The Joy of Yom Kippur

Someone once saw Rav Shlomo Carlebach Z”L joyfully accepting the chag of Yom Kippur.  They asked him, “Rav Shlomo, how can you be filled with so much simcha at a serious moment like this?”  Rav Shlomo responded, “I am about ready to be sentenced in court.  If you knew that your Father was the judge, wouldn’t you be happy!”

This short little story very much echoes what Chaza”l say about Yom Kippur.

The Mishna at the end of Taanit teaches us that the peak Yomim Tovim for Yisrael are none other than Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av.

Why is there so much joy on Yom Kippur?

Tana D’vai Eliyahu explains that there was a great joy for Hakadosh Baruchu when He gave the commandment to Bnai Yisrael to keep Yom Hakippurim.

The Midrash brings an interesting parable.  There was once a king of flesh and blood with many household members and servants.  One time, they took all of the trash and waste from the palace and thrust it in front of the entrance way to the king’s quarters.  When the king went out and saw the trash and waste he had a great joy.

Rav Simcha Bunim of Pashischa explains that when a king knows that his family and attendants are ridding themselves of things that are harmful for them, he is gladdened by this even though it is unpleasant.

Similarly, continues the Midrash, when Hashem forgives us for our sins, it is a great simcha for Him.  Furthermore, Hakadosh Baruchu invites us to rejoice as well.

Unlike erev Shabbat and erev Yom Tov when we have a prohibition to eat excessively, we spend Erev Yom Kippur joyfully feasting all day.  This should certainly help us greet the holiday in an upbeat, happy mood.

Being b’Simcha on Yom Kippur is an emotion that is intrinsic to the nature of the day.  In addition to the Teshuva and Kapara related aspects of the day, we should feel elated that we have one day in which we can have an intimate encounter with our more elevated spiritual self – our neshama.  This is a special once a year opportunity, which, unfortunately, many times is squandered because our inner voice is much more interested in complaining to ourselves about our bodily lacking.

The joy of Yom Kippur and Erev Yom Kippur is important for a different reason as well.  It has significance as a means not just as an ends.

Now for a personal moment of weakness .

Some of you know that our community in Adam, Or Bereshit, is a mix of different types of people.  There are Ashkanazim, Sfaradim, Tamanim, black-hatters and non, Zionists and those that were born here.  I take great pride in the mix and variety of different people.  We can truly say that we are a shul of Klal Yisrael.

Last year it was decided by the Rav and community that we would incorporate some Sfaradi elements into Rosh Hashana dovining.  As is their minhag, Sfaradim would have the opportunity to say their unique piyutim after shacharit.  Futhermore, on the second day the Shaliach Tzibbur for Shacharit would be someone that dovins Nusach Edut Hamizrach.

This was acceptable to everyone accept one person.  This individual is new in the community and he has not spent enough time with us to properly appreciate our uniqueness.  Being in a leadership role, a few times throughout the dovining on the first day he came up to me voicing a bit of frustration in reaction to these Sfaradi hymns and psalms.  I indicated to him that this is what the Rav and community decided would be the style of dovining this year.  Needless to say, he was not thrilled.

The next morning, and we are talking about 5:45AM al haboker (we dovined both days with the rising of sun) a Sfaradi brother took the amud and began reciting Psukai D’zimra in his nusach, as was planned.

I noticed that I was once again getting strange looks as if to say, “Again???”  I walked over to the other side of the room determined to put an end to this ethnic bigotry.   After hearing these complaints a second day, I was fed up.  In a most ungentle way, I said to the gentleman “if you don’t like the way we dovin, maybe you should find somewhere else to pray.”  This promptly ended our short exchange and I walked back to my seat.  A few minutes later I looked over in the direction of the new-comer, and noticed that his seat was empty.  He had actually taken my kind advice!

A feeling of disgust came over me.  What had I done?  On Rosh Hashana of all days!?  To treat a new-comer in this fashion!  Ok, he was a disgruntled new-comer, but still, there was no excuse for the way that I spoke to him.  A strong feeling of remorse came over me and I felt pretty bad the rest of Rosh Hashana into Shabbos.

The first thing that I did Motzai Shabbos, day 4 of Eseret Yimai Teshuva, was pick up the phone and call the guy to apologize.  I did not get through.  But I did see him early the next morning at slichot (which was purely an Ashkanazi slichot).  He ran out right after slichot and I ran after him.  I stopped him in his tracks and said, “Reuvan, I tried calling you last night…”  He looked at me with a blank expression on his face.  “I wanted to apologize for the way that I spoke to you on Rosh Hashana,” I told him.  He looked at me and said sternly, “Zeh lo b’seder mah she’asita, to tell a person to find somewhere else to dovin.”  I said, “I know that’s why I am approaching you now to ask for mechila.”

In a moment of his greatness, he approached me and put his arms around me and said gently, “I forgive you.”  He then ran off and said he has to run home to watch their daughter so his wife can go to work.

I learned a lot from the story and I hope that it will stay with me into the future.

One thing is clear to me, when we are tired and a bit down it is very hard to approach someone else and ask for forgiveness.   It takes a lot of kochot to sincerely do such a thing.  When we are tired or feeling sad or angry it’s not so difficult to Klop on our chest and say “Al Chait Sh’chtanu.”  But only when we are in the right frame of mind can we muster up the strength to apologize to another person.

The Master of the World wants us to ride the joy of Erev Yom Kippur and the joy of Yom Kippur so during the intervals and breaks of dovining we go up to our neighbor, friend or not-so-friend and open up our heart to humbly ask for forgiveness.

May we be zoche to have a joyous and teshuva-filled Yom Kippur!

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