Yom Kippur – A Day of Liberty

Afflicting the body and soul on Yom Kippur releases one from the shackles of the body and the material, and allows one to connect to the root of his soul * The relation between Yovel and the sounding of the Shofar at the end of Yom Kippur * We should accept upon ourselves on Yom Kippur to continue deepening our study of Torah in the New Year * Yom Kippur is an appropriate time to think and pray about matchmaking * Eating and drinking in ‘shiurim’ is only permitted for a person in mortal danger

Teshuva Liberates One from the Shackles of the Yetzer

Through the process of teshuva (repentance) a person is liberated from the shackles entangling him, and his soul is able to reveal itself freely, for teshuva is the desire for Divine freedom, devoid of the least bit of enslavement (Orot HaTeshuva 5:5; 7:4).

Customarily, a person is drawn after his ‘yetzer’av ha’ra’im’ (evil inclinations), such as greed and pride, anger, envy, laziness and conceit – because they offer him quick gratification; once drawn to them, however, one becomes enslaved. And although a person’s inner self still longs for truth and goodness, he finds it exceedingly difficult to realize his good intentions because he has become addicted to having his urges satisfied, and his soul remains confined and tormented in its shackles.

By means of teshuva, man is liberated, and is able to reveal his true will. His soul is released from the bonds of his ‘yetzer‘, begins to illuminate his path, and empowers the life-force within him. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “For man is never more free than when he occupies himself with the study of Torah” (Avot 6:2), because the Torah instructs a person in the path of truth and goodness, through which one can fulfill all of his good aspirations.

Yom Kippur is a Day of Liberty

Thus, Yom Kippur is also a day of liberty. However, in order meriting freedom, one needs to fight; therefore, we are commanded to fast. By means of afflicting the body, the soul is released from the bondage of the body and the physical to a certain extent, and its’ good and true aspirations are revealed. As a result of this higher attachment to the root of one’s soul, sins are detached and cast to Azazel for complete removal, allowing us to choose good (Derech Hashem, Part 4, 8:5).

Yovel and Yom Kippur

We can learn a similar lesson from the mitzvah of Yovel (Jubilee). Customarily, as a result of laziness, greed or other troubles, from time to time people were forced to sell their fields, and sometimes, even had to sell themselves into slavery. In His great mercy for them – and in particular, their families – God determined the mitzvah of Yovel, that on the Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, all slaves are freed and all fields return to their original owners, as it is written, “Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom-Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land; and you are to consecrate the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a yovel for you; you will return everyone to the land he owns, and everyone is to return to his family” (Leviticus, 25:9-10).

The Order of Liberation in the Yovel Year

The day set by the Torah in which slaves are freed and fields return to their original owners is Yom Kippur. As the Rambam wrote: “From Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur, servants would not be released to their homes, nor would they be subjugated to their masters, nor would the fields return to their original owners. Instead, the servants would eat, drink, and rejoice, with crowns on their heads. When Yom Kippur arrives and the shofar is sounded in the court, the servants are released to their homes and the fields are returned to their owners” (Laws of Shmitta and Yovel 10:14).

Blowing the Shofar at the Close of Yom Kippur to Remind Us of Yovel

Rav Hai Gaon wrote that the custom of blowing the shofar at the conclusion of Yom Kippur comes to remind us of the blowing of the shofar for Yovel. And though the basis of this shofar blowing is merely a minhag (custom), it symbolizes the culmination of Yom Kippur, for on Yom Kippur the Jewish nation merits release from enslavement to freedom, resembling the Yovel.

Freedom from enslavement to evil inclinations is analogous to the emancipation of slaves to freedom, and the return of the body to the soul parallels the field returning to its owner. For when a person is drawn after his physical inclinations, his body disconnects from his soul and becomes enslaved to foreign desires, thus handing over his powers sinfully to foreign forces. But by means of teshuva on Yom Kippur, the body returns to the soul, rejoicing together with it in the joy of a mitzvah, and reveals God’s intention in the world. In this manner, a person merits a good life, filled with blessing.

The Main Service is in the Holy of Holies

The basis of teshuva is rooted in the most exalted reality, and consequently, the main service of Yom Kippur is performed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies). The Holy Temple is the place where all Divine values ​​are revealed, and from it, they flow to the entire world. In the ‘heichal‘ (sanctuary) termed ‘Kodesh‘, rests the ‘menorah‘ symbolizing all categories of wisdom; the ‘shulchan‘ (the Golden Table) signifies parnasah (livelihood); and the Mizbayach Haketoret (incense altar) denoting prayer and the longing for closeness to God. On a higher level in the Kodesh HaKodeshim, the foundations of Israel’s beliefs and teachings were revealed. Therefore, in the Kodesh HaKodeshim rested the Ark containing the Tablets and the Torah, and above it, two Cherubim which symbolized the bond of ‘brit‘ (covenant) and love between God and Israel. Out from the Kodesh HaKodeshim flowed life to the entire world, hence its’ supreme importance, to the point where anyone who entered it is deserving of death by Heaven, and only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) entered it on Yom Kippur on behalf of all Israel, so as to connect the entire world to its source, and draw atonement, forgiveness, and life to the whole world.

Since the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile, the sanctity of the Kodesh HaKodeshim is revealed in the world through the Jewish nation’s desires and yearnings that “God’s name be sanctified on His people Israel, and on Jerusalem His city, and on Mt. Zion the abode of His majesty, and on the kingdom of David His chosen one, on His site and sanctuary, and that God reigns alone over all His works.” This is the essence of our prayers on Yom Kippur.

Awakening to the Study of Torah

As a continuation of the service in the Kodesh HaKodeshim on Yom Kippur, it would be appropriate for every man and woman, elderly and young, to accept upon themselves on Yom Kippur in preparation for the New Year, to increase and deepen their study of Torah. This is especially worthy for people engaged in yishuv’o shel olam (settlement of the world), and the fitting time for additional study is on Shabbat. Thereby, we will merit drawing insight from the Kodesh HaKodeshim into our daily lives. And this should not be taken this lightly, for the perfection of the world (tikun olam) and its redemption depends on it.

Establishing Blessed Jewish Families

When the Beit HaMikdash existed, at the conclusion of the service of the Kohen HaGadol in the Temple, the daughters of Jerusalem would dance in the orchards, in this way, find their future husbands. Seemingly, one could ask: how, on the sacred and awesome Day of Atonement, could they engage in matters of finding their spouse? However, the creation of Jewish families is connected to the Holy of Holies, as our Sages said about a husband and wife who are worthy of being faithful to one another, that the Divine Presence abides among them (Sotah 17a). And by means of such a relationship, divine unity is revealed in the world; consequently God commanded his name be erased in order that peace is made between husband and wife (Nedarim 66b). Similarly, the Ari HaKadosh said that the mitzvah to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), concerning which Rabbi Akiva said “it is a great rule in the Torah” (Safra, ibid.), is fulfilled in its entirety between spouses.

Moreover, the connection and union between a couple is symbolic to the higher bond between God and Israel, as it is written, “and God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom with his bride” (Isaiah 62:5). Therefore, ‘Shir HaShirim‘ (the Song of Songs) is considered kodesh kodeshim (holy of holies) (Tanhuma Tetzaveh 5). We also find that the form of the Cherubs placed on the Ark in the Holy of Holies was in the shape of a man and woman fulfilling the mitzvah of conjugal relations. This teaches us that holiness does not diminish life, but rather, empowers it. And when Israel ceased to do the will of God, the Cherubs separated from each other, turning their faces outwards (Bava Batra 99 a).

Think and Pray about Matchmaking

Today, indeed, we do not engage in matchmaking on Yom Kippur. Perhaps the reason is that currently we are not worthy of doing so when the Temple is destroyed. In any case, seeing as the sanctity of Yom Kippur is connected to that of the Jewish family, it is appropriate for all single men and women to think and pray about finding their partner. Often, the negative character traits of pride and greed prevent a person from finding a suitable match. On Yom Kippur when one’s pure soul is revealed, one can consider more accurately the aspirations in his life and about a truly suitable match, someone with whom he can fulfill the Torah and mitzvoth, and together, increase joy and life.

Teshuva and Prayers of Married Couples

Married couples should also do teshuva on Yom Kippur over not having properly loved and made each other happy, and pray they merit reuniting with love and joy, that the shechina (holy Presence) dwell among them, and that they merit raising sons and daughters engaged in Torah and mitzvoth.

Eating and Drinking in ‘Shiurim‘ is Prohibited from the Torah

A common mistake among doctors and ill people is their belief that the idea of drinking in ‘shiurim‘ (measures) is a sort of middle-ground suitable for sick people for whom fasting is not likely to endanger their lives. However, the truth is that drinking even a tiny bit is prohibited from the Torah, and it is forbidden for someone whose life is not in danger to drink in ‘shiurim‘.

However, the problem is that in the opinion of Ramban, when a person is dangerously ill it is preferable for him to eat and drink on Yom Kippur in ‘shiurim‘, to slightly reduce the severity of the prohibition (because someone who eats or drinks less than a ‘shiurb’mayzid ‘(deliberately), although he has transgressed a Torah prohibition, he is not obligated to bring a sin offering, and is not liable of the death penalty from Heaven). And although the vast majority of Rishonim did not mention this instruction, because in their opinion a gravely ill patient is l’chatchila (from the outset) permitted to eat and drink without any restrictions, as was written l’ma’aseh (in practice) by some of the eminent Achronim (Netziv, Ohr Sameach, and others), nevertheless the Shulchan Aruch wrote that l’chatchila, when not difficult, it is preferable for a gravely ill person to drink and eat in ‘shiurim‘ (618:7-8).

Pregnant and Nursing Women are Obligated to Fast

Pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A. 617:1). Even on Tisha B’Av pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast, kal v’chomer (let alone) on Yom Kippur, whose obligation is from the Torah. However, when there is a perceived danger to a woman’s life, or the life of the fetus, she should drink and eat.

Swallowing Medications on Yom Kippur

A sick person experiencing discomfort due to his illness is permitted to swallow pills for remedial purposes on Yom Kippur provided the pills do not taste good, and one makes sure to swallow them without water. A person who cannot swallow pills without water can mix a bit of soap into the water, thereby greatly spoiling its taste, and with this water, swallow the pill.

A person for whom fasting causes great pain is permitted to swallow pills to relieve his discomfort. Someone who suffers from severe headaches due to the lack of coffee is permitted to take pills that contain caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches.

A person who knows that fasting is liable to cause an outbreak of pain, such as a migraine sufferer, is permitted to take pills in advance to prevent the onset of pain.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

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