Upon examining the Yom Kippur services, one finds that the services begin with a verse from Tehillim: “Light is sown for the righteous, and for the upright of heart, gladness,” “Or Zarua LaTzadik Ul’Yishrei Lev Simcha.” One might think that an appropriate way to begin the services on the holiest day of the year, the day on which our fate for the coming year is sealed, would be with a message that is more forceful, more powerful. Perhaps the passage that we say elsewhere in the prayers “Repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil decree!” might be more appropriate. Why was this line selected to begin the prayers?
Rav Chaim Volozhin explained the difference between one who is ‘righteous’ and one who is ‘upright.’ A righteous person (a ‘tzadik’) is a person whose evil inclination works extremely hard to cause him or her to stray from the path of good. This person, even though he knows that he is doing that which is correct, and experiences joy from doing that which is proper, still gets ‘down’ at times. He feels troubled at times, and he hopes that with the help of G-d, he will be able to continue on the correct path. That is why the ‘light’ for the righteous is merely ‘sown’; when he has reached a higher level of self improvement, this light will blossom into an overwhelming happiness. On the other hand, one who is upright (yashar) has improved himself to the point that his evil inclination causes him no more trouble. He knows that he has what he needs to serve Hashem properly. Therefore, he is able to experience true joy upon doing that which is proper, as he feels sure that he will not stumble in the future.
After Rosh HaShana, if we have not previously started to repent, we should be in the midst of that process now. We have increased our gifts of charity and we have improved on our concentration while we pray. On the afternoon right before Yom Kippur, we say the ‘Viddui,’ the confessional. We do all of these actions to prepare ourselves for the holiness of Yom Kippur. It can be assumed that by Yom Kippur eve, most of us have reached the level of ‘tzadik’, ‘righteous’, as Reb Chaim defined it; we know what we have done, whether it be proper or improper. We know that in the future, we only want to do that which is proper. We depend on Hashem’s assistance to be sure that this will happen. On Yom Kippur, we come before Hashem to ask forgiveness for our wrongdoing and to request His assistance for the future. We hope that our prayers, combined with the awesome holiness of the day, will allow us to become free from sin, allowing us to attain the level of the upright. For this reason, we begin the prayers on Yom Kippur with the verse of ‘Or zaru’a.’ This verse should serve to inspire us on this holy day. It reminds us before we start this period of time that if we take advantage of the opportunity before us, we can truly be the ones who are upright, and merit the happiness that accompanies this stature. We can let the light sown within each and every one of us grow and develop into unbounded joy. May we all merit to experience that joy this year.
(Based on the thoughts of Rav Matisyahu Solomon)
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