Rabbi Avraham Kalmanovich was going to various shuls and asking if he could make an appeal to help the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn. One of the shuls told him, “Rabbi, we apologize but we can’t allow you to speak. We have had too many bad experiences with people who speak on and on and go way over their allotted time.” Rabbi Kalmanovich assured them he’d be brief. “They all say that. The last person asked for two minutes and spoke for half an hour,” the gabbai replied. “If I speak just one word, I promise only one word, could you let me address the shul?” asked Rabbi Kalmanovich. “One word, just one word?” asked the gabbai. The rav assured him—one word. Rabbi Kalmonivich got up to speak and screamed “Hhhhhhheeeeeeelllllllllllpppppp!” and then sat down.
This is what Yom Kippur is about. We recite the psalm “L’Dovid Hashem ori v’yishi” from the beginning of Elul. The Midrash says ori, my light, refers to Rosh Hashanah, the day we achieve tremendous clarity of purpose. Yishi, my salvation, refers to the day we merit the actual salvation / help from Hashem. Yom Kippur is the day of help.
All of us need help with something: health, marriage, children, job, etc. We also know when we struggle and need help spiritually. It’s on Yom Kippur that we can ask Hashem for that help and He will grant it to us. But we need to ask!
One of the central avodahs—services—in the Beis Hamikdash on Yom Kippur to attain atonement was the lottery with two identical goats. One goat was slaughtered, and its blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies—the inner sanctum. The other goat—azazel—was to be thrown off a steep, jagged cliff. We don’t have this in our service on Yom Kippur, since we don’t have a Beis Hamikdash, so how do we attain atonement in our days? Rav Moshe Cordevero says the saying of the Vidui—confession—prayer acts as a substitute for the azazel goat. When we confess, we are shedding the avereiros from us, just like the goat was cast off the cliff. In Vidui, we are not just confessing, we are opening ourselves up to Hashem and asking for help from Hashem in those areas where we faltered.
But we also need to act, not just ask for help. During the year it’s more difficult, but asking for help from Hashem is much easier to do on Yom Kippur. Rav Shimshon Pincus gives an analogy: On a construction site, they can have a two-ton steel girder that even 20 powerful workers are unable to lift. But if they tie the girder to a crane, it is lifted effortlessly. The crane does all the work! As the girder is being lowered, a construction worker grabs the girder and helps position it to its exact needed location. Incredible! And simple! This is analogous to Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, Hashem lifts us in the air so we can reposition ourselves correctly.
There are two main areas in avodas Hashem: actions between us and Hashem and actions between man and man. The Mishna tells us that Yom Kippur only grants forgiveness for sins between man and Hashem. However, for sins between man and man, we need to ask the other person for forgiveness—not an easy task! How can we do this successfully? The Sfas Emes has incredible advice. The wording of the Mishnah is “Sins between man and man are not forgiven until one is ‘meratzah’ his friend. The word ‘meratzah’ simply translated means “appeases.” However, it can also be translated as ‘until one desires and now loves’ his friend. Yom Kippur is the time to focus on a person we had difficulty with, even if we had a good reason to be unhappy with him. If we develop a feeling of closeness to that person, forgiveness will happen. Your own transformation will help the person forgive you.
Rabbi Shmuel Berkovicz zt”l, a rav and sgan menahel of Yeshiva M’kor Boruch-Passaic who suddenly passed away two months ago, exemplified the quality of “meratzeh chaveiro.” Often, he referred to the person he was sending a message to as “yedidi ahuvi”—my dearly beloved friend. He really felt this about people, and his saying the words engendered a feeling of closeness. Rav Berkovicz taught us this powerful lesson in his daily life. Just thinking of people as close friends and verbally expressing that feeling helps develop close feelings for one another.
Let’s maximize the day of Yom Kippur, when Hashem can help us in so many ways physically and spiritually. As we say the Vidui, let us ask Hashem for help in those specific areas we need to fix. May the Almighty lift us high and reposition us to the right spot. A slight change in perspective and attitude on this most special day takes little effort and yields huge results.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.