Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The intensity of the holy day of Yom Kippur embraces us in a spirit of sanctity and otherworldly transcendence. The stirring prayers and ancient rousing melodies evoke within us paradoxical feelings of dread, apprehension, excitement, and passion. As the day wears on we ignore the pangs of hunger and fatigue that gnaw at us as we propel ourselves into a realm of another world.

And then the sun’s descent reaches the treetops, casting a luminescent glow upon the horizon. The physical day is fleeting and the spiritual gates are closing. There are just precious moments left - but what moments! G-d Himself sits in final judgment affixing His Diving Seal to the written judgments for the upcoming year.

The final prayer uniquely endemic to Yom Kippur – Ne’ilah – is our last ditch attempt to plead our case. On other fast days by this time we are all but spent, counting down the final moments until the fast is over. But on Yom Kippur we somehow procure a surge of spiritual energy. The intensity of the prayers reverberates from the walls as beads of perspiration trickle down faces covered by talleisim and onto kittels. Tears are unabashedly shed until the final cries of “Shema Yisroel” and “Brouch Shem” are proclaimed.

The Dubner Maggid related a stirring parable to explain why we are naturally moved to tears during the ‘signature’ moments of Ne’ilah:

The King and Queen were beloved and revered by their subjects. But alas, for many years they were not blessed with a child. When a daughter was finally born to them the whole kingdom celebrated. From far and wide all came to express their good wishes upon the birth of the princess.

Years passed by and the princess grew into a fine and mature young woman suitable for marriage. The king spared no effort in trying to find a young man who was worthy of his daughter. When he finally found a suitable young man the king’s joy was boundless.

The wedding was celebrated with tremendous pomp and fanfare. How beautiful the young couple looked with radiant eyes full of optimism and vitality.

When the festivities were over, the young couple tearfully bid the king and queen farewell as they set off on their long journey to the distant town where they would live.

As soon as their home was set up and arranged the princess realized that her husband was not quite the man he had shown himself to be. He began to treat her disrespectfully, degrading her, and relegating her to perform debased chores. The princess’s life became a living nightmare. Her husband all but abandoned and ignored her, treating her like a lowly maid while he lived up the good life.

After eleven months of utter misery for the princess, a letter arrived at their home announcing that the king was journeying to their town to visit them for two weeks. From the moment he read the letter there was a marked change in the prince’s behavior. He began to treat her with respect and dignity, running to fulfill her every request.

When the king arrived he was duly impressed with the manner in which the prince treated his daughter. He spent two beautiful weeks with the young couple, enjoying meals and deep conversations. The king was proud of his dignified and courteous son-in-law who possessed such acumen and wisdom.

The day of the king’s departure finally arrived and the king was gathering his last belongings before heading out to his waiting coach. Suddenly the princess burst into his room crying bitterly. “It’s a farce”, she sobbed, “it’s all an act. My husband is not who he appears to be. He treats me terribly and I live a life of abject misery. As soon as you leave everything will go back to the way it was. Please father! Please don’t leave me this way! I cannot bear it any longer!”

The Dubner Maggid explained that our soul is a princess of pristine purity and holiness. G-d dispatches our souls into this world to be housed in a corporeal body. The body has tremendous potential; it is the ‘prince’ who will house the ‘princess’. The body’s mission is to care for the princess, helping her develop and become even greater. But as soon as we arrive in this world we quickly forget our mission and the holy soul within ourselves. We abuse our soul, relegating it to second-fiddle at best, as the body indulges in the hedonistic pleasures of this world.

Then the month of Elul arrives. The shofar is blown heralding the imminent arrival of the King of kings to visit and judge each of us. There is an immediate change in our behavior as we seek to elevate our actions and be more particular to laws and stringencies.

Yom Kippur arrives and we stand in fervent prayer, like angels beseeching the Almighty for a year of blessing and goodness. Then in the waning moments of the day, when our body has been enervated to the point where our motivation is soul-driven, we burst into tears before our Father in Heaven, “It’s a farce! It’s a fake! Things are not as they should be! During the year we forget about our soul and abuse it, as we allow ourselves to become subjugated to every vapid whim of society and our Evil Inclination.”

That was the beautiful parable of the Dubner Maggid. But it seems fitting to add to the parable1. How does the king respond to his daughter?

He looks into her eyes with tears streaming down his face, “My dear daughter, I love you and feel your pain so deeply. However, I cannot take you away from your husband. This marriage is your destiny and you must embrace it. Still I cannot leave you this way. I will speak to the prince and I want both of you to travel with me, back to the palace. We’ll spend a week together and your husband will see how I treat the queen with dignity and devotion. Maybe it will have an effect on him and when you return home afterwards things will be different.”

In a similar vein, G-d replies to us, “Come into the succah. Spend a sublime week living in the shadow of My embrace, where everything you do – eating, drinking, sleeping – will be holy and sanctified. Then, when you re-enter your homes on Shemini Atzeres perhaps things will be different. Perhaps this year what you gained during these Holy Days will remain with you so that when the routine of life returns you will not forget about the pure soul within you.”

On the final day of his life, Moshe taught Klal Yisroel the “Shiras Ha’azinu”. He introduced the magnificent song by calling on heaven and earth to bear witness to his words: “Give ear O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth2.”

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin3 noted that one’s attitude, mindset, and conduct are different when one is in praying in shul than when he is in the street conversing with friends. When one is immersed in prayer he feels humbled before his Creator and recognizes his inferiority. When he leaves the synagogue however, his attitude quickly changes as hubris and feelings of self-importance return.

The point of prayer and repentance is to create an internal transformation that occurs while we stand before G-d not be fleeting and transient but that we genuinely internalize that growth

The prophet states, “Take words with you and return to G-d.4” The prophet was exhorting the Nation to take the words of prayer that they uttered with them when they leave the synagogue, so that their repentance will be sincere and complete.

Moshe Rabbeinu was urging the Nation to be a holy people even involved in their mundane pursuits. His opening words are to be the mantra for every Jew: “Let the heavens give ear,” i.e. let my spiritual heavenly pursuits be so dominant and internalized that, “the earth will hear the words of my mouth”, even my earthly physical pursuits will be elevated.

In the psalm recited each day throughout the month of Elul and until Shemini Atzeres5, Dovid Hamelech beseeches G-d, “One thing I asked of G-d, that I shall seek: That I dwell in the House of G-d all the days of my life; to behold the sweetness of G-d and to contemplate in His Sanctuary.”

As the king Dovid led many wars, and had to avail himself constantly to the needs of the nation. How could he request that G-d ‘keep him in His House all the days of his life’ if he had many responsibilities outside the Study Hall?

Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita6 explained that Dovid Hamelech was asking G-d to enable him to feel that he is always in the House of G-d, even after he left its confines. Dovid wanted to be able to always picture himself as being in the presence of his Creator even when he was far from the Study Hall, in the throngs of his mundane responsibilities.

When the time came for the Tabernacle to be constructed, G-d told Moshe, “They shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amidst them7

The Alshich notes that the verse does not say, “I will dwell within it”" but “I will dwell within them” - i.e. within each and every one of them.

G-d enters wherever we allow him to enter. Our goal is to make ourselves a conduit for His Presence throughout or lives.

The goal of our efforts during this most sublime time of the year, is that we achieve permanent growth that we are able to maintain throughout the year. Long after the melodies and frenzied tension of Yom Kippur has faded, the spiritual growth of the day must continue to resonate - throughout the year and throughout our lives.

“May the earth hear the words of my mouth”

“That I dwell in the House of G-d all the days of my life”

1 The following addition is from a grahmen by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman
2 32:1
3 L’Torah ul’moadim
4 Hoshea 14:3; It is the haftora for Shabbos Shuva
5 Psalm 27 “L’Dovid Hashem Ori”
6 Tiv Hamoadim – Elul/Tishrei
7 Shemos 25:8


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