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Yom Kippur - Purifying Ourselves Before Hashem

 

כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם לפני ה' תטהרו.

“For this day will atone for you, to purify you from all of your sins; before Hashem you will be purified.” (Vayikra 16:30)

 

Why does the verse repeat itself by saying once more “before Hashem you will be purified” after it tells us that we will be purified from our sins?

 

There is no need to elaborate on this holiest day of the year. Every heart is full of trepidation and prayer. “On Yom Kippur [everyone’s fate] is being sealed.” Everything that will transpire during the coming year is being determined on this day. We have unfortunately suffered many tragedies this past year. Every person knows his problems. So many people live in fear, both here and in Eretz Yisroel where the situation is so precarious. No one knows what his friend is hiding in his heart; even if he appears cheerful on the outside, there is no way of knowing what serious problems and worries he carries inside.

 

The Mishna says (Yuma 8:9): “Rebbe Akiva said: ‘Fortunate are you Israel! Before Whom do you purify yourself, and who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven!’” We are indeed fortunate, as the following parable explains:

 

A mighty king had many beloved sons, noble princes who brought honor to their father’s name. One of the king’s ministers tried to undermine the loving relationship between the royal children and their father, and he persuaded the children to do certain things that were outright against their father’s wishes. He was clever enough to conceal his true motives, and the children listened to him without realizing what they were doing. When the princes’ actions became known, it brought dishonor to the king and he was forced to banish them to a distant province. When the children realized what they had done, they were overcome with remorse and could not forgive themselves. They wanted to run to their father and beg his forgiveness, but the wily minister – acting as their protector and advisor – told them that the king refused to see them. “Your father is angry with you,” he said, “You will not be allowed entry to the palace at this time.”

 

The days and weeks went by, and during all this time the minister kept on misleading the children again and again by convincing them to repeat the misdemeanors that angered the king. And every time the princes wanted to return to the palace to beg their father’s forgiveness, the minister told them that the king would never agree to see them.

 

After many months, the king happened to pass by the province where the children had been banished. The minister wanted to prevent a meeting between the king and his children at all costs, so he thought of a brazen plan. He informed the princes that an enemy of the kingdom will be passing by, and they should be prepared to pelt his carriage with rocks. “When I will give the signal, you should attack the passing carriage,” he told them. The princes had no idea who the person in the carriage was, and when they were given the signal they began to throw rocks at the king. When the king’s servants saw who the attackers were, they wanted to punish the princes severely, but the king refused to allow them to harm his children.

 

The next time that the children begged the minister to take them to the palace, he told them: “Oh, you have no idea how furious the king is with you! Do you know whom you pelted with rocks? It was the king himself! If you will return to the palace you will be severely punished.” The princes were horrified by what they had done, yet as much as they wanted to run to their father and make amends, they were afraid to do so. At the same time that all this was going on, the scheming minister incited the king against his children and urged him to prosecute them for treason.

 

The king longed for his children to return and he discussed the issue with the queen. She decided to travel by herself to the children and assure them of the king’s forgiveness and love, so that they should be unafraid to come home. When the queen arrived, she told the princes: “Please come home! The king is waiting for you!” The princes replied: “But we heard that Father is angry and refuses to see us.”

“Don’t believe the person who told you this,” the queen reassured them. “I spoke to the king myself and he loves you dearly. He can’t wait to see you again.”

The princes were confused. All these months they trusted the minister; perhaps he was right? And if he was the real foe, wouldn’t he do everything possible to ensure that their meeting with the king would be counterproductive? But they had suffered enough in exile and they decided that they’ve got nothing to lose by returning to the king.

 

The queen urged them to take off their dirty clothes and dress in royal garments. She also assured them that the king sent the minister away on a certain mission, and he won’t be at the palace when they arrived. When the princes finally appeared before their father they fell to his feet and cried. “Father, can you forgive us?” “Yes, my dear children,” said the king. “Even for throwing rocks at you?” they asked. “Yes, my dear children,” the king said lovingly. “I know that you didn’t do it intentionally; the minister made you do it to undermine our relationship. I know that you never intended to harm me or bring dishonor upon our family, and I forgive you completely.”

 

The meaning of this parable is obvious and needs no lengthy explanation. The yetzer hara works on two fronts: first he persuades us to transgress the mitzvos, and then he convinces us that Hashem is angry with us and rejects us.

 

But the holy sage, Rebbe Akiva, assures us: “Don’t be afraid to return to Hashem! Do you know before Whom you are purifying yourself? Before your Father in Heaven!” Hashem is our loving father and He never rejects His children.

 

Rebbe Akiva was well suited to say this; after all, he had been an ignoramus until the age of forty. He never learned Torah and he actually hated Torah scholars! But then he turned his life around and he became one of the greatest people in history. Rebbe Akiva therefore tells everyone: “Never despair of becoming close to Hashem! Hashem’s mercy is everlasting, and it is never too late to purify yourself.”

 

Here in shul there are many mothers and fathers. I would like to ask you: is there such as thing as hating your own child? Even a child who is difficult, even if he damages your property and misbehaves, even if he causes you much anguish, you still love the child! If this is true about human beings with limited patience and forbearance, then it is even truer regarding our Father in Heaven whose love for us is everlasting.

 

This is the meaning of the verse: “On this day” the evil Satan is not in the palace; his voice is silenced, therefore there will be no obstacles for you to “be atoned for.” If you will fear that Hashem is angry because of the damage you’ve done to the world with your sins, be assured that you can “be purified from all of your sins.” Hashem will erase your misdeeds completely and disregard the damages you’ve caused the world. How is this possible? Because “before Hashem you will be purified.” After all, we are purifying ourselves before our merciful Father. This is the reason why we can earn forgiveness despite everything.

 

If we would truly feel this closeness to our Father in Heaven, we would cry from joy! If we will use this holy day to its fullest it will be a day of unimaginable simcha like the bliss of Olam Habbah.

This Weeks Divrei Torah is dedicated in honor of:
Shmuel ben Chaim
Feinberg A"H
5708-5769 9 Shvat

This Weeks Divrei Torah is dedicated in honor of:

 
 
 
 
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