Following the month of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, the days of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah – days that are imperative to prepare for our ultimate atonement – we have the day of Yom Kippur, which is established as a day of atonement for one’s sins, as it says (Vayikra 16:30), “For on this day … you shall be cleansed from all your sins before Hashem.”
The Rambam, in Hilchos Teshuvah, delineates the process of doing teshuvah, which atones for all sins. He notes that even one who was wicked all his days, and then repented in his final moments, will not be reminded of any aspect of his wickedness. The essence of the day, says the Rambam, atones for those who repent, as it says (loc. Cit.) “This day will atone for you.”
Why does the Rambam tell us about “the essence of the day?” He is discussing the ways of doing teshuvah, not the dynamics of the atonement. Moreover, our Sages tell us that the day of Yom Kippur in and of itself exculpates the individual (although halacha does not follow this opinion). We must therefore conclude that the Rambam is alluding to a deeper esoteric function of Yom Kippur.
With the advent of the High Holy Days, many despair. They lack the faith and optimism that they will actually change. They recall years past, when they tried to improve in their avodas Hashem (service of Hashem) which, to be sure, is not easy. There are the Selichos, the prayers, the regrets, the confessions and the resolutions, the tears, the fasting; it is a major struggle and effort. Yet, after the Yamim Nora’im passed, they sadly resumed their regular way of life, without any noticeable change. At this point in time, when they once again engage in serious introspection, they become faint and feel hopeless. By nature, people tend to only exert themselves if they realize a benefit. If they are not achieving the desired results, they abandon their intentions.
For that reason, the Rambam adds the words “the essence of day forgives.” It is to let us know that in addition to one’s efforts to repent, there is the “essence of the day” that atones. We don’t exactly know what the “essence” is, but we know that it embodies the power of atonement.
The Talmud in Yuma (86a) teaches that the sin of making a chillul Hashem (desecration of the Name) is so egregious that neither teshuvah nor Yom Kippur nor suffering can atone for this sin. Only death absolves a person. However, the Rishonim (the early authorities) write that at the time of Ne’ilah, a person can achieve great feats, including the revocation of a harsh decree. The Sefer Be’er Chaim goes even further, and states that during the time of Ne’ilah, when Hashem sits alone on the Throne of Glory (without the presence of the Prosecuting Angels), and is ready to seal the judgment, one can even attain atonement for the sin of desecrating the Name of Hashem. So powerful is the essence of the day of Yom Kippur. The Ramchal notes that every person has the ability, in fact, to reach the level of Adam HaRishon before he sinned.
Yom Kippur, and particularly Ne’ilah, is the culmination of a great amount of effort to do teshuvah that began on the first day of Elul. It is at that time, especially, that one should not lose faith or falter. Rather, we should intensify our tefillos and redouble our resolve and commitment to better our ways and come closer to Hashem.
Who Carries the Burden?
It was known that the Chofetz Chaim conferred the name gazlan (thief) upon the Evil Inclination.
Once, an individual wanted to avoid paying taxes on his merchandise. In order to avoid the customs officers guarding the city’s entrance, he went through the forest. As he trudged along with his heavy pack, he heard a horse approaching. Extremely frightened that he was being followed by an officer, he considered running. However, he realized that would indicate his guilt and the officer would surely pursue him and catch him. He therefore continued walking calmly, as if he didn’t hear the horse. He decided that when the officer would see that he was not agitated or concerned, the officer would leave him alone.
So, the man greeted the officer warmly and noted that his presence would surely deter any thief from accosting them. The officer smiled and nodded, and the two continued on their way, the man walking with his heavy burden and the officer riding on his horse.
Just as they reached the edge of the city, the officer ordered him to open his bags. Of course, the illegal merchandise was confiscated, and the man was sent to prison until the date of his trial. The merchant was very upset and called the officer a thief. “What did I steal from you?” asked the officer. “You were trying to bring in merchandise without paying taxes. You were trying to steal from the government.”
“True, I am guilty of not paying taxes. But you let me carry the heavy burden the entire journey. You should have confiscated my merchandise immediately.”
Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, the yetzer hara exhausts a person the entire Yom Kippur, through the Kol Nidre, the prayers of Shacharis, Mussaf and Mincha, and the fasting. Then just right before Ne’ilah, when there are only a few precious moments left for the person to do teshuvah – the time that could make a marked difference in the person’s life – the yetzer hara tries to steal that too.
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Each year I undertake to collect money, especially for Yom Tov, on behalf of destitute people. I have established a special Yom Tov Fund that I personally administer and distribute directly into the hands of those who are most in need.
I humbly beseech of all our loyal readers of the Jewish Press and friends of Klal Yisroel to feel the pain of our brethren and to take a part in this great mitzvah. Let us give chizuk to families, individuals, and children in need. In the zechus of your contribution, may you merit blessing and success, a year of good health, nachas, happiness and prosperity.
Please send your contribution to Khal Bnei Yitzchok Yom Tov Fund, c/o Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, 1336 E. 21 Street, Brooklyn, NY 11210. If you would like any special tefillos to be offered for a shidduch, shalom bayis, parnassah, or a refuah, please include the person’s name and the mother’s name.