20 Elul 5775
by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students at Diaspora Yeshiva
The Mishna in Yoma 8 states, "Sins that are between a person and his
friend are not atoned for on Yom Kippur." One cannot offend and harm
another person and ask for forgiveness from G-d. Forgiveness must be
asked and can only come from the person that we hurt, and only he can
Thus, on the morning of Yom Kippur we read the
amazing words of the prophet, Yeshayahu, (Ch.58) where he presents a
debate that takes place between G-d and Israel. In this chapter, we see
how Yom Kippur can lead us to change our evil ways and be just and
compassionate to our fellow Jew.
Yeshayahu states that Israel
claims before G-d, (Ibid.) "Why have we fasted and You (G-d) did not pay
attention; we have afflicted our soul, and You (G-d) do not know?"
This question is asked after the Yom Kippur fast, when G-d's pardon is
not apparent. The people cry out, "Why hasn't the Yom Kippur fast helped
to obtain forgiveness?"
G-d's response is clear and unequivocal
– "Will such be the fast that I will choose, a day of a person
afflicting his soul? Is it to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you
call this a fast that is acceptable to G-d? Do you (human beings) think
that I desire you to suffer? Do I get any benefit from the fact that you
afflict yourselves?"(Yeshayahu 58).
G-d is telling us that the
Yom Kippur fast is not only an end in itself but the means to reach a
further goal. What is this yearned for goal? G-d responds to this
question with the surprising answer, "Is this not the fast I will
choose? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to bring the
poor into your home, when you see a naked one, you shall clothe him and
not hide from your fellow Jew." (Ibid.)
Here G-d explains the
goal that He wants our Yom Kippur fast to achieve. The purpose of the
fast is not to suffer or to diet. The purpose is that we should remember
the poor, those who do not have proper food, clothing or shelter. This
is the true purpose of the Yom Kippur fast.
Thus, Yeshayahu promises, "Then you shall call, and G-d shall answer; you shall cry out, and He shall say, 'Here I am'."
Therefore, on Yom Kippur we repeat over and over again the 13 Attributes
of G-d's Compassion, "G-d, G-d, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to
Anger and Abundant in Loving-kindness and Truth…, Forgiving iniquity,
rebellion and sin." (Shemot 34).
Why do we keep repeating these
verses over and over again on Yom Kippur? When we repeat this declaration
again and again, we become convinced that the correct path between us
and our fellow Jew is G-d's path of compassion, forgiveness and loving
kindness. We turn to G-d in the merit of those very same qualities with
which He identifies Himself, and thus we awaken those same traits in
As the Talmud in Rosh Hashana states, "Whoever
forgives his friend for sinning against him even when he doesn't have to
guarantees similar treatment from G-d on Yom Kippur." If we make a habit
of displaying undeserved grace to others, including those who have
committed wrongs against us, then we are guaranteed to earn the same
kind of undeserved grace from G-d MIDAH K'NEGED MIDAH. G-d conducts
Himself with us in the same way that we conduct ourselves with our
fellow human beings.
Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora
Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic
thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav
Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical
ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position,
Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New
York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher
writes regular columns on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press and in Torah Tidbits,
and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
[Blogger's Note: This Shabbat is the Hebrew date my husband and I made aliyah to Israel 8 years ago. May my readers be blessed, and may we all strive for truth, righteousness and peace despite our troubled world.]