April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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“Wherever you find the greatness of the Holy One—there you will find His humility,” a fact proven from the Torah, the Nevi’im and the K’tuvim. In the Nevi’im it is taught: “So says the exalted and uplifted One, He who is eternal and Whose very name is holy, ‘I dwell up high in holiness, yet I am with the downhearted and despondent to revive the spirit of the lowly and downcast…’”

The Talmud in Megillah (31a) teaches us a revealing fact: although Hashem is greater, holier and far above His creations, He nonetheless sees their troubles and cares for them. The proof verse from the Navi is taken from the very outset of our haftarah of Yom Kippur morning.

Yet, the fact is that there appears to be very little reason to wonder what the connection between the day and its prophetic reading is. The prophet Yeshayahu cries out against those who regard fasting as simply an act of abstinence, against those who believe that by refraining from food and drink they have repented from their sins. He cries out, “Hachazeh yi’hiyeh tzom evchareihu?—Is such the kind of fast I desire?” asks God. The prophet then goes on to exhort the people to learn the true purpose of a fast—not that it be an end in and of itself, but that it is to be a means toward an end: an end that must mean caring for the less-fortunate, breaking the shackles of evil and the bonds of injustice. Certainly, there can be no better message for penitents than to urge them to change their sinful ways and use the day of fasting as a day of introspection and commitment to improve.

But our Rabbis saw more in this vision than this one message, as important as it is. The point they make in the aforementioned statement found in Masechet Megillah is that this prophecy should also lead us to realize that God, the Almighty and the Most High, cares for mortal man and desires his repentance. God who, as Kabbalists understand, “reduced” His presence (“tzimtzum”) in order to make room for His creations, is also the Creator who cares for them and desires that they too make room in their world for others. How beautifully the Maharal points out that these verses that open our haftarah emphasize that humility and greatness are not contradictory. Rather, he writes, Hashem’s greatness is revealed in His humility—it is part of what makes Him so great!

For we who look to return and to improve, humility is an essential ingredient. Only one who can recognize his failures can hope to improve—it is indeed the very first step toward sincere repentance. The ability to realize our shortcomings, the humility required to change our ways, does not lessen us, for true greatness can come only through humility!

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

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