Yom Kippur: A Knock on the Door, a List of Our Sins

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Door Knocker

Yom Kippur 5768

Part One: Contradictions

At the beginning of every New Year, the halacha creates within us a schizophrenia of sorts. On the one hand, we are obliged to treat Rosh Hashana as Yom Tov replete with holiday apparel and festive meals accompanied by singing in the knowledge that the “Judge” of all things will certainly deem us worthy of going through another calendar year. On the other hand, we are obliged to reflect on our behavior and misbehavior, not only over the past year, but for as long back as we can remember. However, these honest reflections on our “indiscretions” suffice to quench any emotions of optimism, which we are required to adopt on this day.

Indeed, this duality of emotions is not a contradiction nor does it manifest a mental or emotional problem within us. It is part of the inherent nature of this world, as planned and implemented by the Creator, where each element is compromised into limiting its primary characteristics. The world exists not despite its apparent contradiction but because of it.

There are two necessary, competing and contradictory constant forces at work in the world. One can be defined as a thrust which initiates change, and the other as a force which resists change.

A common example is electricity. At any given moment, a power station produces electric power measured in millions of volts. Now since our homes are wired to function on 220 volts, if the full force of the voltage produced in the power station were to follow along the entire circuit, it would destroy everything in its path. In order to reduce the enormous force generated by the power station to the level of 220 volts, step-down transformers are placed along the path of the circuit, reducing its initial thrust until it reaches a level which is productive and not destructive.

The Gemara in Shabbat 88:b relates that Hashem created the torah 974 generations before creating anything else. The Zohar in Shmot 161:a informs us that Hashem then used the torah as a blueprint for creating the world. Hence, it is a mistake to conclude that since we, as physical creatures, must by necessity eat, the rabbis enacted the saying of brachot. Rather, since Hashem wanted the Jewish nation to bless Him, He created the necessity for humans to eat.

Hashem authored the Torah containing expressions of His love for the Jewish nation and its privileged state. His will, by its very essence, is a surging force aspiring for immediate fulfillment. But, since Hashem willed that mankind should go through evolutionary stages of development leading up to the realization of Hashem’s mastery over all creation as perceived by the Jewish people, it was necessary to create forces to decelerate the final redemption of Am Yisrael. These destructive forces take the form of resha (evil), whose function in every generation is to deny the Jewish God and that He is a “religious-Zionist”.

This force and counterforce have been functioning without cessation since creation – the positive forces driving all creation towards the final wholeness for which it was created versus the negative elements whose purpose is to slow down the ambitions of ge’ula.

In our time, this bipolar phenomenon has been manifested through many people who achieved positions of leadership where they served the forces of anti-redemption. In 1948, the soldiers of the Irgun Tzva’i Leumi (Etzel) and Lechi had conquered half of the Old City and were just a few hours away from reaching the Temple Mount, when they received orders to retreat. In the Six Day War of 1967, the heroic soldiers of Tzahal could have taken the entire Middle East. There was no force capable of standing up against our soldiers, because we were pushed forward by angels. We could have liberated the entire area of the Biblical promised borders of Eretz Yisrael from the River Prat to the Nile. But then the order came from Moshe Dayan to stop at the Jordan River. In the Yom Kippur War, we reached 35 kilometers from Damascus and 101 from Cairo. It was in our power to demilitarize Egypt and Syria for the next 50 years. Instead, our forces were told to stop the advance. So today, we find ourselves with an Egyptian army, which is the largest in the Middle East. In the first Lebanese War, we were on the outskirts of Beirut and could have destroyed those elements who today constitute the terror organizations of Hamas, Al-Qaeda, etc. And today, we are being told by our leaders to retreat from areas of Eretz Yisrael and hand them over to Islam.

History, when viewed in the above manner, attains a perspective which otherwise presents human events as chaotic in God’s otherwise orderly universe.

We are not very proud of many of our leaders, but we do not have a monopoly on those who prevent the redemption of Am Yisrael at a time when the forces of redemption should be dominant. In chutz la’aretz, there is no lack of leaders who show no interest in rebuilding Eretz Yisrael and even convince well-meaning Jews to remain and build their sanctuaries in the Galut. They too belong to those negative forces that hinder and repress the healthy elements of Am Yisrael in our long trek towards ge’ula.

In these “days of awe”, we can understand the relationship between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur on the background of the above scenario.

On Rosh Hashana, we stand on trial before Hashem. The aim of His judgments is to be effective immediately, as befits the commands of a king. However, since Hashem, our merciful King and Father, does not wish to punish but waits for the sinner to turn from his evil ways, He created a counterpoint to Rosh Hashana – Yom Kippur. The purpose of Yom Kippur is to decelerate the g’zar din (judgment) of Rosh Hashana and, dependent on our behavior, even change the harsh judgments.

At this critical junction in the history of our people and in the history of mankind, we are confident in the acceptance of our prayers that the creative, positive forces of redemption will soon overcome the intrusive and destructive elements in our lives. And we shall soon witness the fulfillment of the prophecies which long to burst forth as willed by Hashem 974 generations before the world was created.

Part Two: Apikorsim, A Knock on the Door

The Gemara in Shabbat 31:a reveals that one of the first issues under investigation when a Jewish neshama arrives in the world of absolute truth is “tzi’pee’ta le’ye’shua?” Did you anticipate God’s salvation?

Lashon Hakodesh contains several words describing one who lays in wait le’cha’kot or le’ham’teen or le’tza’pot.

The first two words describe passive waiting, as in the case of one who is in no particular hurry waiting for a bus. He is so engrossed in his paper that he is oblivious to the arrival of the bus, jumping up just in time to enter when the doors are about to close. In contrast, the word le’tza’pot describes nervous, impatient, anxious waiting, as one who is late for a meeting standing on the street corner anticipating and hoping for a taxi.

Now, if this is one of the issues Hashem investigates with the newly arrived neshama, it would be safe to assume that it is an issue which is under consideration every Rosh Hashana “What did you do to hasten my salvation?” Hashem asks pointedly to every one of us. “Was the sum total of your anticipation the purchase of a home on Eastern Parkway waiting for the rebbe’s return, or did you come to Eretz Yisrael and pave a new road, erect a building, establish a yeshiva, start a business or take out a murderous terrorist threatening my children?”

A mei’sa (story)

Now, it came to pass that the shamash in a little shtetl passed away leaving an elderly widow. The community volunteered to support her, but she refused to take a “hand out.” So an agreement was reached whereby she would receive a good wage for doing her diseased husband’s task of awakening the town’s people for selichot before Rosh Hashana. She was given the wooden gavel used for the task and set off at three in the morning to awaken the men of the community for selichot.

Now in the town lived a man who was known as “Yankel Apikores,” because once thirty years ago he arrived too late to recite tashlich. The first house that the shamista arrived at was Yankel Apikores. At the knock of the gavel, Yankel called out to ask who was at the door. The shamista identified herself and called “shtay uf far slichas” – “get up for selichot”. Yankel Apikores, despite all his shortcomings, was a compassionate man. He then said to the shamista, “It is three o’clock in the morning, the snow is piled up and you are not in the best of health. Give me the gavel and go home. I will wake up the people for selichot.” The shamista went home and Yankel Apikores took the gavel and proceeded to the next house. At the sound of the gavel, the baal habayit asked who was there, to which Yankel Apikores answered that it was he and that he had come to awaken every baal habayit to selichot.

At that moment, there came a loud and angry cry from within the house, “You have the audacity, Yankel Apikores, to waken me for selichot. You are nothing but an apikores and I am a God-fearing man – I will not lower myself to answer your call to selichot.

This scenario repeated itself in every house in the shtetl, so that at the beginning of the davening only two people showed up – the rav and Yankel Apikores.

About one hundred years ago, an apikores by the name of Theodore Herzl organized the Zionist Movement to arouse the Jewish people to return home and eventually establish a State of our own. He was rejected by the main body of religious Jewish leadership who said, “Who are you, Apikores, to tell us about Eretz Yisrael. We will not come to your Eretz Yisrael “So who came at the end of the day? The apikorsim and a very thin sliver of yirei shamayim.

This insanity is rampant to this very day. How many wonderful frum Jews are living abroad because their rabbi said, “Don’t go to Eretz Yisrael. Here in Boro Park and Eastern Parkway, it is easier to educate your children. Here we have no army service, no economic crisis, no chilul Shabbat.

The reality is that Israel is a democracy, and numbers decide the way the land will be governed. Permit me a little side story which reveals the greatness of the people here. It is about a young infantry captain in Tzahal [he did not tell me the story directly, but it was told by one of his friends] who had orders to spend the entire Shabbat in a camouflaged foxhole with three other men in order to ambush some Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. I won’t tell you the outcome of the ambush, but there is a small side incident which teaches us what kind of young men we are raising here. The young captain, in addition to all the essential equipment necessary for such an operation, took into the foxhole enough wine for kiddush and chalot for three se’udot for himself and for all his men. If this act were performed by the soldiers of David Hamelech, it would be taken for granted. But the fact is that it was done three thousand years after David, and after 2000 years of the gentiles trying to tear us away from the Torah. If only a percentage of our frum brothers and sisters would break away from the spiritual paralysis imposed upon them by myopic leaders and come up to Eretz Yisrael, we could turn this society around despite the Herzl apikorsim who set today’s tone.

What we do not realize is that by rebuilding the land, we rebuild ourselves as God’s chosen people. There is still so much to be accomplished. Let us not forget that Eretz Yisrael is a country under siege. Hashem drew the minimum borders of the land to be from the River Prat (Euphrates) until the Nile. The Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula are all occupiers of our holy soil.

No one knows what the future holds, but one thing is certain. Eventually, the “apikorsim” in Eretz Yisrael, they or their children, will return to the Torah. The signs are out there. And after 120 years, when the big question is asked “tze’pee’ta leyshua”, they will answer proudly and affirmatively, “Yes, we were the ones who paved the way for Your return to Am Yisrael. It was we who fought the battles and liberated the land, and for many of us it evoked the ultimate sacrifice.” And Hashem will open for them the inner chamber of Olam Haba reserved for those who saw no sacrifice too great in restoring Hashem’s presence among His people in Eretz Ha’Kodesh.

Part Three: The Sins of the Rabbis, and Me

In parashat ha’a’zinu Moshe Rabbeinu states (Devarim 32, 47)

כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם כי הוא חייכם ובדבר הזה תאריכו ימים על האדמה אשר אתם עברים את הירדן שמה לרשתה

The Torah is not an empty matter for you, for it is your life and according to it you shall merit to thrive upon the land which you are crossing the Jordan to inherit

The Baal Haturim commentary points out that the word “raik” empty appears twice in the Torah, once in the episode of Yosef when describing the pit into which he was thrown which was “empty” of water but swarming with snakes and scorpions, and the second time in the above verse in Ha’a’zinu. The commentator suggests that the connection between the verses is that just like soil taken out of a pit and put back will never fill the pit as before one can never fully fill his mind with all the Torah.

I would suggest an additional understanding of the connection between the two verses – that a misjudgment of the Torah by a rav is not an empty matter, it results in “snakes and scorpions.”

There are three cardinal sins which certain rabbanim of segments of our people are guilty of and one cardinal sin which the rabbanim of my Religious Zionist camp are guilty of.

The three sins of that other segment are:

Sin #1 – In the early part of the 20th century the gates of Eretz Yisrael were open to unlimited Jewish immigration at the time that the shadows of anti-Semitism were growing darker by the day. These leaders did everything in their power to prevent the poor simple Jews under their influence to remain in the gan eden of Central and Eastern Europe and not to come to Eretz Yisrael. And there in the rot of the shtetlach the snakes and scorpions emerged from Berlin to prove once again that a misrepresentation of the Torah results in dead Jews. Millions of dead Jews.

Sin #2 – These same rabbanim and their disciples are guilty of preventing their poor simple students from taking part in the defense of Eretz Yisrael. What greater mitzva is there than saving Jewish lives? It overrides the sacred Shabbat and all other mitzvot. There is no justification for a young man who knows the value of Eretz Yisrael not to learn and participate in the defense and future liberation of HaShem’s holy land. And for this misrepresentation of the Torah snakes and scorpions are created in the form of fellow Jews who do not find a charedi boy in a military cemetery.

Their misrepresentation of the Torah is creating a disastrous situation whereby the army is now being forced to supplement the lack of able bodied men with women soldiers, even in combat levels.

This policy creates within most of the talmidim a deep sense of shame when walking in the streets of the country while in their minds they know what people are thinking of them.

Sin #3 – These same rabbanim and their disciples have declared the Temple Mount halachically off limits, when there are huge areas on the mount which are totally permitted to be entered into. This misrepresentation of halacha has created the snakes and scorpions in the form of hundreds of thousands of Arabs who enter the mount yearly and control every part of it.

And now they are again at work doing what is regressive for the land and its people. The leaders of that segment have declared that in this shmita (sabbatical) year their adherents should purchase fruits and vegetables only from those grown on lands now in the possession of Arabs and other non Jews. In addition to all else this position is self delusional, because it is grounded on the premise that the Arab is providing his own produce when one does not the ability to be certain that the Arab did not buy the produce from Jews and then packed it in his boxes. There was a time when the chareidi sector had mashgichim (observers) in the fields at night in order to prevent this, but find me one Jew willing now to stay in an Arab field at night.

This position brings great wealth to our mortal Arab enemies, while ignoring the implications to the Jewish farmer who is deprived from income. When I speak to chareidim who follow this position, I tell them that they must salt the Arab produce in order to remove the blood.

The position of my fellow rabbanim takes into account the needs of the Jewish farmer and applies halachot which answers the needs of the shmita year and the economic realities of our life.

Now the gedolim (great rabbis), dayanim (judges) and rabbanim of the Religious Zionist camp are also guilty of a heinous crime. Their transgression is the inferiority complex from which they suffer vis a vis the rabbanim of the other camp. The Torah of the dati-leumi rabbanim is purer, more realistic and conscious that Am Yisrael is a nation not a little shtiebel in Bnei Brak or Williamsburg. Their Torah is natural not forced. They have derech eretz in all its implications – respect for fellow Jew, self supporting committed members of society.

The Torah of my fellow rabbanim emphasizes the needs of all the people of the nation regardless of their education and religious commitment. They follow the requirement to conquer and settle the land of Israel, and bring to every part of it HaShem’s sanctity. They serve in the future army of the Mashiach and say kaddish for their fallen students. Their halachic decisions, their dress, their way of speaking, is all Eretz Yisrael, not the left over remnants of the 2000 year calamity called galut (exile). They walked through the entire land as HaShem commanded Avraham to do when he first entered the land, and feel its beauty and sanctity.

One might ask here: What makes the rabbis of the chareidi camp take these decisions? The answer is – the galut and galut mentality.

What is a galut mentality?

It is the core of a song which the Belzer chassidim are proud to sing and represents the thinking of most of the chareidi camp. It begins, “Belze, Belze,” which is repeated several time, and continues with, “Until the moshiach comes Belze will be a holy Vinkle (holy little corner) etc.” That is the virus – the little “vinkle” vision, not the vision of God’s chosen people who were sent to think in world like terms; a great united people, in a large land with Yerushalayim as its capital, with the ideal to change the world.

It is not only me who demeans the galut; the Babylonian Talmud derides itself for being the product of the galut.

The talmud in Sanhedrin 24a quotes a pasuk in Aicha chapter 3:

במחשכים הושיבני כמתי עולם

You have placed me in darkness as the dead of the world

on which Rabbi Yirmiya states, “This refers to the Babylonian Talmud”

Rashi explains:

שאין נוחין זה עם זה ותלמודם ספק בידם

The scholars of (Bavel) are not pleasant to each other so their studies are replete with doubt

At this point the reader should be asking: And what is Nachman Kahana’s fault?

I have a grievous one.

I lack the courage to stand in the town square and shout the truth about the people who are leading our nation astray.

May HaShem send us leaders whose hearts are pure as He has done in the past with this fractured nation which craves to return to the authentic Torah of our fathers.

Gemar Chatima Tova, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.