Yom Kippur: Contradictions

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11 Sep 2010

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 Le’umi (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-Queda, 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.

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