Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 27 April 2019 / 22 Nisan 5779

Parshat Acharei Mot

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Become a Supporter Library Library

Yom Kippur’s Twin Attainments

In this week’s parsha we read a description of the holiest day of the Jewish year — the day of forgiveness, Yom Kippur. Two objectives are achieved on this day — kappara (atonement) and tahara (purification). Kappara signifies a covering up — it is a day on which we are “covered” and protected against the consequences of past sin. The effect of this is tahara — purity, the restoration of moral freedom which was compromised by sin.

Were it not for the miracle of G-d’s grace, the world would operate on the basis of strict justice and truth. Every sin would bring about the destruction of the sinner, and every first sin would dull the soul and make it prone to additional sin. These natural spiritual laws are represented in the name Elokim.

But just as the immutable laws of nature can be changed by G-d, so too can these immutable spiritual laws be changed. The miracle of G-d’s grace is that He is ready at all times to unfold a new future for man’s life, regardless of the seeds a person has sown in the past. Man is not bound to his yesterday. This Will of the Almighty — to open new doors and allow a person to reshape his own future, despite the spiritual quagmire he has laid for himself — is represented in the four-letter name of G-d. Hence the momentous statement about the process on Yom Kippur: Before HASHEM will you become pure. Whatever your sins of the past may have been, before Hashem — Who creates the future — will you rise to a new and pure future.

The two aspects of Yom Kippur — kappara and tahara — relate to the external and internal effects of sin. Kappara protects against destruction of the sinner, and tahara restores life to the soul. There are two corresponding prohibitions on Yom Kippur: we refrain from creative activity (just as we do on the Sabbath), and we refrain from eating and drinking. The prohibition against creative work signifies that once we have sinned we no longer have any right to master the world around us. And the prohibition against eating and drinking signifies that by having abused our sensual nature we have compromised our right as creatures to sustain ourselves physically with food and drink.

The prohibition against creative work parallels kappara and the external dimension: we have sinned against the world and brought some destruction to society. We express our contrition by displaying our loss of creative capacity — control and influence — in the world on this day. We cannot effectively redress the negative impact. We are limited to the natural and spiritual order. Only kappara from G-d can restore us to our former position.

The prohibition against eating and drinking parallels tahara and the internal dimension: we have dulled our souls by surrendering to sensuality. In response we refrain from physical pleasure and recognize that tahara can be accomplished only, as the verse states, before HASHEM. (Vayikra 17:30) Freedom from the bonds of sensuality can be attained only with recognition of G-d as the Source of all freedom. If he planted within us those sensual drives and at the same time commanded us to control them, we know these are fetters that are meant to be broken. As a consequence, our moral freedom is renewed and enables us to rise again to purity.

§ Sources: Commentary, Vayikra 17:30

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at ohr@ohr.edu and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions www.ohr.edu

« Back to Letter and Spirit

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.