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Yom Kippur 5771

Sep 20, 2010 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Where Is Rivkah?


Yom Kippur is an obscure day among the holidays. It is a day of primary importance, and occupies a central role among Jews of all stripes and persuasions. Yet, it is a mystery. We can, perhaps, glean some understanding of this holiest of days through examining some of the practices and prayers of the period known as Yomim Noraim.

The Selichos prayers, which focus on the recital of the Yud Gimmel Middos HaRachamim - G-d’s thirteen attributes of mercy, ushers this period in. The Mishnah Berurah writes that these prayers may not be offered until after chatzos lailah (midnight). (1) 

The central theme of the Yom Kippur prayers focuses around the Yud Gimmel Middos. During the evening prayers of Kol Nidrei and Maariv, the assembled stand, clothed in their white kittels, berobed in their tallesim as night falls.

On Yom Kippur Mincha, the Torah reading deals with the topic of giluy arayos, immorality. (2) Ostensibly, we read this in order to absorb the severity of this particular sin. 

The Medrash relates, that on Yom Kippur the emissary of Satan stands before Hakodesh Boruch Hu. He sees the Bnei Yisroel standing as angels. Just as angels have no knee joints so too do the Bnei Yisroel stand erect without bending their knees, just as angels partake of no food and drink so too do the Bnei Yisroel refrain from doing so. Angels are free from sin and so are the Bnei Yisroel. Peace reigns among the angels and the Bnei Yisroel are at peace with one another.

When Hakodesh Baruch Hu hears the words of praise from the accusing angel, he wipes away the sins of His people. (3) 


Why do we daven the evening prayers enrobed in a tallis, usually reserved for daytime?

How are we permitted to recite the Yud Gimmel Middos prior to the onset of chatzos

Why is the sin of giluy arayos singled out as an example of the severity of sin?

How is it that the prosecuting angel, prepared to bring our sins of the entire year before the heavenly tribunal, makes an abrupt reverse in direction, based on the appearance of the Bnei Yisroel on one day of the year?


Background/Deeper Understanding

There is a minor change made in the tefillah prior to Borchu in the Shacharis prayer. During the rest of the year, the words Yesharim, Tzadikim, Chassidim & Kedoshim are arranged in a manner that spells out the name of Yitzchok Avenu. On Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur the words TisRomam, TisBorach, TisKadosh & TisHalol are similarly arranged, and spell out the name of Rivka Imeinu. 

This sends us a strong message. Our role in creation is to be on the receiving end of Hashem’s life granting sustenance. To take the “raw” materials that he bestows upon us, and use it to complete his world, his chosen abode. We were created to forge a loving bond with Him, a unity of purpose, just as a wife forms with her beloved husband.

Hashem does not make this role obvious or easy. He places us in a world that every single component contained within is designed to hide our role and identity from ourselves. We are born into darkness. And so, the creation of darkness preceded that of light in the very origins of creation. 

One day of the year, Yom Kippur, Hashem lifts the veil from the world, and we see ourselves in stark reality. Our relationship with Him is like Rivkah to Yitzchok. Yitzchok Avenu’s prominent character trait is Din – Justice, and during the Days of Awe we have the ability to view ourselves a recipients of Hashem’s lovingly bestowed justice. 


It is for this reason that the Torah portion that we read is the one of forbidden relationships. When we hear these words emanating from the holy Torah we should perceive our role in the light of the ultimate relationship, with Hashem, our source, and not in the darkness of our infidelity of past. 

Yom Kippur is a day of illumination. We see our true selves, and there is no night. It is then clear that night is only a façade, and our true identity illuminates the darkness, thus we wear a tallis, even after dark. This too, is why it is not only permissible, but appropriate to recite the Yud Gimmel Middos HaRachamim at night, for it is not really night, it only appears that way. 

What makes a person is not what he does, but what he is. A relationship that is built on the basis of love and care for one another, each one seeing the other as the “other half” of one’s self, can survive the inevitable storms that rock the relationship. When one causes pain of grievance to the other, in a relationship where trust exists, there is a security, an understanding, that the harm was not meant intentionally, nor in order to wound, but out of some sort of external factor such as pressure or frustration. 

The prosecuting angel, prepared to launch his case against the Bnei Yisroel, sees them in their true form, as angels without sin, those that stand as angels on Yom Kippur and spend the day without sin are assuming their true forms. This is what they are. It is a day where heavenly assistance is present to allow and assist those who seek it, to find their true selves, and once one encounters his true self, it is a matter of course that one won’t sin, so, on Yom Kippur, one doesn’t sin. 

When we arrive at this awareness, we come to realize the root of our deeds of the past. We weren’t aware of our identity, of how great we are, of the great heights we are capable of, and we are filled with remorse, the remorse of not knowing who we truly are. 

This newfound awareness is to be carried with us when the world returns to its former state. The memory of what we merited seeing on Yom Kippur is to instill in us a sense of our true greatness, and act in accordance with out true essence in the upcoming year. 

(1) Mishna Berurah, siman 565, se’if katan 12
(2) VaYikra, perek 18
(3) Pirkei DiRabi Eliezer, perek 46

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