This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Yom Kippur (5770)
The day of Yom Kippur, literally "The Day of Forgiveness" is the holiest day of the Jewish year. In the days of the Holy Temple (may it speedily be rebuilt by Moshiach), the High Priest, the holiest man in the world, would enter the 'Holy of Holies', the holiest place in the world, and obtain forgiveness from G-d for the entire Jewish nation, the holiest nation in the world.
But even today, although there is no Temple or High Priest, Yom Kippur is still the day when G-d shows His unconditional love and forgiveness and encourages us 'Return' (do T'Shuva) i.e. to Him.
Tshuva is a bit more than repentance. Repentance means regretting the past and changing ourselves for the future. But, Tshuva, means we actually appeal directly to G-d who creates all time. So we can change the past as well, or, in the language of the Talmud; "make sins into Merits."
This happens because on Yom Kippur EVERY Jew feels the 'Holy of Holies' which is pure G-dliness where past present and future are one and therefore we can overcome and transform time so even a bad 'past' reveals its merits.
Here are three stories that will help us to understand this idea of altering the past.
1) Once there were two Jews involved in a very nasty argument that came to Rabbi Chaim of Velozin, one of the foremost Torah experts of all time, to decide their case. They each claimed the other had moved the boundary separating their adjoining properties. The Rabbi managed to calm them down enough to hear each of their cases, thought for a few moments and announced that he wanted to see the actual site in question.
A half hour later they were standing on the disputed territory and the Rabbi gave each of them five minutes to once again state their arguments. When each had emotionally presented his case the Rabbi thought for a minute as though digesting the two arguments. He then removed his hat, placed it on a nearby rock, put a kerchief that he took from his pocket on the ground, put one knee on the kerchif and then bent down putting his ear to the earth as though listening for some subterranean message.
The two litigants looked in bewilderment for several minutes until the Rabbi said "Aha!", rose and brushed himself off and returned his hat.
"Good!" The Rabbi announced as he adjusted it on his head. "I heard both of your claims and I heard what the land had to say." They looked at him open-mouthed, certain that they were in the presence of a man with super human perception.
The Rabbi looked at one of the plaintiffs and said "You say the land belongs to you, correct?" then turned to the other, "and you say the land belongs to you, correct? But the land also has a claim!
"The land told me that in another 40 or 50 years BOTH of you will belong to it!
"Now, are you still interested in arguing like two selfish fools?"
The Rabbi punctured their egotism. They looked sheepishly at one another, shook hands, and made a compromise.
Often by seeing the big picture we can correct the past.
2) The second story is about the sixth Rebbe of Chabad; Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak (1880-1950). When he was a young man his parents were looking for a suitable bride for him and it wasn't easy to choose. Who didn't want such a gifted, holy, kind, important Jew for a son-in-law? Offers poured in from all corners of Russia and Europe.
Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak's grandmother (Rabbanit) Rivka (who had been the wife of the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rebbe Shmuel) was a practical woman. She wanted, along with all the other good personal qualities, a girl from a wealthy family and there were a lot of them that were being offerer.
Rabbinit Rivka knew what poverty was. Her son, Yosef Yitzchak's father, Rebbe Shalom Ber (who was Rebbe at the time) was often destitute and not only couldn't help his Chassidim financially, he often didn't have what to eat. She simply wanted to spare her grandsonsuch unnecessary suffering in order to be free to help others.
But Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber (her son) and his wife, Yosef Yitzchak's mother, didn't care about the money they only were interested in personality.
So they all went to the prospective groom and asked his opinion and he sided with his parents against his grandmother: money was not an issue. The match was made and he became engaged to his future wife Nechama Dina.
But Yosef Yitzchak's father, Rebbe Dovber, felt guilty that he and everyone else had gone against the wishes of his mother Rabbainit Rivka and at the first opportunity, which was a few hours before Yom Kippur, he went to her and asked her forgiveness.
She smiled, and asked if he would sit down so she could tell him a story:
'Once there was a Jew who lived in a small village with his large family. As Yom Kippur approached he decided that they would all travel to the 'nearby' large city of Vitebsk, some four hours drive away, and spend holy day with relatives praying in the large synagogue there with hundreds of other Jews.
The plan was that they would leave for their destination early in the morning ten hours before Yom Kippur so as to arrive well before the holiday (Jewish holidays always begin at sunset) but things didn't go as planned. He woke early and was ready to go at eight in the morning but his family got bogged down and over an hour later they still were not even dressed. So he exasperatedly announced that he would set off before them with his carriage and they would catch up to him in another carriage figuring that this would speed them up.
He drove slowly for about two hours and when he saw that they still hadn't caught up to him he pulled over to the side of the road under the shade of a tree to wait for them and closed his eyes to rest until they came.
But, his family became so involved with packing, preparing, getting arranged in the carriage and traveling that they completely confused and forgot their father's directions, took a different road to Vitebsk and arrived in the city just an hour before Yom Kippur…… without him.
Meanwhile, at the same time, under the shady tree their father woke up to see that he had slept way to long! The sun was just over the trees and in less than an hour it would be dark! It is forbidden to travel on Yom Kippur and he had neither enough time to make to the city or to return home. He would have to spend the holy day alone in the woods! His family had abandoned him.
So he raised his hands to heaven and said, "G-d Almighty! My children have forgotten me! They've left me alone! But, you know what G-d? I forgive them completely! Now I want You to do the same thing: In an hour will begin Yom Kippur. Even though some of your children, the Jews, have forgotten you and even abandoned you… forgive them with a complete heart as I have forgiven my children."
Rabbanite Rivka smiled at her son and said, "Nu? That's the story. In just a few hours will be Yom Kippur. May it only be that G-d forgives His people for not listening to Him with such a complete heart as I forgive you for not listening to me!"
She transformed 'Sins' to 'merits' for all the Jews.
3) Finally a story about Rabbi Mendel Futerfass who spent eight years of his life in exile in Siberia at hard labor for the crime of 'Jewish' activities.
He said that one freezing, snowy winter day he happened to be in the house of an old gentile. How he got there and what he was doing there he didn't explain. But what interests us is that this old fellow took care of his ten year old granddaughter while her parents were in the town working for weeks at a time and it just so happened that on that day she had gone out on some errand and simply didn't come back when she said she would.
The old man was worried but what could he do? His age and the below-zero winds and snow prevented him from going searching for her outside, so he just opened the door every once in a while, yelled her name into howling wind and hoped she would arrive any moment. But she didn't.
Suddenly they heard scratching and barking at the front door, it was the peasant's dog who probably wanted to come in from the cold. But when the old man opened the door he ran away.
The next time they heard the scratching the old fellow just yelled "go away" and threw a bone out the window. When a few minutes later the scratching returned he figured the animal was hungry so he threw out some food. But when the dog repeated the same thing a few more times; barking for a few seconds then running away, the peasant decided he would put on his coat and follow it. So the next time they heard the scratching he and Rav Mendel had their coats on and were out the door. The dog ran and they were hot on its trail running after it. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later they almost tripped over the girl, fallen unconscious in the snow, half covered by the dog!
They brought her back to the house, warmed her up and saved her life. Suddenly they understood the dog's conduct; it barked only a few times but then, afraid the girl would freeze, ran back to her to warm her with its body. But then, afraid that its efforts weren't enough, ran back to alert the people and so it did several times till she was saved.
Rabbi Mendel said he learned a profound lesson from this. Everyone knows that cold can kill So too spiritually; Disinterest can kill our interest in Judaism. We must keep ourselves constantly warm and enthusiastic about G-d and His Torah.
But if we see that someone else is spiritually freezing to death then the only solution is self-sacrifice. We can learn from the dog in our story; try to arouse his 'grandfather' (i.e. pray to G-d to help) but simultaneously personally try to provide as much warmth as possible.
So a near death situation transformed to a deep life-lesson.
These three stories teach us how the Tshuva of Yom Kippur can change even the past.
First we must put our lives in the proper perspective (as in the first story) and rise above the negative interpretations of the past.
Second we rise above our emotions, forgive the shortcomings of others and pray for mercy not just for ourselves but for everyone (as in the second story).
And third we make a resolution to not only think and feel positively but to actually DO everything possible to warm up the entire world around us.
Then, as the Mimonedies says, G-d also will go out of all 'His' boundries. He will end this terrible exile. send Moshiach who will rebuild the Third Temple, gather all the Jews in the world to Israel and the High Priest with AGAIN enter the Holy of Holies to truly transform all past sins and mistakes into merits and blessings in a higher way than ever before. A total elevation of time, place and consciousness.
And it's all in our hands!! This Yom Kippur let us pray that our service of the Creator will bear visible fruit. This year will be the one that one-more deed, word or thought that will tip the scales and bring…….
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