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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Yom Kippur

Prayer in Trying Times

If one receives Torah without possessing humility there is a chance that after receiving it he will forget that a great yoke rests upon him to exert himself on behalf of the Torah, to grow and develop in Torah.
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1. On Yom Kippur, Man is Born Anew
2. The Prayer of a High Priest; the Prayer of Travelers
3. The Second Set of Tablets Were Received in Submission
4. A Great Vow - To Serve God Even When Things are Good


On Yom Kippur, Man is Born Anew
The Day of Atonement constitutes a peak. After the efforts of forty days and nights, one arrives at this peak. The Sages teach that forty days is the period of time necessary for an embryo to take form in the mother’s womb. During these forty days we form ourselves anew. On Yom Kippur, we are born anew. We emerge from this great day like a newborn baby, pure and clean of any defect.

The Prayer of a High Priest; the Prayer of Travelers
This year (5761/2001) we were troubled on and hence could not prepare ourselves as on every other year. One of my students called me in a state of distress and said, "This year, Rabbi, you pray in my stead. I haven’t had time to prepare." I replied, "I, of course, will pray. But, we cannot relinquish the prayer of even one single Jew. When it comes to prayer, there are no options, and there is room in the heavens for each and every type of prayer." This year, our prayer was special. True, we were not able to prepare as usual due to the security situation, yet, certainly, even this year we prepared. The Sages relate the story of a High Priest who arrives at that very special moment wherein he enters the Holy of Holies, and in the course of his service he has a small amount of time for praying to the Almighty. And just what does he say in his prayer? "...that the prayer of travelers not be accepted before you." On the face of things, this prayer is difficult to understand. Is there really fear that the prayers of travelers - who, when it comes down to it, because of the hardships of their journey, merely ask that their trip be made more pleasant - will prevail over they prayers of the High Priest who has prepared himself seven days in advance, until the moment finally arrives wherein he would be able to offer supplication on the behalf of the Jewish people?

It appears, though, that there are two types of prayer. To begin with, there is the kind of prayer which is the result of analysis and understanding, and a comprehension of all of the intention necessary in prayer, and a sense of national mission. This is the prayer of the Torah leaders in each generation. Yet, there is another kind of prayer as well: the prayer of travelers. This is the prayer of Jews in distress. This is the Jew who feels as if he is alone, and turns from the depths of his heart to the Almighty in Heaven. When the prayer of the High Priest meets the prayer of a traveler it is not clear cut as to which of the two makes a greater impression in heaven...
True we did not succeed in praying the prayer of a High Priest, therefore God has accepted our prayers for now as those of travelers.

Rabbi Pinhas of Koritz told his followers about a certain villager who did not know the order of the prayers. Rosh Hashanah arrived and the man decided to go to the synagogue to join his Jewish brethren in prayer. It came time to a certain part of the prayer where the congregation broke into tears. The villager, surprised, wondered why everybody was crying. He reasoned that they must all be hungry. This caused his own compassion to be awakened, and he therefore joined them.
Some time went by, and the villager noticed that their sadness had turned to joy - what prayer! Everybody was singing and clapping hands! The villager asked himself what had changed, causing everybody to become so happy? Apparently, he reasoned, they have remembered their food cooking away, getting tastier and tastier the more that it sits on the fire. So he immediately joined them in their joy.

Before not too long the congregation began crying again. This was very difficult for the villager to understand. Yet, he managed to explain it once again: True, the food was getting tastier and tastier on the fire, but, after all, how long can one wait!? Everybody’s practically starving!
Rabbi Pinhas of Koritz explained: So was our long exile. We were always certain that every delay in the coming of the redemption was really only for the best, and would, in reality, cause the redemption to be that much greater. For every day of suffering God would certainly repay us manifold. Yet, after all, how much suffering can one stand? The weight of the exile is too much to bear.

The Second Set of Tablets Were Received in Submission
But why does God not redeem us suddenly and at once? Apparently the Almighty desires that our redemption be more perfect refined. Perhaps He is worried that if He bring the redemption all at once we will be "healed" and hence will cease serving Him as we should. We will no longer advance and ascend.

Is there a fear that with the passing of the holy day we will not serve God as we did from the first of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur? Let us consider the difference between the first set of Tablets given to Moses which did not last, and the second set which were given on Yom Kippur, and did last.
The Midrash teaches us the following: The first set of tablets were given openly and, therefore, the "evil eye" managed to effect them and they were broken, and here God said, there is nothing more beautiful than unobtrusiveness, as it is written (Mikha 6:8): "What does God demand of you other than performing justice and loving compassion, and walking modestly with God?"
The difference between an open receiving of the Torah and one which occurs unobtrusively is in the inner feeling. Do we "deserve" to receive the Torah, or are we humble in accepting it. Do we, because we feel as if we are not worthy of receiving this great gift, downplay the fact. We receive the tablets, quietly and submissively like penitents, recognizing the fact that God is acting gracefully toward us, and in so doing impressing his love upon us. And when God sees us so humble and full of humility, He embraces us and takes us in to the Holy of Holies.

If one receives Torah without possessing humility there is a chance that after receiving it he will forget that a great yoke rests upon him to exert himself on behalf of the Torah, to grow and develop in Torah. At the time of the receiving of the first tablets, the Children of Israel were eating and drinking. This is an expression of a feeling of perfection and clarity of understanding which took hold of them when they received the tablets. After receiving the first set of tablets, the Jewish people felt as if they had reached an all-time high. Yet, from such a height it is possible only to descend. Hence, in their first serious test of faith, they fail terribly. This was not the case, though, when it came to the second tablets. We arrive at the second set of tablets after we recognize already our weaknesses, and we stood before them as if impoverished. Even after receiving them, the Jewish people were totally absorbed in efforts to repent, to return to God, and to build the Sanctuary. This is the feeling of Yom Kippur - a day which we meet not with greatness and valor but in submission and fasting. Not through the power of our actions, but through our thirst to be as close as possible to the Almighty.

A Great Vow - To Serve God Even When Things are Good
The Day of Atonement is a day which is capable of renewing our energies in an incredible manner, such that it leaves its impression on the entire year. On this day we are given the opportunity to confute God’s suspicions that when we finally receive redemption, we will take for granted God’s goodness and forget to serve Him wholeheartedly. Therefore, we turn to God now, after Kol Nidrei, and say before Him: We vow, now, on behalf of the entire congregation, that even when He brings us the redemption, we will continue to serve Him with all of our might. We want to reach an agreement with the Almighty - You bring the Redemption, and we will continue to serve You as if we had not yet reached the desired goal.

The last verse in chapter 79 of the Book of Psalms reads: "We that are Your people and the flock of Your pasture will give You thanks forever; we will exclaim Your praise to all generations." The entire chapter describes the difficulties of the exile - the desecration of God’s name, and the word’s of the nations who despise His name. The Almighty gave them power; yet they use it against Him. An this is how the chapter ends, with the vow which we pledge to the Almighty that we will not be like all the other nations. Even after He bestows upon us success and goodness we will not forget Him and we will thank Him eternally.

During the exile, all of the prayers of the Jewish people were like the prayers of travelers. Now that the time of the redemption has arrived, we want to merit the prayer of the High Priest. We vow that even when we climb to the level of High Priests, we remain like "travelers" whose entire salvation is dependent upon Him.


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