This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Yom Kippur (5771)
This Shabbat will be the holiday Yom Kippur, literally "The Day of Forgiveness" is the holiest day of the year. It is the day that the High Priest used to enter the Holy of Holies and G-d makes it easy for everyone to do 'Teshuva' i.e. 'Return' to Him.
Teshuva is not the same as repentance. Repentance can only produce a new future while 'tshuva' actually 'returns' and rectifies the past, or, in the language of the Talmud; "Transforms sins into merits."
This happens because on Yom Kippur EVERY Jew feels he/she is entering the 'Holy of Holies' deep within their soul where dichotomies of past present and future are non-existent. Therefore correcting the past is as possible as the future.
Here are three stories that will help illustrate.
1) Once there were two Jews that had a very heated argument over the boundary separating their adjoining properties; each thought that the other wanted to cheat him and steal land that didn't belong to him. They came to Rabbi Chaim of Velozin, one of the foremost Torah experts of all time, to decide their case and eventually the Rabbi had to call in several strong men to hold each of the litigants back so as not to get violent.
After the Rabbi heard their arguments he sat for a few moments in silence and then announced that he wanted to visit the actual site of the land in question.
A half hour later they were standing on the disputed territory and the Rabbi gave each of them permission to re-state his case and warned the other to maintain silence until he was finished. When each had emotionally made his claim, pointing and gesturing to the land and where they thought the boundary should REALLY be, the Rabbi thought for a minute as though he was digesting the two arguments, removed his hat, put a kerchief on the ground, got down on his knees on the cloth and put his ear to the earth.
The two litigants looked at him in bewilderment as he listened intently for a minute to some subterranean message then rose and brushed himself off.
"Good!" The Rabbi announced and noticing the questioning look on their faces explained. "I heard both of your claims but I wanted to hear what the land had to say." Each one thought that perhaps the Rabbi was blessed with some sort of extra-sensory perception till he interrupted their thoughts.
He turned to one and said "You say the land belongs to you" then turned to the other, "and you say the land in question is yours. But the land said also said something. It said that in another 30 or 40 years BOTH of you will belong to it! And I have decided in favor of the land. Now, are you still interested in acting like egotists?"
The Rabbi had put things in proper perspective; reminding them of a bigger reality and puncturing their egotism. They looked sheepishly at one another, shook hands and made a compromise.
2) When the sixth Rebbe of Chabad; Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak became of marriageable age and his parents announced that they were seeking a suitable bride, within days offers poured in from all corners of Russia and Europe. Who didn't want such a gifted, holy, kind, important Jew for a son-in-law? It became a major problem as to which offer to consider.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's grandmother Rabbanit Rivka (who had been the wife of the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rebbe Shmuel) was a practical woman. She of course wanted the bride to be righteous, positive, caring, intelligent etc. but she insisted that she should also have money. She had lived in poverty much of her life and knew what a terrible financial situation her son, the Fifth Rebbe; Rebbe Shalom Ber lived in; he and his family were often on the brink of starvation. She wanted her grandson to be spared such bothersome, unnecessary suffering in order to be free to help others.
But her son, Yosef Yizchak's father the Rebbe Reshab (Shalom Dov Ber) and his wifedidn't agree. They favored a girl who had all the good qualities his grandmother wanted but put no emphasis whatsoever on money.
So they all went to the prospective groom and asked his opinion and he sided with his parents over his grandmother. 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 Rabbainit Rivka and at the first opportunity, which was a few hours before Yom Kippur that year, he visited her and asked her forgiveness.
She answered by saying she wanted to tell him a story. They sat down and she said:
'Once there was a Jew who lived in a small town and had a large family. As Yom Kippur approached he decided that rather than spending the holiest day in the year in their small town with its tiny synagogue they would all travel to the nearest large city, some four hours drive away, and spend holiday with relatives in the large synagogue 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 he planned. He woke early and was ready to go at eight in the morning but his family got bogged down and 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, unfortunately, his family became so involved with packing, preparing, getting arranged in the carriage and traveling that they completely forgot about their father's plans, took another road and arrived in the city without him.
'Hours later he 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: even though your children, the Jews, have forgotten you and even abandoned you… forgive them with a complete heart as I have forgiven my children."
'Rabbainit Rivka smiled and said, "Nu? 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 some ten years of his life in exile in Siberia at hard labor for the crime of 'Jewish' activities.
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 the day Rabbi Mendel was there, the girl was late in arriving home. 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 weather prevented him from making a proper search for her and, on the other hand, he hoped that perhaps she had only been delayed and would arrive any moment. But as time passed he became more and more worried, paced back and forth like a lion and debated internally if he should risk his life to go look for her or just wait for a few more minutes.
This old fellow had a large dog that he kept in his front yard and suddenly it scratched at the door, barked for a few seconds and then ran away as soon as the peasant opened it. The man was so worried about his granddaughter that he just cursed the dog, slammed the door and forgot it. Then the next time it happened he figured maybe it was hungry so he put out some food. But when the dog repeated the same thing three or four times; barking for a few seconds then running away, at first the man got increasingly angry because it was disturbing him but finally he decided maybe it was trying to tell him something.
So the next time the dog came scratching he and Reb Mendel and the man already had their coats on and as soon as it ran away 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.
They brought her back to the house, warmed her up and saved her life. Suddenly they realized what the dog was doing; 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.
Reb Mendel said he learned a profound spiritual lesson from this.
Coldness can kill.
A person must always avoid being cold to G-d and His Torah and there are many ways to keep 'warm'. You can warm yourself by learning, understanding and saying words of Torah by heart wherever you are.
But if you see that someone else is spiritually freezing to death you must learn from that dog; go out of your nature and do everything possible to save them: Both by trying to arouse his 'grandfather' (i.e. pray to G-d for help) and also by personally providing love and attention.
Rabbi Futerfass took a near death situation and transformed it to a deep life-lesson.
This is the Tshuva of Yom Kippur and this is how we can transform our sins to merits.
First we must put our lives in the proper perspective (as in the first story). Namely we must remember that G-d created us with faults to inspire and challenge us to overcome them. And this we can do by returning to the REASON we were created: to make this world (past present and future) a blessed, joyous meaningful place.
Second (as in the second story) we must forgive the past shortcomings of others and pray for mercy for everyone.
Finally we must make a resolution to not only pray but to actually go out and DO everything possible to try to 'warm' the entire world with love and positive speech and action.
Then, as the Rambam says, G-d will send Moshiach; a true leader who will rebuild the Third Temple, gather all the Jews to Israel, Then the High Priest will once again enter the Holy of Holies but this time in a higher way than ever before. Namely, in a way that will truly transform all the darkness and ignorance of the past to light and knowledge of the future.
It's all in our hands!! This Yom Kippur let us pray to G-d that He give us power to do ALL WE CAN, and that HE should do all HE CAN to bring...
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