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Acharei Mos

Ki Bayom Hazeh Y'chaper


REGARDING YOM KIPPUR, the Day of Atonement, we are told(Leviticus 16:30), “For on this day He will atone for you, to purify youof all your sins; before G-d you will be purified.” The expression”He will atone for you” sounds like a reference to some prior versein which, presumably, the one who will atone is identified. Yet this is not so;although it is clear from the context that the reference is to G-d, this isnowhere made explicit. Why, then, didthe Torah not simply say, “For on this day, G-d will attone for you”?Why the oblique reference to G-d simply as “He”? The significance ofthe answer will be better appreciated after the following discussion:

Yom Kippur is the day when repentance is most efficacious.The Hebrew word for “repentance” — t’shuva — literally means”return,” the idea being that one should strive to elevate one’s souland return it to the pristine state of holy purity and union with G-d in whichit existed before being born into this material world. This union is expressedby the Zohar’s comment (missing from today’s extant texts but quoted innumerous later sources) on the verse describing G-d’s creation of Adam (Genesis2:7), “and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” The Hebrewword for “breath” in this verse also means “soul,” and theZohar seeks to explain the seemingly strange image of G-d “blowing”the soul into man. The Zohar states, “One who blows, blows from withinhimself,” i.e., from deep within the person — as distinct from therelatively superficial level of breath that is expended by merely speaking.Just blow strenously a few times and you will agree that something of one’sinner vitality is expended thereby. After telling us that G-d created the worldwith ten sayings (“Let there be light, etc.”), the Torah relates thatwhen it came time to give man a soul, this was not accomplished by just anotherspoken command, but by “blowing” — because our soul is of the inneressence of G-d, as it were.

The above underscores what an unimaginable descent it isfor the soul to leave its sublime and lofty source and plunge into the darkestdepths of this physical world. One wonders what could possibly justify such adescent; why, in other words, was it G-d’s will that the soul descend at all,especially since t’shuva — elevation and return of the soul to its originalstate — is extremely difficult and not always successfully accomplished?

To understand this, we must first understand the symbolismof the verse (Deuteronomy 4:24), “For G-d, your G-d, is a consumingfire.” It is the natural tendency of fire to soar upwards. When one looksat a flame, one can easily imagine it leaping and springing in its struggle tobreak free of its moorings — the wick or logs which hold onto it, as it were– and ascend heavenward. Similarly, it is written of G-d’s word (Jeremiah23:29), “Is not My word as fire?” The symbolism of this is that the”words” by which G-d created heaven and earth (the “tenutterances” referred to above, i.e, “Let there be light”;”let there be a firmament,” etc.) — and, more to the point, thespiritual creative energy with which G-d imbued them — is like a fire in thatthe tendency of this G-dly energy is to return to its heavenly source ratherthan remain invested within creation as its animating force.

Nevertheless, it does remain within creation, constantlyrevitalizing and renewing its existence, as it is written (Psalms 119:89),”Forever, O G-d, Your word stands fast in the heavens.” In fact, justas a fire cannot truly be called by that name unless it grasps onto and is heldby some fuel, e.g., wick or logs — that is, there can be no disembodied,”floating” fire — the “word of G-d” is an expression thatcan only be said to apply when that “word” is invested within thecreated universe: G-d on His own, so to speak, certainly needs no “spokenwords.” Now, when G-d first created the universe, this was an act of purekindness on His part; there was nothing which man did (not yet having beencreated) to have deserved it. However, now that we do exist, it is incumbentupon us mortals to elicit the benevolence on the part of G-d shown by Hisconstant renewal of creation.

This is accomplished through Torah and its 613 mitzvos(which can be categorized as 248 positive commandments like “put ont’fillin” and 365 negative injunctions like “do not steal”).These serve as the “wicks” and “logs” which hold the”fire” of G-d’s word within this world.

This is so because the 248 positive and 365 negativemitzvos parallel the 248 limbs and 365 organs which the Torah identifies withina person. One’s limbs serve as vehicles for the expression of one’s will (e.g.,the arm automatically extends as soon as the person wishes to perform sometask), and may be said to be “garments” in which that will is”enclothed.” Similarly, the mitzvos of the Torah express G-d’s willwithin creation and are allegorically called its “garments” for thatreason. This is all alluded to by the verse (Isaiah 43:7), “All that iscalled by My name and for My honor I created it, I formed it, even did I makeit.” “Honor” (kavod in Hebrew) is associated with garments, asthe Talmud relates (Shabbos 113a), “Rabbi Yochanan called his garment[his] ‘honor’.” Thus, the statement that everything in the universe wascreated for the honor of G-d contains the implication that it is only by actionof the “garments” of G-d — His will as expressed through mitzvahperformance — that the universe is created.

Torah study as well, in addition to performance of itsmitzvos, is called G-d’s “honor,” since it is His wisdom ans will. Infact, the Hebrew word for honor, kavod, is numerically equivalent, by thegrammatical principal of gematria, to 32 — the mystical “32 pathways ofwisdom” by which the Torah proceeds from its “natural” state asG-d’s incomprehensible wisdom to the point at which we mortals can understandits application to everyday life.

Now, we have just finished explaining that the Torah andits mitzvos are the “wicks and twigs” which hold the “fire”of G-d’s creative word in this world. More specifically, the Torah and mitzvoscan be grouped into the three broad categories of Torah, prayer and charity,corresponding to the three categories in the Mishnaic teaching<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””>  (^^^), “the world stands upon threethings: on Torah, on worship (avodah) and on acts of kindness.”Furthermore, these three things can be identified with the three expressions ofcreation in the verse quoted above: “I created it (b’rasiv), I formed it(y’tzartiv) … I made it (asisiv)” — which in turn correspond tothought, speech and action.</spanstyle=”mso-spacerun:>

Prayer requires concentration: one must pay attention(kavanah) to what one is saying and have the requisite intent in one’s mind andheart. It is true that one must pronounce the words aloud, but this isprimarily to arouse one’s intent. In Hebrew, the word for “created”(bara) connotes coming into being out of nothing. Likewise, thoughts spring into a person’s mind as from nowhere.This is why prayer, which is primarily a function of kavana — thought andheartfelt intent — corresponds to the expression “I created it.”

In particular, what one should strive to concentrate onduring prayer, and to develop in one’s heart, is a true recognition that G-d isOne with an all-encompassing unity, and that the worshipper, too, is a part ofthat. One should try to arouse within oneself the sincere feeling that only G-dmatters, and that one is totally subservient to Him; one has no will other thanto attach oneself to G-d and be utterly devoted to His will.

The form of our morning blessings is structured around theabove theme and the idea that, as mentioned above, this manner of worship helpsdraw G-d’s life-giving force down into this world. The formula, “Blessedare You, G-d our G-d, King of the universe…” may be parsed as follows:”Blessed” in Hebrew (baruch) connotes drawing forth. The first Divinename in the blessing (the Teragrammaton, the ineffable four-letter name of G-d)symbolizes G-d as he transcends creation, G-d’s very “self,” as itwere; the second Divine name (Elokeinu, our G-d) is associated with G-d’spresence within creation. The idea is, we are beseeching G-d that the spirituallevel represented by the first name — the transcendent, personal level ofG-dliness — be drawn down and so thoroughly imbued within us that G-d can becalled by the second expression — our (own) G-d. That is, we seek to be socompletely abnegated (batul) to G-d that we are the very embodiment of His willand His name can therefore be identified with us: “our G-d,” just asour forefathers, who were totally batul to G-d, merited to have G-d called bytheir names (the G-d of Abraham, etc.). And since, as explained above, this isaccomplished through Torah and mitzvos, which hold G-d’s life-force within theworld, it is through our acheiving this that G-d is “King of theuniverse” — that is, that the existence of the entire universe isconstantly renewed. What is more, a king is of necessity somewhat removed from,and exalted over, the people; a person could not rightly be called”king” over his sons even if he had a great many of them. Bycontrast, we Jews are called “sons” of G-d, as it is written (^^^), “Youare sons of G-d your G-d.”

The expression “I formed it” is associated withspeech. This is because speech is not really created from nothing; rather it isan expression aloud of what had already existed in one’s thoughts. One ismerely “forming” and ordering the thoughts into words. Whereasthought corresponds to prayer, this level therefore corresponds to Torah, whichis primarily studied aloud and taught to others, as in the verses (^^^)”and you shall teach them [the words of Torah] to your children and youshall speak in them,” and (^^^) “and you shall ^^^speak of it day andnight.”

(Although Torah is considered spiritually superior toprayer, as our sages have taught (^^^) “and Torah study surpasses themall,” there is no contradiction in identifying Torah with speech and prayerwith the relatively superior level of thought. This is because, as known tomystics, the higher something is in terms of its spiritual source, the lower inthis material world will it find expression.)

Finally, the expression “I made it,” whichcorresponds to action, is associated with acts of charity, for obvious reasons.

Now, by these three ways — prayer, Torah study and actsof charity, corresponding to thought, speech and deed — we draw down G-dlinessinto the world. Nevertheless, the three are not equal in their effect. Toreturn to the metaphor of these things as “wicks and logs” for the”fire” of G-dliness, a wick and a log are not the same either. Theflame which attaches itself to a wick is small, but it is of a pure and refinedquality. On the other hand, flame grasping onto logs is abundant and mighty,yet it is of a comparatively course quality. Similarly, the G-dly”light” that is associated with the “thought” of prayer issuch that its spiritual effect is not that broad within the world, and isdifficult to perceive, yet is of a very “refined” and superiorquality. The G-dly “light” of action, by contrast — mitzvaobservance and Torah study, which is also “action” in the sense that(^^^) “moving his lips is [considered] action” — is morefar-reaching and its effect in animating the universe is more revealed.(Indeed, it is said that action is the main thing, as implied by the verse(^^^), “today, to do them” — often quoted in Torah literature forthe proposition that “today” (i.e., this world as opposed to thehereafter, which is called “tomorrow”) is mainly a time for action,”doing.”) Still, it is not of the same superior quality as”thought.”

Despite the above, all are necessary and interdependent.This is comparable to the fact that in a person, one’s thoughts (especially theunconscious instructions of the brain to the rest of the body) are subtle andtheir effect, though vital, is imperceptible; while bodily action like walkinghas actual and obvious effects that are perceptible to all, yet is on arelatively lower level than the activity of the brain. Clearly, however, bothbrain and body are necessary and interdependent, for the brain drives the legsand the legs move the brain. The verse “For G-d your G-d is a consumingfire” has another important implication. To burn successfully, a fire must have something to grasp onto which isfit to be consumed. Green logs, for example, will not burn as well (if at all)as dry tinderwood. Just as the fuel must be prepared so that the fire should bea “consuming fire,” so must we make ourselves into fitting”fuel” that can indeed hold the “fire” of G-d, in order tosuccessfully accomplish our objective in prayer, Torah study and acts ofkindness.

We “prepare” ourselves by cultivating thatbitul, that total nullification before G-d, referred to above. This is acheivedby contemplation at prayer and by our efforts to subjugate (iskafya), and evento convert to good use (ishafcha), our impulse to give in to the temptations ofthis world.

That is why the elicitation and renewal of G-d’slife-giving force into the world, through Torah and mitzvos, depends upon theJews. It must be done by one who is absolutely nullified (batul) before G-d,and only the Jews have this capacity, as it says (Psalms 78:5), “For Heestablished a Testimony [edus, a reference to mitzvos] in Jacob and appointed aTorah in Israel.”

However, are not the Torah and its mitzvos enclothedwithin a guise that we mortals can relate to? Do they not discuss everyday,worldly matters like, “eat this kind of food,” or “if you have abusiness dispute, here is the law”? How is it possible, given that ourconception of the holiness of Torah and mitzvos is limited to their wordlymanifestation, for us to acheive, through them, such a pure degree of bitul toG-d and G-d alone that the very life-force of the universe is perpetuatedthereby? The answer is to be found in the verse (Hosea 14:9), “I [G-d] <spanstyle=’font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt’>am like a fresh cypresstree.” A tall thin tree which is young and fresh can be bent over so thatits top reaches to the ground; in that position, it can be made into acatapault. When released, an object placed on the bent-over top will bepropelled to the highest heights. So it is with the G-dliness within the Torahand mitzvos, alluded to in the verse as “I”: “I am like a freshcypress” means that although, indeed, we are at ground level, so to speak,G-d makes His spirituality available to us anyway by enclothing it in theworldy form of Torah and mitzvos. But the secret is, that the Torah and mitzvosas we know them are like that lofty treetop bent down to earth: they containthat very G-dliness which, when we study Torah and perform mitzvos, catapaultsus into the spiritual stratosphere. Thus, we can indeed acheive true bitul toG-d Himself.</spanstyle=’font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt’>

Thisconcept also exists with respect to evil. Just as a person catapaults themselfto great spiritual heights by Torah and mitzvos, transgression (G-d forbid)flings one far away from spirituality and G-dliness. This is symbolized by theverse (I Samuel 25:29), “and the souls of your enemies He will fling outas out of the hollow of a sling.” Instead of the catapault propelling onetoward G-d (in a manner of speaking), evildoers are cast away from Him as outof a slingshot. What a horrible thought! To be flung (G-d forbid) far, far fromG-dliness! Whatever can one do to get back, to “come home again,” ifone is in that situation? The remedy is to “do t’shuva,” to repent,to return to G-d. G-d is especially receptive to this during the “Ten Daysof Penitence,” the period from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur. Specifically, aperson should realize that G-d is inexpressibly exalted above the universe, somuch so that all of creation, from the beginning of time until the end of timeand including all that ever happened anywhere, is no more to G-d than a singlefleeting memory. When a person truly internalizes this realization, they willbe so appalled at having transgressed the will of the great G-d that they willarouse a bitter pity within themselves, pity on their own soul which their sinshave flung so very far away from home. This in turn will arouse G-d’s pity andcompassion upon them and He will gather them in and bring them back to Him.This is hinted at in one of the additional sentences added to our Shemone Esreiprayer during the Ten Days of Penitence: “Who is like You, CompassionateFather, Who remembers His creatures for life, with mercy.” By realizinghow great is G-d’s compassion on the insignificant and undeserving universe, inthat He created it despite it being like a mere fleeting remembrance to Him,the person will themself be aroused to compassion on his or her soul which willlead to successful t’shuva.

Whenthe Jews committed the unspeakable sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe (Moses) wasshown by G-d the way to arouse such a high level of G-d’s mercy that even thiswould be overlooked — for to G-d’s very “Self,” so to speak, nothingwe mortals do can possibly matter and so forgiveness is always possible. Inpreparing to reveal this sublime level, the “Thirteen Attributes ofMercy,” G-d told Moshe (Exodus 33:22), “I will place you in a cleftof the rock.” The word used for”rock” refers to a flint stone, which has the property of producingsparks. This symbolizes the exalted level of G-d’s merciful forgiveness we arediscussing. In the ordinary course of spiritual affairs, “G-d your G-d isa consuming fire,” which we have explained as a reference to thespirituality accessed by the Jews through Torah and mitzvos. However, one whohas transgressed, G-d forbid, may be on such a low spiritual level that it isas though the “fire” of spirituality (associated with theTetragrammaton, the first Divine name in the verse “for G-d your G-d is aconsuming fire”), has gone out within them. In that case, one must arousesuch compassion by their sincerest repentance as to reach that lofty level ofthe Thirteen Attributes of Mercy — associated with the flintstone. Flintrepresents such a high level that it transcends fire: even if there is no firein actuality, it is always present in potential within the flintstone. It justmust be struck and then it ignites anew.

Notevery person, however, merits to reach this exalted level. That is why we askG-d for His assitance in doing so, as we pray (quoting Lamentations 5:21),”Return us to You, O G-d and we will return; renew our days as ofold.” We ask G-d to first return us to Him — which it is certainly withinHis power to do. Then we, for our part, will be able to successfully return aswell. And although usually, one should first do one’s part and only then expectG-d’s assistance (or the spiritual benefit will not be as great), we ask G-dnevertheless to bypass this “rule” and “renew our days as ofold”: just as when G-d originally created the universe, He did not do soin response to our merit, but out of His own infinite goodness.

Finally,that is why G-d is referred to obliquely in the verse quoted at the beginning.”For on that day [Yom Kippur, the time of true t’shuva] He will atone forYou” — for the level being referred to is that sublime and exalted levelwhich transcends the name of G-d, the Tetragrammaton. This level, the level ofthe flintstone, can therefore not be called by any name, for it is even higherthan the name of G-d; higher than the “consuming fire.” And that iswhy the verse concludes, “You will be purified before G-d” — thatis, brought to a level even higher than that associated with the name of G-d.

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin