Perception and Purification

7 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles  

Perception and Purification Before Mincha on Yom Kippur, we read the maftir of Yonah. The commentators tell us that this section was chosen to remind us of the power of repentance. There are two aspects of mitzvot and aveirot. The first view is that they are meant to engender discipline and compliance. The commandments themselves aren’t necessarily beneficial or damaging; it is only the results that are. The second view is that they are like a doctor’s orders. Hashem tells us what is good or detrimental for us. The mitzvot have an inherent effect on us. In truth, both aspects are valid. We don’t understand the intrinsic reasons for the mitzvot and aveirot, but if Hashem commanded or forbade something, it is for our good. The commandments affect us on an internal level. Mitzvot will strengthen our bond with Hashem, while aveirot will weaken it.

During the vidui (confession), we say, “Selach lanu, mechal lanu.” Selicha refers to the intrinsic damage caused by sin. This is the doctor aspect. It is the facet that is connected to the reciprocal relationship between man and Hashem. Only Hashem can obliterate the internal damage of sin. Mechal is the external aspect of forgiveness. Hashem can forgive us as a king for the outer part of sin and as a father on the intrinsic level.

Repentance consists of three steps: regret, confession, and resolving not to sin again. The critical factor of repentance is that the person should not commit the sin again. Charata (regret)is intrinsic atonement. The verbal medium of vidui enhances both aspects. Confessing sensitizes a person to the reality of Hashem‘s presence and his responsibility for his actions. Confession makes an impression on the person, and intensifies and prolongs the effects of his teshuva. The Maharal says sin distances us from Hashem and vidui reconnects us to the divine aspect within ourselves. Focusing on charata helps us realize where we’ve gone wrong. Kabala al he’atid rectifies the rebellion aspect of sin.

Rav Lugasi notes that the first component of teshuva is taking responsibility for your actions. Then you can feel remorse for the choices you have taken and try to rectify it at the point of conflict. Teshuva also involves tuning into our inner voice and asking ourselves honestly what Hashem would want us to do. Our conscious makes demands on us based on our spiritual level. Once we begin to listen to this voice, it gets stronger.

The second challenge of charata is to admit our wrongdoings. This is a great level because it goes against our natural ego. Charata and vidui must be addressed on both a macro and micro level. We must look at our individual sins and at our lives in general and ask ourselves, “Is my life going to waste because of my misconceptions?” Hashem knows our innermost thoughts and can see how we feel about our sins. If we can express real charata, then Hashem will accept our repentance. Rav Tzadok writes that if a person makes a sincere commitment to change but is later overpowered by his evil inclination, he’s still considered a tzaddik.

Kabala le’atid is taking one thing on a concrete level as a representation of our desire to improve. Setting up a restriction to stop us from reverting back to sin shows Hashem that we want to repent. Making small resolutions such as learning the laws of proper speech or studying a sefer on prayer are ways to arouse ourselves to change. On Yom Kippur we experience true joy. There’s pure clarity as we come full circle in our relationship with Hashem. Hashem is like the groom and we are like the bride and we tell him, “We’re ready to take the step forward.” This can have far-reaching repercussions.

Another theme in the book of Yonah is Hashem‘s mercy on all of his creations. If Hashem showed compassion for a foreign nation, he certainly desires to be compassionate towards us. Yonah is read at mincha, a time of eit ratzon (favor). Yonah asked Hashem for truth and justice. And Hashem answered, “I run the world differently.” Humans have physical limitations but Hashem is all merciful. On Yom Kippur, we ask Hashem to judge us mercifully just as He did Yonah and the people of Ninveh.

May Hashem grant us complete forgiveness. May He wipe our slates clean and may we merit to begin a new year filled with promise and accomplishments.

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Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur Davening: True Atonement

6 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by  Rabbi Michael Taubes

True Atonement In the Torah, Yom Kippur is referred to in the plural form as Yom Hakippurim. Rav Soloveitchik explains that atonement is associated with sacrifices, which were a major part of the Yom Kippur service. The Rambam writes that since today there are no sacrifices, teshuva atones for all of our sins. Referring to Yom Kippur in the singular might lead us to think that we cannot attain atonement today because we don’t have korbanot. Therefore, it is referred to as Yom Hakippurim

Every person approaches teshuva with his particular background. There’s repenting from fear and repenting from love. A person can do teshuva while he is still young or when he reaches old age. Therefore we say, Yom Hakippurim to allude to the many different types of teshuva and the varied levels of atonement. Another reason for the plural form is that Yom Hakippurim also applies to atonement for the dead and the living. In fact, the practice to recite Yizkor was originally associated with Yom Kippur. The dead, whose judgment is ongoing, achieve atonement on Yom Kippur too.

In the Torah, vidui is discussed in the context of korbanot. It is not mentioned in relation to Yom Kippur. During the times of the beit hamikdash, the procedure a person underwent to purify himself literally transformed him into a new being. This is the essence of Yom Kippur. A Jew must become a different person to the point where he can say to Hashem, “The decree you placed upon me doesn’t apply anymore.” This encapsulates the concepts of teshuva and tahara (purification). The idea of mechila (forgiveness) has its roots in monetary law where a person can forgive a liability. Similarly, we ask Hashem to overlook our debt of sin. When a person purifies himself it’s as though his sins are completely erased. In the Yom Kippur prayers, we say, “Ki bayom hazeh yichaper aleichem l’taher etchem.” The essence of Yom Kippur is purification and the power of the day itself brings atonement, even without korbonot. According to one opinion the atonement comes even without teshuva. That is why there is such joy on Yom Kippur, and especially at its culmination.

Our sages tell us that when a person does teshuva out of love, “z’donot naasu lo k’zechuyot,” his intentional sins becomes merits. How do we understand this?

We become a different being when we repent. The same energy and creativity that we invested in sin is now put into mitzvot

 

Selichot are prayers of forgiveness. The central motif is the recitation of the thirteen attributes, which appears numerous times throughout Neila. If we want to be the beneficiaries of Hashem‘s chesed we must live up to these attributes. We don’t recite the full vidui during Neila. This is because we’ve already confessed our specific sins throughout the day. Yom Kippur is supposed to lead us to something beyond this, to a place where our focus turns to our central mission in life and our true goals.





Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur

6 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur #1 & #2 Rav Hai Gaon teaches that the custom to blow shofar at the end of Yom Kippur is based on the Torah obligation to blow shofar on the Yom Kippur of the yovel (the jubilee year). The Kol Bo says it is meant to confound the Satan. The Meiri concurs with this second reason but the Shibolei Haleket, the Mordechai, and the Tur mention the first reason. Tosfot in Shabbat offers a third explanation. The shofar blowing proclaims that night has fallen and that one is now permitted to prepare the festive meal of motzai Yom Kippur. Many rishonim suggest other reasons, among them that it is a sign of the Divine Presence ascending to the heavens.

Why do we blow shofar every year if the shofar of yovel was only blown once in fifty years? In addition, if the shofar was only blown in Eretz Yisrael during yovel, how does it connect to motzai Yom Kippur when the shofar is blown everywhere? Rav Hai Gaon explains that there is a doubt when yovel falls out. Therefore, we blow shofar in every year. This still begs the fundamental question: What is the connection between yovel and Yom Kippur?

The Meshech Chochma discusses the sanctity of yovel and shemitta (the seventh year). While both relate to the land, shemitta is connected to Shabbat while yovel corresponds to Yom Tov. Shemitta and Shabbat both have inherent holiness, while yovel and Yom tov are dependent on the sanctification of the Jewish people. We say in Kiddush of Yom Tov, “Mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim.” Likewise, Yovel is established through the proclamation of the Jewish court and its holiness is dependent on our actions.

Yovel signifies repentance and freedom. Property is returned to its original owner, slaves are set free, and liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. While shemitta focuses on the earth, yovel involves the individual. Rashi says the term yovel refers to the blowing of the shofar. Rav Kook explains that yovel is a kind of social and economic revolution necessary for the equilibrium of society. Similarly, the purification of Yom Kippur is the ability to transcend the shackles of the evil inclination. It proclaims freedom from the desires of the yetzer hara. On Yom Kippur, we become like angels divested of physicality. Likewise, yovel has an element of the world to come where the satan cannot rule. ‘Hasatan’ is the numerical value of 364, which signifies the 364 days of the year when the Satan has permission to meddle in our lives. One day in the year, Yom Kippur, we return to our source and are set free of his overpowering influence.

The shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur heralds the realization of the ideals of yovel. We once again enter the lofty realm of alma d’teshuva (the world of repentance) and alma d’cherut (the world of freedom).





On Yom Kippur we ask ourselves, “Where am I?”

16 09 2010

Path To Teshuva-Part I
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Path To Teshuva-Part I

The Chafetz Chaim once said that the telephone was invented to teach us that what is said here can be heard there.  When a person speaks lashon hara or uses bad language, it’s all heard “up there.”  A train teaches us the value of time. If you arrive a second late you’ve missed it. A telegram teaches us that every word counts. Credit cards also impart a valuable lesson.  In life, you can get anything you want, but eventually you’ll have to pay for it.

There is a way out, though. During the Ten Days of Repentance in Shmoneh Esrai we say, “Zachreinu l’chaim…l’manecha Elokim chaim. Remember us for life, for Your sake.” If you’re working for the Big Boss, it’s a company expense, otherwise it’s charged to your account. If you buy a new dress in honor of Yom Tov, the bill’s on Hashem. If you buy it for your own honor, the bill’s on you. If you build a big fancy house to knock people’s eyes out, you’re going to have to pay for it. If it’s to do hachnasat orchim, Hashem foots the bill.

The Torah termed Esav, ish sadeh, a man of the field, because even when he was in the Beit Midrash, his head was in the fields. In contrast, Yaakov was called yoshev ohalim. Wherever he found himself, his head was in the Beit Midrash. This is the question we need to ask ourselves on Yom Kippur, “Where am I?” Is my mindset that of Esav or do I identify with Yaakov?

It’s not enough to hear the shofar, it has to move us to action. When we move the clock back, people always exclaim, “Great! An extra hour of sleep.” Do we stop to think what we’re saying? Sleep is one sixtieth of death. We’re grabbing on to the tree of death. Can we ask Hashem for life if we’re squandering it on sleep?  Why waste time sleeping if we can fill those very hours with Torah and mitzvot?

Before Ne’ila on Yom Kippur, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would make a deal with Hashem. He would offer his sins in exchange for forgiveness, life, sustenance and children; life so that he could continue to thank and praise Hashem, sustenance so that he could have strength to bless Him, and children so that they could engage in Torah and mitzvot. Let this heartfelt prayer be on our lips as we earnestly beseech Hashem, “Give us life, l’manecha- for your sake – so that we can extol and glorify your name.” May it be a blessed, sweet, new year.





On Yom Kippur Hashem Welcomes Us Back as His Children

13 09 2010

The following inspiring Yom Kippur article is based on a Naaleh.com class by Rabbi Michael Taubes

One of the most moving and inspiring highlights of the Yom Kippur davening is Kol Nidrei. We preface this prayer with the words, “Al daas Hamakom, v’al daas hakahal. With the approval of the Omnipresent and with the approval of the congregation.” “Hamakom” is one of the names of Hashem, which connotes that He is found in every place. Why do we specifically refer to Hashem here as “Hamakom?”

Rav Soloveitchik explains that we find the name “Hamakom” used in situations where we might think that Hashem is far away. We comfort mourners with the verse “Hamakom yinachem eschem.” We remind a person grieving over a loved one that Hashem is right there with him, feeling his pain, and that he will help him through this tragedy. Similarly, in our prayers on Monday and Thursday we say, “Hamakom yirachem aleheihem,” where we pray for people who are suffering. In times of affliction one can very easily succumb to feelings of abandonment. Therefore we emphasize that Hashem never leaves us and
that He will always stand by us come what may. During the Pesach seder we recite, “Baruch Hamokom baruch hu.” Here too, while we recount the torment of our forefathers in the midst of Egyptian enslavement, we refer to Hashem as Hamakom.

On Yom Kippur we may think that our many sins have formed a barrier between us and Hashem and that He is now far away from us. Therefore we use the name Hamakom. We inject that element of chizuk and accentuate that He is still here with us waiting patiently for our return as a loving father welcoming his wayward son back home.





Elul, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur For Children

22 08 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller

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Creating Elul consciousness in the home really begins with our understanding of what Elul means. The Sefas Emes explains that there is a place within Hashem’s infinite reality where his love for us is so great that nothing can touch it. Similarly, there is a hidden spark of ahavat Hashem within each of us that can never be defiled. The theme of Elul is “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” Discovering that place of pure love, emunah, and yearning for deveikut within ourselves draws down Hashem’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For adults, Elul is a time to push aside all the trivialities of daily living and get in touch with our deep inner selves through teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.

A good way to explain Elul to young children is through a parable. One can tell what something really is by looking at the end product. Following all the directions exactly while baking a cake, will usually yield good tasting results. Similarly, who we were during the year shows up in Elul. Ask the children to pretend that a very important person is expected to visit. You bake a delicious cake but it comes out a real flop. It’s too late to go out and buy new ingredients.  Imagine if you could sprinkle a magic potion on the ruined cake and turn it back to its original raw ingredients. You could then bake the cake again and it would come out just perfect. That is the wonderful gift of teshuva. We can go back as if we hadn’t done the mistakes, change it, and make it better once again.  In Elul, Hashem gives us a whole month to think about our wrongdoings and correct it. If you hurt someone, you have to say I am sorry. Show them how to do this sincerely. If you took something without permission you have to return it.   Go through their things with them. Teach them too how to forgive.

Rosh Hashana is about accepting Hashem’s kingship. Explain to your children how Hashem , our loving king, comes down to us once a year and how we great him with joy and awe. Children also need to understand that there is accountability. Although, most know about the three books that are opened on Rosh Hashana, tell them how every person writes their own story through their speech, actions, and thoughts.

Very young children should not be taken to shul because if they are forced to sit quietly for long periods of time they may come to despise going to shul. Letting them run wild in shul is anti-chinuch.  If feasible, take them for shofar blowing and some of the serious parts of the davening such as U’nesane Tokef to increase their yirat shamayim.

During Aseret Yemei Teshuva, encourage children to do more mitzvot. Give them extra coins to give to tzedakah and have them recite short chapters in tehilim.

Introducing the highlights of the Yomim Noraim to older children from the age of ten to early adolescence can be a bit more complex.  Take time to speak with them during Elul. Ask them what they would desire more, a fancy camera or to be married to someone they respect. They will probably answer the latter. Explain to them that the pleasure we derive from people stems from seeing their ruchniyut. This is something of the yearning we have for closeness to Hashem. Get them to identify all the gifts and talents Hashem has given them.  Tell them that Hashem gives us these things out of chesed and that he expects us to use it well. Let them see your Elul, how you are trying harder and working on yourself. Explain to them that Elul is the time to redefine ourselves, a period of great chesed, where we can once again resolve to make things work. Tell them stories of people who completely changed themselves. Ask them for mechila and encourage them when they express any signs of regret for past misdeeds. The real message of Elul should come through clearly-make your own transformational moments or ask Hashem to send them to you, decide what you want to be, and be it.

Rosh Hashana is a time when we renew our relationship with Hashem by recognizing Hashem’s malchut. This should awaken a certain desire to do and be more. Children can get very distracted by the externals of the day such as new clothing and the simanim. Stories are a good medium to explain “ol malchut shamayim.”  Tell your kids to aim for absolute acceptance of Hashem’s kingship. They should understand that our only desire is to do Hashem’s will. In a sense we are telling Him, “Wherever you take me, this is where I want to go.”

Older teens don’t like being told what to do. Share some inspiring ideas or stories you have read. The more indirectly you talk, the more directly they’ll hear it. The only condition though is, you have to “walk your talk”. Ask yourself honestly if you are at the level you want your children to be.Think ahead and plan things out carefully. Ask Hashem to give you the right words, clarity of mind, siyata deshmaya, and credibility, to guide your children on the true and straight path.





Elul: The Shofar’s Wake Up Call

12 08 2010

In this Torah shiur (class) on the month of Elul, Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg connects the message of the blowing of the shofar, which is done every day of the month, to the essence of the month of Elul.  This Torah class is available online in streaming video and for download in mp3 and ipod video formats.