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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Yom Kippur 5771 - On The Mark
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The Dubner Maggid[1] was legendary for his uncanny ability to answer virtually any question with an engaging and apropos parable The Vilna Gaon[2] once asked the Maggid the secret of his skill to imagine innovative parables on the spur of the moment. True to his legacy, the Maggid replied by relating a parable:

There was once a prince who desired to master the skill of archery. He spent hours each day studying the acumen of the greatest archers in the kingdom. With time the prince himself became renowned for his precision and exactitude as an expert archer.

One day the prince was traveling through the forest when he noticed an arrow which cut right through a bull’s-eye on a nearby tree. At first the prince thought nothing of it, but then he noticed numerous bull’s-eyes throughout the area. The prince could not get over it. What marksmanship this archer must have! The prince insisted that his men seek out who was responsible for the incredible display of talent.

After some time they returned to the prince with an unkempt child. The prince was astounded, “Was it really you who hit every bull’s-eye in this forest? Please tell me your secret. I have never seen anyone with your talent and ability.” The child began to laugh, “Your graciousness, I will show you the great secret of my talent.” With that he pulled out an arrow and shot it haphazardly at a nearby tree. After the arrow landed clumsily, the child took out some chalk from his pocket and drew circles around the arrow, until it appeared like a perfect bull’s-eye.

The Maggid concluded, “You see I too first imagine my parables. It is only later that I seek a question which can be answered with the help of the parable!”

The Shulchan Aruch states that even one who is not particular to only eat Pas Yisroel[3] during the year, should be particular to do so during the Ten Days of Penitence.

What is the meaning behind this law? Are we trying to fool G-d during this intense time of judgment and scrutiny? Why should one engage in seemingly hypocritical acts during these days, when he is well aware that he has absolutely no intention of maintaining these stringencies after Yom Kippur is over?

In the pizmun[4] recited on the morning prior to Yom Kippur we beseech G-d, “O gracious One, favor Your people who believe in Your Name, assign for me an advocate (angel) who will conceal my inadvertent sin; who will suppress my guilt with his left hand, and elevate my merit with his right… On the morrow, may this sign be.”

Why do we ask that our sins be concealed; would it not be more logical to request that our sins be obliterated completely, as the prophets stated[5]?

After having sought refuge from his brother Eisav’s wrath for over two decades, Yaakov Avinu began his journey back home. When he finally encountered Eisav, the Torah[6] relates, “Eisav ran to greet him, and he embraced him, and he fell upon his neck, and he kissed him and he cried.”

Rashi, quoting the Sifrei, offers two very diverse explanations of Eisav’s ironic behavior. One opinion is that Eisav’s emotional display was an insincere external front. However, the other opinion is that at that moment Eisav was overwhelmed with compassion for Yaakov and indeed Eisav embraced Yaakov wholeheartedly.

The Shelah explains that both opinions are true:

Chazal[7] note that the word Satan (שטן) has a numerical value of 364. This alludes to the fact that Satan has the ability to prosecute us in heaven during 364 days of the year. However, there is one day a year when he is not granted permission to speak negatively about the Jewish people, and that is on Yom Kippur.

The Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer[8] states, “When Satan sees that he is not allowed to prosecute on Yom Kippur, he comes before G-d in order to be a good advocate, and speak in defense of Klal Yisroel. He says, “Master of the World, You have one nation analogous to the ministering angels in heaven. Just as the ministering angels do not eat or drink, so too the Jewish people do not eat or drink on Yom Kippur; just as the ministering angels are barefoot, so are the Jewish people barefoot on Yom Kippur… Just as the ministering angels are pure of sin, so are the Jewish people pure of sin on Yom Kippur”.”

This is an absolutely astounding thought. It is inconceivable that Satan – the angel devoted to prosecuting against us in heaven constantly – should suddenly become a passionate advocate on our behalf, simply because he is denied his usual role. How can the prosecutor become our supporter in our greatest moment of need?

There is a known adage in the world of education that the worst thing a “spirited child” can do for himself is to have a perfectly behaved day in school. For inevitably his parents and teachers will use that day against him, constantly pointing out that, “See you could do it if you really put your mind to it. Remember that other day when you had a perfect day? That means the rest of the time you’re just not trying enough!”

The reality is that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”, i.e. even a child who has a very difficult time in school will have a good day on occasion. But for such a child, the good day is the anomaly, not his usual rambunctious behavior.[9]

The Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi BenZion Halberstam shlita, explains[10] that in truth Satan has no intention of being an advocate for us. In fact, au contraire, he remains true to his mission. However, on Yom Kippur his prosecution is stated with devious deceit.

Satan stands before G-d and preaches about the holiness and purity of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur. He emphasizes their sincerity and devotion on this most sublime of days. The implication is that if the Jews can reach such a level on Yom Kippur, they could be living on such a level throughout the rest of the year. The fact that they do not proves their unworthiness and insincerity throughout the rest of the year.

This is essentially what occurred during the fateful encounter between Yaakov and Eisav[11]. Eisav ran towards Yaakov and kissed him wholeheartedly because his compassion was truly aroused at that moment. That feeling was actually rooted in Eisav’s apathy and disdain for Yaakov, and that encounter symbolically foreshowed what occurs every year. On Yom Kippur Satan embraces us with seeming love and devotion. Truthfully however, that love really masks his efforts to destroy Yaakov completely in a most vile and deceitful manner.

It is for this reason that we ask that our sins be concealed but not totally eradicated. We want to impede the cunning prosecution of the evil inclination on Yom Kippur. Let him not be able to say that we have no sin. Rather, that we have transcended our sins and raised ourselves close to G-d, despite our mishaps and failings. Indeed we hope that G-d will pardon and forgive our sins completely, but Satan should not be able to use that against us.

During the days preceding Yom Kippur and on Yom Kippur itself we behave above our usual level of observance and adherence.

It is analogous to a woman who comes down the steps one morning, completely disheveled, and still half-asleep. As she walks past the mirror she is appalled by her appearance. “What has happened to me?” she wonders. But then in the corner of her eye she sees her wedding picture hanging next to the mirror. There she stands alongside her new husband, beautifully made up, and looking her best. She realizes that the woman in the picture is her, and that she is truly that beautiful - if she only took the time and had the patience to make herself look like that again.

It is true that we do not live on the same level as we do during the Ten days of Penitence. But throughout the year, in our lowest moments, when we feel distant and frustrated with ourselves and our spiritual state, we suddenly remember the levels we reached during the sublime Days of Repentance. We remember that we truly are great people, if we only have the fortitude and confidence to raise ourselves back to those levels.

In that sense Yom Kippur is the bull’s-eye, around which we must paint our year. At times we may feel that we have strayed, even to the perimeter of those surrounding circles. But as long as Yom Kippur remains the center point, we are still somewhere ‘on the mark’.

“And he kissed him and he cried”

“On the morrow, may this sign be”

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[1] Rabbi Yaakov Kranz 1740-1804; Dubno was a village in Lithuania

[2] Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, 1720-1797

[3] Bread baked by a Jewish baker; although Pas Akum – bread baked by a non-Jew for private use may never be eaten by a Jew, Pas-Paltar – commercially baked bread by a non-Jew (e.g. Freihoffers, Thomas, etc.) is permitted. During the Tens Days of Penitence the custom is to refrain from eating Pas-Paltar as well.

[4] Liturgical prayer containing a refrain, and recited responsively between chazzan and congregation

[5] e.g. Yeshaya 43:25 “I, only I, am he who wipes away your willful sins for My sake, and I shall not recall your sins.”

44:22 “I will have wiped away your willful sins like a thick mist, and your transgressions like a cloud; return to Me, for I will have redeemed you!

[6] Bereishis 33:4

[7] Yoma 20a, and Vayikra Rabba 21:4

[8] Perek 45

[9] This obviously does not apply to most children (thankfully). This was only said regarding the child who is simply ‘not wired’ for the classroom.

[10] Erev Yom Kippur 5766

[11] Satan is the angel of Eisav

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