One of the most stirring passages in the Yom Kippur Mussaf services is “U’Nesaneh Tokef,” composed by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz. The composition encapsulates the essence of the Yomim Nora’im, the High Holidays, the Days of Awe. After the prayer describes how we are judged by G-d and the different judgements that are sealed on Yom Kippur, the entire congregation proclaims aloud, “But repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil decree.” If we have engaged in these activities during the Ten Days of Repentance, we need not fear the worst for the coming year.
A story is told about Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik of Brisk. After the Yom Kippur evening services were concluded, Rav Soloveichik noticed that one of the prominent members of the community remained in the synagogue. He was sitting alone, reciting Tehillim, Psalms. Rav Soloveichik approached this wealthy individual and began speaking to him.
“Are you aware,” he said, ” that in the army, if a soldier flees from service, he is called a deserter. Deserters are dealt with harshly, and they are usually subject to the death penalty. What would you say should happen to a soldier who flees his unit and joins another unit instead? Is he a deserter, or does any service in the army suffice, regardless of where it takes place? It is logical to say that this man is a deserter. He was assigned to a specific unit, to perform s specific task. If he flees from that unit and his assigned task, it is of no matter what else he does. He abandoned his duties and for that must be punished.”
Rav Soloveichik continued. “We have been taught that there are three ways of removing the evil decree from upon ourselves before Yom Kippur: repentance, prayer, and charity. You have been blessed with wealth. G-d gave you your money so that you could serve Him with it, by giving charity. A poor person, who does not have the ability to serve G-d with money, must serve G-d with prayer. Therefore, it is the custom amongst the poor to remain awake the whole night of Yom Kippur reciting Tehillim, as that is the only way in which they can serve Hashem. The wealthy, however, go home. They should have been giving charity, serving G-d in the way that He ordained by blessing them with wealth. You, however, are sitting here saying Tehillim. You,” Rav Soloveichik concluded, “are a deserter, having abandoned the task G-d placed before you in favor of another.”
Each person knows his or her abilities. We know how we can best serve G-d. During the Ten Days of Repentance, before Yom Kippur, we must engage in prayer, repentance, and charity. We have to properly utilize the resources Hashem blessed us with. If a person knows that he studies well with a partner, one should engage a friend in a session of Torah study. If a person enjoys speaking or lecturing, he or she should try to speak to others about Torah and repentance. If one is resourceful with the positive the Internet has to offer, one should spend time reading the materials available in preparation for Yom Kippur. And, if one has wealth, charity must be given. We can not squander the capabilities Hashem has bestowed upon us. The label “deserter” is not one we want placed upon us at this time of the year.
Although each one of us is unique, and therefore our methods of serving Hashem different, there is one attribute that we all must possess and display should we desire forgiveness on Yom Kippur.
In the Yom Kippur Shemoneh Esrai prayer, we mention how G-d has given the nation of Israel the holiday of Yom Kippur. We say “And you gave us, Hashem our G-d, with love this Day of Atonement, for pardon, forgiveness, and atonement, and to pardon all our iniquities on it.” This language is redundant. If it was given to us for pardon and forgiveness, it goes with out saying it was given to pardon our iniquities. Why then is there this repetition?
It is written that the Ba’al Shem Tov, the great Chassidic master, said that we know Hashem deals with us in a measure for measure fashion. The way we behave towards our fellow man is the way He behaves towards us. If a person is slow to anger and fast to forgive, G-d acts the same way, with patience and abundant mercy and forgiveness. However, if a person is stubborn, cruel, and unforgiving of his fellow man, G-d treats him in a similar fashion come the Day of Judgement. When we say that G-d gave us Yom Kippur for pardon, forgiveness and atonement, we are referring to our treatment of our fellow man. If we, on Yom Kippur, pardon, forgive, and accept atonement from all those who may have wronged us, its is then a day which G-d will “pardon all our iniquities on it.” However, if we do not act mercifully with others, G-d will not act mercifully with us.
Our verdict for the coming year will soon be handed down. We still have time to tip the scales of justice in our favor. If we serve Hashem in a way best utilizing our abilities and we act in a beneficent, humane, and kind-hearted fashion to others, we will be pleased when our fate for the coming year is sealed. But, if he have not started, we must start now. And come the day after Yom Kippur, it should not end.
G’mar Chasima Tova.
(from Birkas Chaim)
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