07 Oct 2016

Vayelekh-Yom Kippur 5777: Great Expectations

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. ”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yom Kippur is not generally ranked as the most positive and uplifting of our festivals. It is certainly a serious day, when we come to speak of our iniquities before God. But the Talmud boldly states that in fact Yom Kippur is the greatest day in our calendar.

There were never such good days for Israel as Yom Kippur: Because it is a day of forgiveness and renewal! [1]

The behaviours, actions and events that improve our lives are not always apparent to us, often because they include pain and discomfort, or because they seem to be contrary to conditions that we might prefer.

The efforts we must make to ensure that our lives are strong and whole are not easy and not always pleasant. If we wish to maintain physical health it requires attention and commitment. We must carefully select what and when we eat, engage in physical activity that is right for us, and have a sufficient amount of sleep.

If we wish to be knowledgeable and educated we must make the effort to read and study, find time to listen to educators, and review and work with difficult ideas in order to properly understand and digest new material. We must also re-examine information that we learned earlier in life from the perspective of our maturity and greater wisdom.

If we wish to be people of integrity and virtue, we must assess our moral state and examine the aspects of our lives that are incongruous with such ends. Like the above situations, this requires a great deal of effort and commitment. One of the most important endeavours in achieving an integrated identity, is being truthful about ourselves and honestly examining the nature of our character.

Yom Kippur is a day on which the Torah charges us to analyse ourselves and stand before God in honesty about who we are and the choices that we have made in our lives.

It is on this day that we believe God is present with us, listening, forgiving and empowering.

For on this day atonement is to effected for you, to purify you from all your misdeeds; before the presence of God you will become pure. (Lev., 16:30)

The most familiar aspect of Yom Kippur is that the day is built around acknowledgment of our misdeeds or חטאים. We affirm on Yom Kippur where and when we have ‘missed the mark’, and in which areas of our lives we have not been growing and productive. We ask God to grant us pardon and atonement for our transgressions.

There is however, a correct and incorrect way to do this. The correct way is to do so with a self-affirming will, knowing that misdeeds are a part of the human condition, and that we are able to remove these self-imposed impediments that keep us from living viably and productively. The incorrect way, is to do so with a sense of inferiority, wallowing in guilt and shame. The former strengthens us and propels us forward towards our highest expression; the latter locks us into the prison of limitations. The day of forgiveness includes forgiving ourselves.

So important is this mitsvah of internal self-care that the Hakhamim see it as tantamount to standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and receiving the Torah.

Take care, take exceeding care for yourself, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw…the day that you stood before the presence of God…at Horeb. (4:9,10)

It is a positive commandment to remove every impediment that poses any danger to one’s self and to be thoroughly cautious in this matter for it is written: ‘Take exceeding care for yourself’! (Rambam[2])

Many of the transgressions that we do engage in seem to be a result of a feeling of poor self-worth. When we feel good about ourselves and we live from a place of strength, we are less likely to engage in negative or destructive behaviours simply because we genuinely value our own well-being.

We learn from Perashat Vayelekh that God Himself is on our side and is our biggest supporter in the endeavour of building our lives.

And God, He is the one who goes before you, He will be with you; He will not fail you, He will not abandon you; Do not tremble, Do not fear! (31:8)

Yom Kippur is indeed the greatest day of our year. It teaches us that God never ceases to support and provide opportunities for our success in our quest for self-perfection, and it showcases our greatest and most noble work — the ability to remove self-imposed obstacles to ignite our divine, inner light, allowing us to shine in all aspects of our lives.

Tizku LeShanim Rabot and Gemar Hatima Toba

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] Ta’anit, 30b

[2] Hilkhot Rotseah, 11:4


Parasha Perspectives

IX Vayelech

29a              Be strong, don’t worry, God is with you  (31:1-6)
29b              Yehoshua appointed. Torah read publically  (31:7-13)
30                God intro.s Shira  (31:14-23); Moshe hands Torah
to Levi’im to put in Ark &  says Shira  (31:24-30)

                    Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS