain the level of angels. It may be difficult but we can do it. We should know how to do it and then try to incorporate that level of service to Hashem and His Torah into our life. With our free will we try to imitate the angels, and actually, when we do that, we have achieved an even higher level than the angels themselves, because they have no impediment; they have no yetzer hara.
If we, with our yetzer hara, can emulate the angels, it is something incredibly impressive and important.
Angels live above the events of this world. They are not subject to the vicissitudes of our insane planet, although Hashem sends them here to accomplish what He wants done. We live in the world. We try to elevate it and fill it with kedushah, to bring ruchnius into it. That is why we try to imitate the angels. They come from the World of Truth. We want to elevate ourselves so that our lives are influenced by the world of Truth and not the world of sheker.
This has vital consequences for our lives here and now.
It’s clear this world is operating in an increasingly crazy manner and if we don’t behave like angels and have our heads in Heaven, so to speak, and close to Hashem, we are going to have a very difficult time. We are in danger of being eaten up, God forbid, by the forces that surround us. As we say during this season, “When evildoers approach me, to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes against me …” (Psalm 27).
In the recent Gaza war and its aftermath, we saw a totally illogical reaction from the world. Israel had been bombarded by thousands of potentially deadly missiles and tried to protect its citizens by eliminating the source of the threat. The international reaction largely was one that painted Israel as the ugly and evil aggressor. Of course, Israel did what any normal person or nation would do: it fought back in self-defense. And in typical Jewish style, it fought with such compassion against its enemies that it often weakened its own fighting ability.
There is no reason for any sane, normal person to hate us. However, it is clear that a good part of the world does indeed hate us. Why is this happening and what are we to do about it?
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Yom Kippur is coming to tell us that if we want to survive in this world, we have to imitate angels and stay close to Hashem. We have to use our free will to climb the spiritual ladder, to live the Torah, because if we base our hope for survival on living according to the standards of the material world around us, we don’t stand a chance. We are completely outnumbered and overpowered.
We need to elevate ourselves above this world because otherwise we are going to drown in it. We need to exist on the plane of angels and we need their power, their ability to soar above the world, their closeness to Hashem, their imperviousness to the dangers of this world. That is why, during this season, we continually recite the words of King David, “One thing…I shall seek: that I dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life” (Psalm 27).