Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Yom Kippur 5645 First Ma'amar

Yom Kippur, in addition to being a day of atonement, is also a day of purification.  Just as mitzvos have positive effects on us, sins have negative effects on us and on our surroundings.  They sully our souls and distance us from the Creator.  We can fulfill the mitzvah of repentance by admitting our transgression, regretting it and committing not to repeat the wrong.  God will forgive us our sin and we will not be punished  However, does this automatically wipe the slate clean and purify us?
Chazal[1] teach us that when the sinners of Israel repent, the power of the Torah purifies them.  Chazal understand this from a pasuk in Yechezkeil (36:25), “וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם מִכֹּל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶם .../I will throw upon you purifying waters and you will be purified from your impure state …”  Chazal[2] teach us, too, that water is a metaphor for Torah.  Sin causes an impure state but when we repent, Torah causes purification.  Significantly, Moshe Rabbeinu brought down the second luchos on Yom Kippur.[3]

The Sfas Emes teaches the difference between the first luchos and the second.  Preparations for the first time stressed holiness and separation from the mundane.  “... וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר .../… prepare them today and tomorrow …” (Shmos 19:10)  The word that we translate as prepare comes from the root kodesh/holy.  The pasuk can thus be translated, “make them holy today and tomorrow.”

The stress of the second luchos was purification.  God was prepared to purify the nation after the idolatry of the golden calf.  While we can certainly repent, showing remorse for our actions, Chazal teach us that only God can wipe the slate clean and purify us.  Chazal learn this from a pasuk in Iyov (14:4), “מִי־יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָּמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who can produce purity from impurity.  No one!”  Chazal[4], though, read this pasuk as, “Who can produce purity from impurity.  Is it not the One?”  Reaching this state of purification is the ultimate goal of the ba’al teshuva/penitent and God grants it through Torah.

We see from the two sets of luchos that the Torah provides one approach of serving God for the righteous – separation from the mundane, holiness – and a different approach for the ba’al teshuva – purification.  It is important to recognize this because not everything that is appropriate for one group is appropriate for the other.  It is important to understand that as ba’alei teshuva, our goal is purification through keeping and learning Torah, may we merit it!

[1] Tanna deVei Eliyahu Rabba 18
[2] Bava Kama 17a
[3] Seder Olam Rabba 6
[4] Bamidbar R. 19:1

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