Itzumo Shel Yom: The Power of Yom Kippur

According to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi in Yoma 85b, Yom Kippur atones for all sins in the Torah, both positive and negative, regardless of whether or not the sinner did teshuva. Seemingly, even if a person sins and persists in his rebellious ways, all is forgiven by Yom Kippur. Rebbi’s method raises the question: how can one obtain atonement without any effort to do teshuva?

In fact, Rebbi’s method was overruled by the Rambam, who claims that atonement in Yom Kippur is conditioned upon teshuva, and in his words:

“…and the power of Yom Kippur itself provides atonement for those who do teshuva.” (Hilchot Teshuva 1:3)

Accordingly, the Rema rules (Orach Chayim, 607:6), that Yom Kippur atones only for the sins of those who repent and believe that its atonement is effective. Nevertheless, we see from the Rambam’s language that even he assumes that there is some merit in the day of Yom Kippur itself to provide atonement even without one’s repentance.

What is the secret of “Itzumo Shel Yom” (the power of the day)?

A possible answer may be found in a Midrash in Yoma 20a, which reveals another secret hidden in Yom Kippur. The Midrash explains that the gematria (numerical value) of the letters comprising the word Satan is 364, indicating that the Satan has the power to prevail on all those days except one (Yom Kippur), which is exempt from Satan’s influence. What is the inner meaning of this midrash? What is the secret of “Itzumo Shel Yom”?

Another Gemara provides us with a vivid description of the Satan:

Resh Lakish said: Satan, the evil prompter, and the Angel of Death are all one. (Baba Batra 16b)

As it seems from the Gemara, ‘Satan’ is a general metaphor to all the evil forces that aim continuously to interfere with Divine revelation here on earth.

In the very day that Hashem created the world, He established a balance between the different conflicting forces, between good forces and evil forces (”sitra achra”), as noted by King Solomon:

This one (i.e. evil) no less than the other (i.e. good) was G-d’s doing…” (Kohelet 7:14)

Choosing Between Good and EvilIn opposition to any positive and creative force in the world, stands a negative contradicting force. Similarly, Rav Ya’akov Moshe Charlap, z”l, explains: “Hashem, in his good will, has created a disrupting force against Hashem’s mere wish to reveal himself.”

Such negative forces embodied in this world reveal themselves in different ways. When the world was created we found such negative forces in the face of the serpent. At the time of Exodus, such negative forces revealed themselves as Amalek, and sometimes we witness negative forces as the Yetzer Hara or the Satan.

How, if so, can the human race amend the world? If, indeed, there is a balance between good and evil, it will apparently be impossible to promote any positive change in the world, since, given the Talmudic principle, “The greater one’s spiritual attainment, the greater his evil inclination” (Succah 52a)?! If the more we promote the good in the world, the more the opposite evil will be promoted, how can we ever overcome such obstacles?

God is Hidden From Man in Three Dimensions

According to Chassidut, there are three dimensions of disturbance in this world (the root of the word “world” – עולם – comes from the word העלם – “hidden”). Hashem is hidden in the world under curtains of place, time and human flesh.

Every object in the world has a specific place to which that object is bound. A single object cannot appear in two different places simultaneously. Hashem, in contrast, is not bound by place, so His entity fills the entire world without any limitations or boundaries. Therefore, the limitation of place prevents us, as human beings, from witnessing Hashem.

The dimension of time also conceals Hashem from us. Our world is limited to a time scale. For every creation there is a date of birth and a date of death. Therefore, we as human beings limited in time, cannot witness Hashem’s timelessness.

The third limitation rests within the human flesh. Our own earthly bodies prevent us from witnessing Hashem, since, as the Torah reports: “No person can see me and live.” (Shmot 33:20)

Overcoming The Three Limitations

Nevertheless, for each of these three limitations, Hashem created a “loophole” by which one can overcome the interruptions and behold the Divine Presence in the world.

There are places in the world where it is easier to recognize the Shechina. The Talmud (Ketubot 110a) declares that “One who lives in Eretz Yisrael is comparable to someone who has G-d, whereas one who lives outside of Eretz Yisrael is comparable to someone without G-d.” And the Mishna (Avot 5:7) reports that among holiday pilgrims to Jerusalem, no one ever complained that there wasn’t sufficient makom (place) in which to stay overnight.

Our prayers in front of the place of Beit Hamikdash are more easily accepted – not because Hashem hears them better, but because we are better “receivers” of the Shechina in this holy place. This is why the Mishna cited above also informs us that it was only in the Beit Hamikdash that B’nei Yisrael were capable of bowing down with sufficient space, even though while standing they would be crowded together.

The Midrash tells us that the size of the Aron Hakodesh exceeded the size of the structure that contained it, Kodesh Kodashim, since in the latter, no space limitation existed.

Similarly, there are times when it is easier to experience the Divine Presence. The most prominent time is, of course, Shabbat. Upon the entrance of Shabbat, time barriers are removed, the balance between good and evil is disrupted and the spiritual forces maintain their strength in what is called the neshama yeteira, the “additional soul”.

Everything Comes Together on Yom Kippur

The pinnacle of such times, however, is Yom Kippur, when there is no disruption to the revealing of the Shechina. On Yom Kippur, we are not dominated by the Yetzer Hara; we are considered to have the virtues of angels.

Second Temple Model of the ancient Jerusalem.
Varying spiritual levels exist amongst people, as well. Am Yisrael is unique in its ability to reveal the Divine Presence in the world. However, even within Am Yisrael there exist different spiritual capabilities whereby some people are less hidden from Hashem than others. The person who has the least limitations from witnessing Hashem is the Kohen Gadol.

In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, the climax of Yom Kippur was when the most spiritual human being – the Kohen Gadol – entered the most revealing place – Kodesh Kodashim at a time of no Satan: Yom Kippur. This triple confluence provided Am Yisrael with the most significant revelation throughout the year.

This revelation of Hashem, which is most readily possible on that holy day, is in fact, the power of Yom Kippur. This is “Itzumo Shel Yom.”

Our desire for teshuva is usually motivated by our fear of the expected punishment for sins. But this conception is shallow, as explains Rav Charlap:

The punishments for every sin are indeed horrible, but pale in comparison to the severe punishment that a sin triggers another sin, since there is nothing else worse to the soul as the separation from Hashem, which is caused by sin.“

The most severe punishment resulting from sin is that which involves the separation from holiness. Accordingly, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, z”l, in his book “On Repentance,” explains the words “חטאתי לפניך” (I have sinned before You) –

A sin means to be separated from Hashem. I was standing before You (Hashem). Then sin came, led me to drift apart from You, and now I have lost the feeling of standing before You. The whole meaning of teshuva is the desire to return to once again stand before Hashem.”

Nowadays, the climax of Yom Kippur is the time of the Neila service. Says Rav Charlap: “The secret of Neila is that the heavenly gates are opened, and whoever manages to enter the open gates shall maintain the level of these lofty gates throughout the year, and whoever is not worthy of entering such heavenly gates, when Neila time comes, the gates are closed, and whoever didn’t enter them shall remain outside throughout the year.”

Teshuva in the context of the “Itzumo Shel Yom” of Yom Kippur is the revealing of Kedusha by means of exploiting the opportunities inscribed in this special time period. Whoever longs for it, can once again return to feel the Shechina.

The heavenly power that purifies us on this day obliges us to break the ice of apathy.

Hashem purifies us, but expects our cooperation:

Rabbi Akiva said, “Fortunate are you, Israel! Before Whom are you purified? Who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven, as it is stated, ‘And I will pour purifying water upon you and you shall be purified.’” And Rabbi Akiva says, “Hashem is the mikveh of Israel. Just as a mikveh purifies the impure, so, too, HaKadosh Baruch Hu purifies Israel.” (Yoma 85b)

Hashem prepares the purifying waters of the Mikveh ((מקוה ישראל, ה’. We still have to jump in and immerse.

Let us not miss out on this unique opportunity, as explains Rav Charlap: “If, G-d forbid…even at the time Hashem reveals himself to us and grants us his love, if even then we behave in a stubborn manner and ignore all of that, then…we will be accused of doing so… At such spectacular times, how can you block your ears and hearts?”

On this holy day we have to daven with tears, not just tears of pain and sadness, but rather tears of joy, real joy expressing our happiness of being reunited with Hashem. As the Ar”i, z”l, promised us, whoever sheds tears on the prayers of the Yamim Noraim is bound to have a “Chatima Tova”.

Let’s hope to acquire on this holy day the purifying Shechina resulting from “Itzumo Shel Yom”, and may all of Am Yisrael be merited with chayim tovim v’shalom (good life and peace)!

Rav Ronen Neuwirth #1
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth is the Executive Director of Beit Hillel and the Rav of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. He served as Director of the Overseas Department of Tzohar and as the Rabbi of Bnei Akiva of North America. He also served as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and is a former captain in the Israeli Navy Special Forces.


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2 Responses to Itzumo Shel Yom: The Power of Yom Kippur

  1. Marsha Roth October 12, 2014 at 6:25 PM #

    Excellent article. Can you provide the specific author of each one too?
    Marsha Roth Isaacs

  2. BeitHillel October 12, 2014 at 8:58 PM #

    Marsha – At the end of each article is the name of the article’s author, along with a picture and brief bio.

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