Yom Kippur 5782


Shluchim Sermon

From the Rebbe’s Torah  

Yom Kippur 5782

Humor to begin with: 

A hunter kills and eats a bald eagle, and is arrested for violating the Endangered Species Act. He pleads guilty, and throws himself on the mercy of the court.

"Your Honor," the hunter said, "I had no idea that it was illegal to kill and eat a bald eagle. If you let me go, I'll never do it again."

"You've committed a very serious crime," the judge replies. "But you clearly weren't aware of the law, so I'm willing to overlook it this one time. However, before I let you go, I'm going to ask you to do one thing."

"Anything, Your Honor," the hunter replies. "What is it?"

The judge says, "It's been illegal to kill a protected species for many years, so very few people have ever eaten a bald eagle. For the record, can you please tell everyone what a bald eagle tastes like?"

The hunter thinks for a moment and then replies, "It tastes pretty good. Kind of like a cross between a spotted owl and a condor."


Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. We return to G-d, and in return G-d forgives our sins

Why does G-d forgive our sins? Because our relationship with Him is like father and son — when a son begs forgiveness from his father, his father cannot help but forgive him, for they are innately connected. 

But why on Yom Kippur? Because on Yom Kippur, that connection is open and revealed. Not always are obvious things obvious. Sometimes, the most true ideas seem greatly out of touch with what is happening on the ground… But then there are special times, when what is obvious and true comes to the forefront. 

Our true essence as G-d’s children is revealed today, for there is a revelation of G-d’s essence today — and to His essence, sins we may have transgressed are not all that important, as long as we decide to do better. 


But wait: Isn't Rosh Hashana the same idea? Didn’t we discuss on (/About) Rosh Hashana (/it is explained) that the essence of G-d is then revealed, when we crown G-d as King of the World. Didn’t we explain (/it is explained that) we need to arouse G-d’s desire for there to be a world, and desire is entrenched in the essence? 

So why don’t our sins become forgiven already then? Why don’t we do a “double-header” on Rosh Hashana? Crown G-d as King, as for forgiveness, and quickly get on with the celebrations of Sukkos? 


It is true — on Rosh Hashana, the essence of the soul is stirred. But it’s the essence of the soul the way it is right there — in our essence.

Rosh Hashana effects unity between Jews, because we are up there — above differences, but that unity does not manifest itself in eliminating practical differences. Accordingly, after praying, we each go to our eating and drinking, and then, we are all different in our manner. 

Because we’re “up there” on Rosh Hashana (the way the essence is at the essence), we don’t ask forgiveness for our sins. Because up there, there aren’t any sins to begin with. It’s just the essence, unclothed by any “superficial” and practical embodiments. 

We are rising way beyond ourselves, and Crowning G-d as King. G-d is the focus. World? Not so much. 


Then comes Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur the connection of the essence of our soul with the essence of G-d becomes revealed down below. 

After going “up there” on Rosh Hashana, we are rewarded with it coming “down here.” We can’t just bring that connection down to the palpable world without first arousing it itself, where it is — way above us.  

But now, G-d makes this connection with Him palpable within the physical realm. Not just through abstracting ourselves. That’s the unique energy of this day. 


Now, down here, our sins exist. Being that the essence of our souls — who we truly are — is revealed, we regret our sins, and we ask G-d for His forgiveness. 

(This isn’t a contradiction to us being in the state of “essence” — above sins —  for on Yom Kippur, the essence is being revealed, to us, as we are, down here.)

That’s also why the unity between Jews on this day is even more palpable — because it’s coming down and being revealed here. 

Hence: (On Yom Kippur eve, we announce that we permit prayer even with people who may have been excommunicated because of wrongdoing.)

(Not only that:) Everyone is literally the same in the observance of the commandments of the day: No eating? Everyone does that the same way… No leather shoes? Same observance for everyone. No drinking? You don’t do things just as another doesn’t.  We are all one — literally and practically. 

[This idea also fits with the mystical reason for not eating on Yom Kippur (הפרטים מלקו”ת): 

Usually, throughout the year, we serve G-d by eating and drinking. The soul wants us to eat and drink. When we intend to use the energy from eating and drinking for good things, we are elevating it to G-d. 

But on Yom Kippur, what the soul wants and our source of sustenance is from the fasting itself. 

The soul is so close to G-d that it does not want to eat and drink — all it wants to be is “hungry and thirsty” for G-d. And on Yom Kippur, from that it receives its sustenance. 

Now, when it comes to elevating food, everyone’s on their own level. But when it comes to receiving sustenance from G-d through not eating, everyone is the same.] 


On the topic of the connection of all Jews, equally, on Yom Kippur

Once during the Neilah prayer, the Baal Shem Tov cried and entreated more than the usual. The disciples understood that there was a great prosecution Above and the situation was grave, and they also intensified their prayers and crying. When the rest of the congregation saw this, their hearts were shattered and they also joined the impassioned supplication.

There was a young man there from a village, who had come for the Days of Awe to the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue. He was completely uneducated, and he stood the whole time looking at the face of the cantor without saying anything.

As a village dweller, the boy knew the sounds made by all the different farm animals, and he especially esteemed the rooster’s crowing. When he heard the weeping and the outcries, his heart was shattered as well,  and he cried out loudly, “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!”

The worshippers in the synagogue were confused to hear a voice crowing like a rooster, and a few of them scolded him to quiet him down, and would have thrown him out if he had not protested, “I am also a Jew.”

The confusion was pierced by the voice of the Baal Shem Tov, followed by the disciples as they hurried to finish the Neilah prayer. The face of the Baal Shem Tov shone, and with a special melody the repetition of the Amidah commenced for the Neilah prayer.

As Yom Kippur ended, the Baal Shem Tov related to his disciples that there had been an accusation leveled in heaven, with the prosecution seeking to have a particular community sentenced to destruction.

As he aroused divine mercy on the community, a great prosecution was aroused against him for encouraging Jews to settle in villages and out-of-the-way places, where they were likely to be influenced by their gentile neighbors. When he began to examine the behavior of the village dwellers, he saw that the situation was very grave.

However, suddenly the sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, nullifying all the prosecutions.


And, because the connection between the essence of our souls and the essence of G-d is all revealed to us down here — after we ask for forgiveness, Hashem forgives our sins, as they exist, down here, and grants a good and sweet year. 

May it so be His will; and we only experience open and revealed good in our lives — and if G-d will hopefully grant: the number one fix-it: the coming of Moshiach, the redeemer who will bring the awareness of the one true G-d to the world, and when all will be open and revealed good. 


On that note, I will end off with a story

Reb Mordechai, a follower of the third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866) had been dispatched by his Rebbe to wander the countryside of Russia, journeying from town to town and inspiring the Jews scattered there with the teachings of Chassidism.

But one day — it was the day before Yom Kippur — he arrived at some town in the middle of nowhere only to hear that all its Jews, about one hundred altogether, had left the day before to the city of Vitebsk to pray in the large synagogue there on the Day of Atonement. Suddenly, only a few hours away from the holiest day of the year, he found himself without a minyan — the quorum of ten Jews required for communal prayer.

"You won't find any Jews here, Rabbi," one of the townspeople told him. "But about two hours away there's a small village of Cantonists. They're a strange bunch, but that's the closest thing to Jews you'll find around here now."

(The Cantonists were Jews who, by decree of Czar Nicholas I, had been snatched from their families when they were young children for a 25-year term of "service" in the Czar's army, where every cruel means had been employed to force them to abandon Judaism. The few that survived were so emotionally and psychologically destroyed, when they left the army decades later, that they were never able to live normal lives. So they lived together in little villages, apart from the rest of the world.)

Immediately, Reb Mordechai started walking, but after over an hour he still saw nothing. No... wait! There seemed to be something on the horizon.

Sure enough, there it was. There were only a few old wooden houses, but this had to be the village he was looking for.

The first resident that saw that the rabbi enter the village called everyone else, and in no time they were all lined up with shining faces, taking turns shaking the newcomer's hand.

They were overjoyed. Such an honor to have a real rabbi as their guest!

Suddenly they stepped back, formed a sort of huddle, and began whispering to one another. Then they fell silent, looked again at the rabbi, and one of them stepped forward in great humility, cleared his throat, and announced:

"Excuse me, Rabbi, but we would be very honored if His Excellency the Rabbi would please honor us with leading the prayers of Yom Kippur."

All the others stood staring at the Rabbi with wide pleading eyes, nodding their heads beseechingly.

Reb Mordechai nodded in agreement, and the joyous hand-shaking ritual was repeated once again.

"We only have one stipulation," the man continued. "That one of us leads the closing prayer of the holy day, Ne'ilah."

An hour later, in the solemn atmosphere of Yom Kippur, they were all seated in their little shul (synagogue), listening to the beautiful heartfelt prayers of the Chassidic rabbi, Reb Mordechai.

A very special feeling overcame Reb Mordechai. He had never quite experienced a Yom Kippur like this. He had never been in such a minyan; comprised of Jews each of whom had been through hell, things that he could never even dream of experiencing, only for the sake of G‑d. And although he had studied all the holy books and they knew nothing, he felt dwarfed by these simple folk.

His soul flowed into the prayers, and it seemed to him that he had never sung so beautifully in his life. First Kol Nidrei, then the evening prayer. On the following day, he prayed the other three prayers, and read twice from the Torah.

But finally, at the end of the day, came their turn; it was time for Ne'ilah.

Reb Mordechai stepped back, took a seat in the small shul with everyone else, and waited to see what was going to happen. Why did they want this prayer for themselves?

One of the Cantonists rose from his chair, took a few steps forward and stood at the podium, his back to the crowd.

Suddenly, before he began to lead the prayers, he started unbuttoning and then removing his shirt.

Reb Mordechai was about to say something, to protest: You can't take your shirt off in the synagogue!

But as the shirt fell from the man's shoulders, it revealed hundreds of scars; years upon years of deep scars... each one because the man refused to forsake the G‑d of Israel.

Reb Mordechai gasped and tears ran from his eyes.

The Cantonist then raised his hands to G‑d and said in a loud voice.

"G‑d... Send us Moshiach! Redeem the Jewish people now!

"I'm not asking for the sake of our families, because we don't have any families.

"I'm not asking for the sake of our futures, because we have no futures.

"I'm not asking for the sake of our livelihoods or our comfort, or our children, or our reputations, because we don't have any of those things either.

"We're just asking: Assey l'maan shemecha — Do it for Your sake!"

And then he put on his shirt and began the prayer.


מוקדש לזכות רפאל קלמן מיכאל בן רחל יעטא רבקה

לרפואה שלימה וקרובה


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