Thursday, September 20, 2007

Random Reflections for Yom Kippur - Gmar Chatima Tova.

In my earlier post regarding Rosh Hashana, , I quoted Rambam in his Pirush Hamishna where he suggests that the idea of being judged on Rosh Hashana has an esoteric (not obvious) meaning. The post generated several excellent comments to explain the meaning of judgment in this context. I strongly recommend those reading the current post to read the insightful discussion there. I would like to introduce a few more ideas into the discussion. They came to me as I was reading the comments and might help clarify the issues.

First, I am struck by the comparison Rambam makes between the day of death and Rosh Hashana. In Hil Teshuvah 3:3 Rambam says

ו כשם ששוקלין עוונות אדם וזכייותיו, בשעת מיתתו--כך בכל שנה ושנה, שוקלין עוונות כל אחד ואחד מבאי העולם עם זכייותיו ביום טוב של ראש השנה:
מי שנמצא צדיק, נחתם לחיים; ומי שנמצא רשע, נחתם למיתה. והבינוני, תולין לו עד יום הכיפורים: אם עשה תשובה, נחתם לחיים; ואם לאו, נחתם למיתה

Just as the sins and merits of man are weighed at the time of his death so too are, the sins and merits of each inhabitant of the world weighed on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana. Whoever is found righteous is sealed to life and whoever is found to be a Rasha is sealed to death. The Beinoni (one whose merits and sins are in exact balance) is suspended until Yom Kippur. If he repents, he is sealed to life. If he does not he is sealed to death.

What is clear is that the day of death is a reflective moment restricted to the past. The dying individual has no longer an opportunity to change the future. The consequences of his actions are in play and he cannot any longer influence them. On the other hand, Rosh Hashana is a time of change. Reflection brings about repentance which is the paradigm of change. I therefore suspect that the weighing of sins and merits is an attitude to be taken by an observer. When one sees another person on his death bed, there is a feeling of identification and the attitude should be that just as the dying man’s dreams and aspirations have come to an end so too must the observer stop and look at his past as if it is about to come to an end. That triggers a moment of accounting where, just like the dying person, a balance sheet is drawn up. Similarly, Rosh Hashana is a time for making a balance sheet which is the meaning of weighing. The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is an opportunity to repent and actually start acting according to this new apprehension. Thus

ט ומפני עניין זה, נהגו כל בית ישראל להרבות בצדקה ובמעשים טובים ולעסוק במצוות, מראש השנה עד יום הכיפורים, יתר מכל ימות השנה

That is why all Jews have the custom to increase charity and good deeds and be involved in Mitzvot [during this period] from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur more than any at other time all year round.

Interestingly we find a very similar idea in Hilchot Aveil 13:12.

[יב] כל מי שלא מתאבל כמו שציוו חכמים, הרי זה אכזרי; אלא יפחד וידאג ויפשפש במעשיו, ויחזור בתשובה. ואחד מבני חבורה שמת, תדאג כל החבורה כולה.
יד כל שלושה ימים הראשונים, יראה את עצמו כאילו חרב מונחת לו על כתפו; משלושה ועד שבעה, מונחת בקרן זווית; מכאן ואילך, עוברת כנגדו בשוק. כל זה כדי להכין עצמו לחזור, וייעור משינתו, והרי הוא אומר "הכית אותם ולא חלו" (ירמיהו ה,ג), מכלל שצריך להקיץ ולחול

Whoever does not mourn as commanded by the sages is cruel[1]. One should be fearful, worry and analyze one’s deeds and repent. Should one of a group [of friends] die, the rest of them should worry.

The first three days [of mourning], he [the mourner] should see himself as if a sharp sword is placed on his shoulder. From the third to the seventh day [the sword] is in a corner and from then on [for the remainder of his mourning – my understanding] as if it [the sword] is passing opposite him in the market. All [mourning processes performed] are to prepare him to repent and wake up from his slumber. [See Hil Teshuvah 3:4 re Shofar where Rambam uses similar language]. As it says, “you hit them and they did not feel” we therefore can deduce that one is supposed to wake up and feel.

There is a parallel between the mourning periods and the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah; both events, death of a relative or friend and Rosh Hashana are triggers for self-reflection and repentance. One is a natural marker while the other is artificial. Death comes to us; we come to Rosh Hashana and the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah.

I also think that it is interesting to see how Rambam presents Rosh Hashana, Asseret Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur in MN 3:43 –

“The object of the Fast of Atonement is evident. The Fast creates the sense of repentance; it is the same day on which the chief of all prophets came down [from Mount Sinai] with the second tablets, and announced to the people the divine pardon of their great sin; the day was therefore appointed for ever as a day devoted to repentance and true worship of God [Avodah]. For this reason all material enjoyment, all trouble and care for the body, are interdicted, no work may be done; the day must be spent in confession; everyone shall confess his sins and abandon them.”

I read the avoidance of material enjoyment as a reenactment of Moshe on the mount who did not eat nor drink. Moshe was so involved with God that he did not require physical nourishment.

“One of these [prophets, namely Moshe] has attained so much knowledge, and has concentrated his thoughts to such an extent in the idea of God, that it could be said of him, "And he was with the Lord forty days," etc. (Exod. xxxiv. 28). during that holy communion he could ask Him, answer Him, speak to Him, and be addressed by Him. And because of the great joy in that which he apprehended, "he did neither eat bread nor drink water" (ibid.). His intellectual energy was so predominant that all coarser functions of the body, especially those connected with the sense of touch, were in abeyance.” (MN3:51)

Our Avodah needs to be so intense that we do the same at least one day.

Continuing in MN 3:43 with Rosh Hashana –

“New-Year is likewise kept for one day; for it is a day of repentance, on which we are stirred up from our forgetfulness. For this reason, the Shofar is blown on this day, as we have shown in Mishne-torah. The day is, as it were, a preparation for and an introduction to the day of the Fast, as is obvious from the national tradition about the days between New-Year and the Day of Atonement.”

Just a few unfinished thoughts for Yom Kippur.
Gmar Chatima Tova to all.

[1] The concept of cruelty when refusing to repent is also found in Hil Ta’aniyot 1:2
ג אבל אם לא יזעקו, ולא יריעו, אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם אירע לנו, וצרה זו נקרוא נקרית--הרי זו דרך אכזרייות, וגורמת להם להידבק במעשיהם הרעים, ותוסיף הצרה וצרות אחרות:

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