This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Yom Kippur (5772)
In a few days will be the holiday of Yom Kippur; Literally 'The day of forgiveness'. On this day the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) would enter the Holy of Holies and G-d would forgive all sins.
This, at first glance, is problematic.
It's hard enough to understand how mortal, limited 'repentance' can bring forgiveness for sins committed against the infinite, Almighty G-d.
But it certainly is not understood how A DAY can bring do the same thing… especially now, when we have neither a High Priest nor a Holy Temple. How can a day bring forgiveness?
To clarify this here is a story I heard from my mentor and advisor Rabbi Mendel Futerfass o.b.m. some 20 years ago.
Shortly after World War Two, Josef Stalin "The Sun to the Nations" had reached the ultimate degree of dictatorship. He was adored and feared by the entire Russian populace. His rule and judgment were so absolute that even the millions of his own people that suffered and even died in his various 'correction' camps were expected to be grateful to him for 're-educating' them.
When Rabbi Mendel Futerfass was taken to prison it was shortly after Rosh HaShanna.
He was a Lubavitcher Chassid; a Jew that believes that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Moses of the generation. Now, in Communist Russia one of the most heinous and treasonous sins was teaching non-Communist doctrines, like Judaism.
But when the Lubavitcher Rebbe (at that time Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak) said that every Jewish child in the world must get a genuine Torah education Reb Mendel threw himself into the task and eventually got arrested, charged with subversive activities and thrown in jail. It was pretty clear that he would spend the rest of his life inSiberia, which in most cases wasn't very long.
There, in his large damp prison cell together with two hundred criminals he suddenly realized that several days had passed since Rosh HaShanna and that in a few hours it would be Yom Kippur; The day of Forgiveness!
A normal person would have been depressed, especially a religious Jew. Not only did G-d not protect him, he was he arrested because he was religious! And to top things off he would have to spend the holiest day of the year in this hell hole and who knows how long he would live afterwards.
But Rabbi Mendel wasn't normal; he was a Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe!! What would he accomplish by depression? He had to transform bad to good! That is what being a Chassid all is about!!
So he prepared for himself a little Synagogue; his bed. He decided he would sit on his bed and say as many of the prayers of Yom Kipper as he remembered by heart (he didn't have a prayer book) and what G-d would do was G- d's business.
Now the prayers of Yom Kippur are long, complicated and many but one prayer stood out in his mind; a poem arranged alphabetically each line beginnning with the phrase, 'Everyone believes' ('Kol Ma'aminim'): Everyone believes that there is nothing but G-d etc.
In the stillness of the night, while everyone else was asleep he sat swaying gently back and forth on his bed and praying to the Creator.
Then suddenly the thought entered his mind "Hey, what am I saying here! ? 'Everyone believes' Everyone believes!?' Why, the evil sadists who threw me into prison were Jews! They were anti-Semitic bloodthirsty Yevsektsia ('Jewish division' of the communist party) who lived only to wipe out any mention of Judaism and G-d.
Reb Mendel shook his head and said to himself, 'So I have a question, so what? a question is not going to stop me'. He put the question aside with all his other questions and finished his prayers.
Several nights later he had a soul-shaking experience. All the two hundred prisoners were sound asleep, snoring in the large overcrowded cell. Reb Mendel was saying the ' Shema Yisroel' prayer before going to sleep when he felt strange. He looked slowly around and his eyes met someone else's. A murderer was staring at him. It was Ivan, a huge mountain of a man with a scarred ugly face. Everyone knew him and was afraid of him. Now it seems that he had set his sights on poor Reb Mendel.
Maybe because he hated Jews, perhaps another reason, but Ivan jumped silently from his bed, crouching like a huge cat and quietly approached.
He bent down, put his face into Reb Mendel's and whispered deliberately and slowly, "You're Jewish?"
Reb Mendel never hid his Judaism; better to die a Jew than to live a lie. He looked Ivan in the eye and answered firmly, "Yes!"
Ivan pointed to his own chest and whispered, "Me too." Reb Mendel moved back in surprise; something was going on behind those murderous eyes.
"And I'll say something else" Ivan whispered, "I even fasted Yom Kippur. That's right! Ivan the evil man who hates G-d and everyone fasted on Yom Kippur."
He paused for what seemed an eternity and continued. "A few days ago I heard one of the Jewish prisoners say, 'Tomorrow is Yom Kippur'. So suddenly I remembered my grandfather and decided I would fast! I don't know why, but I did.
"The next day I told the guards I was sick and they put me in the ' hospital' (which was no more than an empty room with a wooden bed) locked the door and I just sat there.
"After a while, it occurred to me that I'm supposed to be praying! Jews PRAY on Yom Kippur. I remembered that my grandfather took me to Shul (synagogue) and he used to pray and cry to G-d with all the other Jews, and now look at me! I'm a murderer, a thief, all I've done is hurt people. Then I cried too …..
"Then suddenly I remembered a prayer!
"It was something my grandmother used to say to me every morning. I remembered her soft, sad eyes and I began to cry. Do you hear? I cried on Yom Kippur just like my grandfather did! Just like all the Jews! And when I stopped crying I didn't even wipe my eyes I just said:
"Modeh Ani L'fa'ne'chaw Melech Chai v'Ka'yam" ('I surrender before You, living and eternal King', said upon waking every morning)
"I don't even know what it means. But I sat in that room the entire day. That's right, from early in the morning until evening and said it over and over again: ' Modeh Ani L'fanechaw Melech Chai v'Kayam. Modeh Ani L'fanechaw Melech Chai v'Kayam.'"
He paused for another minute in deep thought, then snapped out of it, pointed his finger at Reb Mendel and whispered menacingly, 'Now don't you tell anyone what I just told you, understand?! Nothing. I said nothing."
And he turned and went back to his place.
Reb Mendel sat in the silence staring at Ivan as he climbed into his bed, turned his face to the wall and was snoring instantly.
Suddenly the thought entered his mind. 'Aha! That is the answer to my question I had on Yom Kippur about 'Everyone believes': Why, if that murderer believes..... it’s a sign that EVERYONE believes!
This answers our questions. Deep down inside, every Jew feels that G-d exists, controls the entire world in all its details and is infinitely good.This is the true identity of a Jew… that is why they are called 'Sons of G-d' (Ex. 4:22); they feel and believe that G-d always loves them unconditionally. And when they feel this it is impossible for them to sin; just as it is impossible for a normal person to sever a limb from his own body.
But when this feeling is covered by false egotism and a person feels alone it is possible to do the most destructive deeds, As we saw from Ivan in our story; but as soon as he returned to himself… he became a different man.
And that is what happens on Yom Kippur. On this day every Jew is given a 'taste' of what the High Priest felt when he entered the Holy of Holies; namely total oneness with the Creator. In other words, today every Jew….even Ivan… becomes a miniature High Priest in theTemple.
The only catch is that after Yom Kippur we have to maintain this feeling for the rest of our lives… or at least the rest of the year.
And the way to do this is by learning Chassidut (see your local Chabad House for details).
Chassidut, especially the teachings of the Chabad Rebbes, not only teaches that this goal is VERY close to us, it also shows us how to achieve it and assures us that by doing so we hasten the arrival of Moshiach. And Moshiach, as the Rambam (Moses ben Maimon) writes, will transform the entire world into a Holy of Holies.
So it all depends on us, even those of us that are as 'far' away as Ivan can enter and arouse the Holy of Holies within.
Then, even one more good deed, word or even one positive thought can tilt the scales and bring….
Wishing all our readers a Gmar Chasima Tova: a good, healthy, successful, meaningful, joyous, sweet new year with Moshiach NOW!
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.