Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement
This Shabbat we don't read a particular Parasha in the Torah, because this Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, which is otherwise called the sacred Day of Atonement! Hashem, who created us and knows what makes us tick the way a watchmaker knows the intricacies of a watch, knows that as human beings we are fallible and will sin, but Hashem in His great mercy gave us the unbelievable gift of Yom Kippur and Teshuvah.
We must really take advantage of this gift and use it to pray with our hearts to Hashem so that He will forgive us and wipe our slate clean from last year’s sins in order to grant us another year of life.
As it says in last week’s Haftarah: "Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha" which means "Return O' Israel, to Hashem, your G-d". It then continues: "Say to Hashem, Forgive every sin and accept goodness".
The Gemara Rosh Hashana (16b) says that there are three books open on Rosh Hashana: the book of the Righteous, the book of the Wicked, and the book of the Benoni who is in between and whose merits and sins balance each other out. The Gemara tells us that all the Benoni people need is one more merit to push them into the Book of Life. The Rambam explains that we should do Teshuvah to tilt the scale in our favor.
The Rabbis ask the Rambam why he thinks we should do Teshuvah rather than just accumulating more merits. The Rabbis answer that if we did not take advantage of Teshuvah this week of Aseret Yemei Teshuvah it would be a great sin because Hashem is very close to us this week and doing proper Teshuvah while Hashem is especially close would outweigh any extra merits.
In Mishnah Yoma (8/9), Rabbi Akiva says: "Praiseworthy are you Israel, before whom do you cleanse yourselves? As it is stated: Who cleanses you? Your father in Heaven! As it is stated: And I will sprinkle pure water upon you and you shall be cleansed; and He also says: The Mikvah of Israel is Hashem. Just as a Mikvah purifies the contaminated, so does Hashem purify Israel".
Rabbi Akiva explains that there are two ways we can be purified: we may submerge our whole body in a Mikvah and make a complete change, or Hashem can sprinkle small drops of pure water on us, symbolizing our ability to make small changes. Rabbi Akiva is saying in this Mishnah:"We must take it upon ourselves to simply make small changes of growth each year which will have a tremendous impact on our spiritual growth over the course of our lifetime".
Many times we experience something that sends us a life-changing message that will inspire us and help us learn and grow. There are also stories that we hear of others who experienced these life-changing events and they are meant not only for that individual but for all of us to be inspired by as well.
This is an amazing story that I recently heard about a man taking a British Airways flight from London to Israel just before Rosh Hashanah. As the flight was on its way, the stewardess was bringing the man his kosher meal. He noticed the man that was sitting right next to him had a number tattooed on his forearm signifying that he was a Holocaust survivor. He also noticed that the man was eating a non-kosher meal, so he offered him some of his kosher meal. The man replied: "I'm not kosher and I turned my back on G-d and Judaism many years ago after I lost my only son in the Holocaust." This comment stirred up a conversation that lasted most of the flight, but the survivor was adamant about his attitude towards Hashem and Judaism.
Fast forward a few weeks later to the afternoon of Yom Kippur. The man with the kosher meal stepped out of shul during the break, which was just before the Yizkor services. He went for a short walk and noticed a man sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich and smoking a cigarette. As he got closer, he recognized him to be the man he had met on the flight from London. So he approached him and said… "what a nice surprise to see you again! I understand that you're angry at Hashem because you lost your son many years ago but the Yizkor services will begin soon, why don't you come in to the shul with me to at least say Yizkor for your son: don't do it for G-d, just do it for your son."
The man understood what he was saying and agreed to say Yizkor for the son he had lost so many years ago. So they went together back to the shul. As the survivor was giving his son’s name to the Rabbi, along with all the family connections, the Rabbi realized that he was hearing his own name. He looked at the man with awe and said "Dad, is that you?" They looked at each other and hugged, thinking all these years that each had perished in the Holocaust so many years earlier. We learn from this story that as Jews, we can never despair and we can never give up on Hashem because He is our father in heaven that loves us and is always watching over us!
We learn very clearly from this amazing true story that when we think that we have insurmountable problems and we feel like our life is over, Hashem is telling us that our tears have the power to enter the Heavens. We must know that as Jews we can never despair even if we may feel very desperate and things may look dim because we have a father who loves us and if we cry out to Him with our tears, He will hear us and protect us.
May we all realize the amazing gift of Yom Kippur that Hashem gave to all of us. Let us all take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to get closer to Hashem and our fellow Jewish neighbors in order to make a complete Atonement for all of our sins! May we all realize deep in our hearts that Hashem is our King and the ultimate judge but He is also our Father in Heaven who will always be there for us no matter how desperate we think our situation may be. There is no predicament that we as individuals or as a nation can be in that Hashem can't save us from. There's no financial or health issue that He can't conquer for us: all we have to do is pray with all our heart and shed tears that will break through the Heavens and Hashem will surely answer us! Amen!