Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Post Yom Kippur - Must it Be the Same Old Me?
As I sit down to compose this week's dvar Torah on Motzei Yom
Kippur (the night after Yom Kippur) the legend of the Ba'al Shem
Tov's horses comes to mind. The Holy Ba'al Shem Tov was
renowned, among other things, for his peculiar and super-efficient
method of travel. Although he made use of the standard-issue horse-
and-wagon that was the vogue back then, his buggy was far from ho-
hum. Once his wagon would leave the city limits, where it was no
longer in view, it would take flight - much to the delight of its
equestrian constituent - miraculously transporting its travellers to their
destination in a fraction of the time usually needed (and, needless to
say, free of concern from hijackings, terrorists, and the like).
Once, it is told, the famed horses of the Ba'al Shem Tov's chariot got
to thinking about their esteemed position. "We're not horses," said
one to the other. "We can't be horses - after all, horses don't fly!"
"So what are we - birds? We don't look like birds. We don't even have
"No, silly! We're angels - in the form of horses. It simply must be so.
Only angels could do the things we do!"
"Yeah," said the other, "I think you're on to something. We're angels!
What else could we be?!"
As they whizzed along, the Russian countryside just a blur beneath
their hooves, they became more and more convinced of their
deduction that they were no ordinary colts. Angels - holy emissaries
of the Almighty - that's what they were. And indeed, a very high order
of angels at that, for not just any angel was given the task of serving
the holy Yisrael Ba'al Shem Tov, who name was revered and
respected in both the physical and spiritual realms. Yes sir - not
"mares" but "malachim (angels)" - and don't anyone forget it!
When they arrived outside the village of their destination, the chariot
made its gentle descent back to the earth. The Ba'al Shem Tov told
his wagon-driver to lead them to a watering trough, so that the
horses may drink. The horses had indeed worked up quite a thirst
(what with all their talk and contemplation), and eagerly dunked their
long snouts into the trough to slurp up as much water as they could
before the driver decided they had had enough. It was, it is told, in
the middle of their guzzling that the one turned to the other, and with
a knowing look and a sheepish smile said, "Horses."
As we stand and pray in our shuls and shtieblach on Yom Kippur,
bedecked with Kittel (traditional white garment worn by married men
on Yom Kippur) and Talleisim, immersed in prayer and
contemplation, we are overcome with a sense of holiness and
determination. On Yom Kippur, like no other time during the year, a
Jew understands clearly his true purpose in life. He disdains physical
diversions, and resolves to live a life of purity and thoughtfulness. No
longer will he fall prey to the machinations of his yetzer hara
(immoral disposition) that have led him astray in the past! No longer
will his prayer be simple "lip service!" No longer will his days pass him
by in a flurry of activity, bereft of self-improvement, leading him
One of the reasons we wear the Kittel on Yom Kippur is to resemble
the angels, for on Yom Kippur we too are like angels - spurning all
physical pleasures in favour of the spiritual. Yet if I can be like an
angel on Yom Kippur - the Jew thinks - then why can't I be this way all
year round? True I must eat, and make a living, but who's to say I
can't live my life with the same aura of holiness and sanctity I feel
now! Yes, indeed, I truly am changed; no longer the frail and feeble
human I was just a few hours ago!
Then comes Motzei Yom Kippur; we go home, have a bite to eat,
shmooze a little, klutz a little, and fall into bed. Inside our minds, we
turn to ourselves and utter dejectedly, "Same old me!"
Last week (see Olas Shabbos BeShabbato 15-1), I wrote about and
addressed what seems to be the universal pre Yom Kippur dilemma:
"Haven't I been here before?" Perhaps, then, we could brainstorm
now regarding what is perhaps the universal post Yom Kippur
dilemma: "Same old me!"
In truth, the aspirations of living a life where every day is as precious
and as replete with meaning as Yom Kippur, while providing us with
a dream and a benchmark to which to aspire, are not realistic. We do
not spend all day every day immersed in prayer; we eat and drink and
shop and travel and work, and for most of us, the majority of our
time is spent doing things not naturally conducive to attaining angelic
purity. So was it all for naught? Are we doomed, year after year, to be
left with this empty feeling that all our teshuva and introspection were
but a temporary "spike" in the chart of our lives, destined to return to
its same course as soon as our feet once again touch leather? Must
we indeed resign ourselves to the bitter reality that "it's just the same
old me," comforting ourselves with the thought that in just 353 days,
we will once again be forgiven for our faults and follies?
According to the ba'alei mussar (teachers of ethics) - it doesn't have
to be this way. While Yom Kippur gives us a taste of true piety, after
Yom Kippur our task is to find a practical way to internalize our
feelings of remorse and repentance. While it may not be possible,
even after one very spiritually-charged day, to make the transition
from man to malach, making significant change in our lives is not as
difficult as it may first seem. Suppose you were to choose just two
areas in your life where you felt improvement was needed. Choose
one area where change is needed in a positive way, and one where
a negative change is needed.
By way of example, what if one felt that, among many other changes,
his berachos (blessings) over food needed improvement. That would
be an area of positive change. And suppose that he felt he was too
critical of others, often hurting their feelings. That would be an area
of negative change.
The rest is simple: Take out a pen and paper (after Shabbos) and
write down for yourself:
1) I am going to try for the next year, bli
neder (without accepting this as a binding vow), to recite my
blessings with increased concentration. I will pause for one second
before reciting any beracha to make sure I'm thinking about what I'm
saying. I will then say the beracha slowly, being careful not to swallow
the words, and trying to think about the meaning of what I'm saying.
2) I will also try this year, bli neder, to be less critical of others. I
stop and think before I criticize, and I will try to see the good in
others, instead of concentrating on the bad.
Now put this paper somewhere private where you can read it once a
day - preferably first thing in the morning. It shouldn't take more than
thirty seconds, and will certainly start your day off on the right foot.
Once a week - this must actually be scheduled or it won't get done -
take ten minutes to assess how your week went with regard to the
two improvements you've accepted upon yourself, and to plan for the
week ahead. Perhaps try to find a sefer from which you could learn
during those ten minutes which deals with the issues in which you
seek to change.
While this may seem like a relatively small goal - two areas out of tens
or perhaps hundreds in which we feel deficient - consider the
following: If you were to repeat this process each year for twenty
years, you would have achieved significant and meaningful change
in forty different areas of your life! After forty years, eighty areas of
your life would have gone through permanent change! And gosh,
anyone who can accomplish significant change in multiple areas of
their lives, if not a tzaddik, is certainly on their way to becoming one!
Consider keeping somewhere an ongoing list of the two yearly
changes you've made - you'll be pleasantly (if alarmingly) surprised
how quickly the list grows.
After working for one full year on these two areas, you will have
achieved significant, meaningful, and lasting change. And what did
it cost? Thirty seconds a day, ten minutes a week, and the resolve to
turn this Yom Kippur experience into a practical and lasting one.
We may not be able to make the instant metamorphosis from man
to malach, but small, significant changes are something everyone
can strive for. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, we blow the shofar,
which, as the Rambam writes, calls out, "Wake up, drowsy ones,
from your slumber!" It is up to us to realize that with the conclusion
of Yom Kippur, the real time for lasting teshuva has just begun!
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication has been generously
sponsored by Mr. Kalman Rubner.
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.