This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Yom Kippur (5768)
Yom Kippur is the most holy day of the Jewish year, even holier than the Shabbat.
It is the day the High Priest; the holiest man in the world, entered the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple; the holiest place in the world; located on the Holy mountain in the Holy city of Jerusalem, capital of the Holy Land.
What exactly does 'Holy' mean? How can a day or a city be holy?
Also, at the very end of Yom Kippur it is customary to blow the Shofar with one long blast. Does this have anything to do with holiness?
To understand this here is a story I heard recently from Rabbi Shabtai Slavatitski the Rebbe's Shliach (Representative) in Antwerp Belgium.
There was once a Chabad Rabbi who led a large congregation, many of them holocaust survivors. Each member, of course, had his own memories and problems but all of them learned to pretty much cope. Or so it seemed.
One of them was Mr. Goldvasser (fictitious name). He was a seemingly normal person; a good businessman with a healthy sense of humor a generous heart and a keen mind. But he had one idiosyncrasy; he never remained in the Synagogue for the Blessing of the Cohanim on the holidays. (The Cohanim are direct decedents from the Priests in the days of the Temple and they are commanded to bless the congregation with a fifteen word blessing as prescribed in Num. 6:24-26. Outside of Israel the blessing is usually made only three times a year; on the holidays in the morning 'Musaf' prayer.)
The Rabbi was always a bit apprehensive about asking Mr. Goldvasser for an explanation but his curiosity became so great that he finally concocted a plan. He invited him to his home for a meal and after they had eaten well, sang a few songs and made a few 'l'chaims' he asked.
"Tell me Mr. Goldvasser. I've noticed that you don't stay for the blessing of the Cohanim. Is there some reason? Is something wrong? I mean, it's not that important. It's just something I noticed. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. I just wondered. Am I right?"
Mr. Goldvasser became silent and it seemed that his eyes became glossy with some past vision, or perhaps with tears.
"Well, Rabbi" he began after almost a minute, "It was like this....
"I was in Auschwitz. I can't explain what happened there, I think it's even forbidden to remember such things. But there was one person; we called him 'The Rabbi'. No one knew his name, but he was different than all of us. I'm sure he lost his family and everything just like the rest of us but he never showed it. Not only that but he used to keep everyone's spirits up.
"If he saw someone depressed he would say a good word. If you ever wanted to talk he would listen. He could listen forever. He always had a hand for a bent shoulder and a shoulder for someone to weep on and a hug for a broken heart and even a joke to break the sadness.
"Anyway, once it was getting close to Passover and he announced that we had to figure out a way to get Matzot.
"Matzot! Everyone was thinking about dropping dead and he made us think of Matzot. And it worked. Until finally someone noticed on the way to where they took us to work outside, someone noticed a few crumbs of Matzos!
"It took a few days but finally we found out that one of the prisoners had a job cleaning the house of one of the Nazi officers and when the German wasn't at home this Jew risked his life and made a matzo for himself. If he got caught he would have been killed for sure. Anyway a few crumbs must have fallen there near the road and that's how we found out. It was a real miracle.
"The Rabbi had a talk with this fellow and at first he said it was impossible; too dangerous. But finally he agreed … and he somehow succeeded in making two Matzos. It was another miracle.
"It doesn't matter that we were about eight hundred men in that bunker. Do you hear? Eight hundred! But we were actually happy when the Rabbi woke us up at midnight and showed us those Matzos.
"He broke them into pieces and handed them out, then each of us broke them into smaller pieces until each of us had a piece.
And each person held it in his hand while the Rabbi recited what he remembered from the Passover Haggada by heart and we repeated after him. Finally he made the blessing and ate and so did we. Each one ate his crumb of Matzo. At first we were quiet. Like whispering so those German snakes wouldn't hear us but after a few minutes I guess we forgot where we were.
"Then the Rabbi says like this. He says 'Listen Jews! Listen my friends and my brothers. We just left Egypt! See! No one can break our spirit! No one! We are free!!" And he began to sing a song. And dance. He danced! And we all danced.
"There were all sorts of Jews there a lot of them were atheists… but everyone danced. That night we danced! We were free.
"But then the door came crashing open and the spell was broken. There stood a Nazi officer with a few soldiers behind him like mad dogs.
"'What is this?!' He screamed, red with anger. 'SINGING??' He screamed even louder. 'In Auschwitz you cry, you don't sing!"
He pulled out a pistol, put it to the head of one of the prisoners and said "Tell me who is responsible or I'll kill you. I'll kill all of you out one by one! WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS!!?"
"Everyone knew it would happen. The Rabbi stepped forward and said in a loud, calm voice. "I am. I'm responsible. You can kill me. "
"The officer motioned to his soldiers to grab The Rabbi, lowered his pistol, put it in its holster and said, "You won't die so fast, Jew. You will die tomorrow, in public by hanging."
"They took the Rabbi away and early the next morning before dawn they woke us early, and made the entire camp stand in the yard. There were several thousand prisoners and Nazi guards were everywhere us with pointed guns. There in the middle on a podium between two huge Gestapo guards stood the Rabbi.
"The officer stood straight, hands behind his back, his chest jutting out and yelled. 'Now, Jews, you will see what happens to someone who dances in Auschwitz. Everyone will watch! Do you understand?! Everyone! Anyone caught not watching will be killed on the spot. ON THE SPOT!'
"But as they were putting the noose around the Rabbi's neck he turned to the officer and said in a clear voice for all to hear. 'As a man about to be killed I demand my last wish! Doesn't a dying man get a last wish? 'Where is your honor?'
"The commander hesitated, smiled as though amused and said.
"'Last wish is it? Alright Jew….. What is your last wish?"
"I am a Cohen" he answered "And I want to bless the crowd."
"'Bless? Heh! And how long will this take?"
"It will take one half a minute, perhaps less" he replied.
The officer looked at the soldier with the noose, made a motion with his head to wait, looked at the watch on his wrist and said,
"You have thirty seconds."
"The Rabbi's voice was clear as a child's, he stood proudly straight, closed his eyes, raised his hands and the fifteen words of the blessing rang out like a voice from heaven. 'Y'vorechechaw, HaShem, V'yishmorechaw," We all burst out crying like babies and when he finished.....it was over.
"That blessing is what kept me alive in Auschwitz, through the rest of the war and to this very day.
"It rings in my ears when there is no hope and shines in the darkness when all is lost. I never want to hear another Cohan's blessing. I never want to forget that pure blessing I heard. That is why I leave the Shul."
That is what 'Holy' means. It is another word for G-dliness; the source of life and joy; above all limitations. It means 'Ultra-Alive'; close to the SOURCE of life; Above and beyond death, sin or sadness.
Something like the Rabbi's timeless blessing in our story.
And why the Holy Temple provided Joy to all those who went there three times a year: 'Moadim L'Simcha'.
Indeed the Mishna says one of the two happiest days of the year was the day following Yom Kippur (Taanit 4:8)…. because Yom Kippur is Holy of Holies erasing almost all sins and giving us a taste of the future redemption.
And that is why we blow the Shofar at the end of Yom Kippur.
The Shofar is like the voice from heaven in our story but even more so. It is the call of Moshiach, the preparation for the "Great Shofar" we pray for thrice daily.
It is the voice of the essence of G-d; of Joy, hope, meaning and blessing that will guide the lost, support the stumbling (Ovdim B'Aretz Ashur v'Nidachim B'Aretz Mitzriam) and even enliven the dead.
It is all there for us to see. We just have to learn about Moshiach http://ohrtmimim.org/Torah_Default.asp?id=781 and do all we can to bring.
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.