Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Once In A While You Get Shown The Light (Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter- "Scarlet Begonias")

There is no question that the highlight of our family's week is Shabbat. The house is cleaned; the kitchen smells of my wife's delicious cooking. When our children return from school, there are showers to take, clothes to put away, a table to set and lights to be programmed. With so much to do, what do our children do? They take of their shoes, grab a snack, and sit down to watch TV. With so much to do, they actually have the chutzpah to watch TV acting as if they have so much leisure time? Eventually everyone is ready for Shabbat. Candles are lit, blessings are made, and food is served, and eaten. Songs are sung Birkat Hamazon is said, and the table is cleared. Kids go up to bed. My wife reads, I study the weekly Torah portion read and then go to sleep. On Shabbat, again the combination of the physical and the spiritual occur. We go to Shul, I have a L'chayim or two of single malt scotch, enjoy a piece of shmaltz herring, and then go home to lunch. We eat, we sing songs, and we say Birkat HaMazon. If the weather is nice, we take a walk and visit friends, if not, the kids play quietly in the basement and I close my eyes for a few minutes. I then go back to Shul for Mincha and Maariv.  Shabbat is very unique day in which the physical and the spiritual combine in a perfect symmetry and create the opportunity for a truly wonderful day. Ever mindful of our physical existence, Shabbat is the day where our physical existence is infused with spirituality. Shabbat is the day where we bring Olam Habah, and Gan Eden down to us and our physical existence.

            This Shabbat, Jews throughout the world will be celebrating Yom Kippur –The Day of Atonement. The name of the day does sound rather solemn. For most Jews, Yom Kippur is considered a rather somber sort of day and a day in which we are supposed to “afflict” ourselves. In Masechet Yoma (the Talmudic tractate that focus on Yom Kippur), five afflictions are mentioned as part of Yom Kippur. These five afflictions are: fasting (no food or drink from sunset to sunset); washing; anointing; wearing of leather, and marital relations. While Shabbat is the day we do not afflict ourselves, when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, Yom Kippur supersedes the laws of Shabbat. Only Yom Kippur supersedes Shabbat in terms of importance. It is known as Shabbat Shabbaton – the Sabbath of all Sabbaths.  How can a day in which we physical afflict ourselves supersede the one day of the week where we miraculously bring the spiritual world down to our physical world?
                  Maybe we need to re-examine those afflictions as well as what the objective on Yom Kippur is. The Midrash explains that Yom Kippur is the day that Moshe Rabeinu  re-ascended the mountain and received the second set of the Aseret Dibrot, the second set of commandments. Remember, the first set was destroyed when Moshe saw Bnai Yisroel worshipping the Eigel Zahav, the Golden calf. In his anger, Moshe smashed the first set of stone tablets.  During this second revelation, this more private sort of revelation, Moshe had begged God to be permitted to see God’s face. While God rejected Moshe’s request, God did in fact allow Moshe to see God’s back as God passed (Exodus Chapter 33).  During these 40 days and nights, (beginning on Elul 1 and concluding on Yom Kippur), Moshe fasted.  On the one hand, he experienced a physical affliction due to the lack of food. On the other hand, he had the opportunity to be as near God as was humanly possible. In that moment he had become more spiritual than physical.  Yes we afflict ourselves. However, the “afflictions” are base on the desire to be more spiritual than physical. The “afflictions” are based upon our desire to be as close to God as humanly possible. Our “afflictions” are based upon our desire to experience God from the exalted position of the Angels without care or concern to our physical existence. The Atonement therefore is not the sole purpose of the day. The ultimate purpose of the day is to be as close to God as possible. How can we be close to God if we are ensconced in the physical realm? How can we be close to God if we need to atone for our spiritual shortcomings (our Chetaim –sins)? Our spiritual shortcomings are just that, short of God. Atonement allows us to be closer. Closer to God is a good thing. Closeness to God is the main objective of Yom Kippur. When we achieve this, we should be totally happy, at ease in utterly in awed just like Moshe was when he descended the mountain the second time with the second set of tablet.  God’s spiritual light emanated from Moshe. Who wouldn’t be happy if that happened to each and every one of us?
      Rather than thinking of Yom Kippur as so somber and serious, it is the one day of the year where we purposefully supersede Shabbat. Rather than bringing HaKadosh Baruch Hu down to us, Yom Kippur is the day that we elevate our souls towards the Kadosh Baruch Hu. The experience should be much more “awe” as in “awesome” instead of somber. That experience ought to fill us with awe, joy, and leave us radiating light.
Gmar Chatima Tov -May we all be sealed in the Book of Life
Rav Yitz

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