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Shabbat Parashat Vayeilech 5782

Parashat Hashavua: Properly Channeling the Desire for Spirituality

Harav Yosef Carmel

The holiest day, Yom Kippur, and its preceding day contain apparently polar opposite elements – the firm requirement to fast on Yom Kippur and the requirement to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. When one eats then, it is equivalent to one who fasted both days. What is the nature of this dichotomy?

R. Yehoshua said that the pasuk, “You [Moshe] will lie with your fathers and will rise up the nation and will sin after the idols of the Land…” (Devarim 31:16) is the source both for the resurrection of the dead and that Hashem knows what will happen in the future (Sanhedrin 90b). Why does R. Yehoshua contort the pasuk so that it can teach both lessons?

Daniel said: “To you, Hashem, is the righteousness, and to us is embarrassment” (Daniel 9:7). Now that we have our own state, we can understand our embarrassment better than before. Where do we find a nation whose members do not all flock to its land from abroad when it is now possible? How can so many of those who are here disrespect religious leaders and deny the glory of our national past? Our generation pales in comparison to the previous one, when the chalutzim dreamed and sacrificed so much to build. Why do these problems exist now?

“When [our nation] is elevated, it reaches the Heavens; when it falls, it falls to the dirt” (Pesikta, Bereishit 15:5). This refers mainly to the nation’s spiritual side. Hashem complains that we can be the most difficult nation to get to be obedient to its G-d (see Beitza 25b). Part of the complaint is that we have at our disposal special tools of elevation, especially the ability to turn the mundane into sanctity. When Moshe was on Sinai for 40 days, he “ate” from the glory of the Divine Presence, similar to the eating of the noblemen in Israel when Hashem revealed Himself (Shemot 24:11 and Shemot Rabba 47:7). While everything is spiritual, most people’s bodies are unable to digest the spiritual in that form.

On Yom Kippur, the day Moshe descended Sinai, we have an element of Moshe’s ability to be sustained from Hashem without physicality. The essence of the fast is to desist from eating, like angels, and be energized without it. We have a great hunger for spirituality, but when we do not find it, we can go very low. Other nations suffice with their idol worship, but that does not satisfy our thirst. The nations have an idol called democracy and do not notice that they need more spirituality than that. A Jew needs more than that and keeps searching.

We return to the pasuk in Devarim. If one can say that Moshe died, i.e., that we cannot be inspired by Moshe’s sanctity, then the nation will go sin with idols. Yom Kippur tells us that first we eat, and then we can move on to elevating the physical. When we appear to die, it is really “lying with the fathers,” it is a slumber and not death. We also learn that Hashem sees the future, and He knows that our spiritual failings are not representative of our level, but that He knows we will return to our proper standing.

We need to “return until Hashem” (see Hoshea 14:2, from our haftara). We can reach the throne of divine glory (Yoma 86a), and that is what we need – a full return and not a partial one, a full liberation, and not a partial one. This is what we ask for this Yom Kippur.         

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Nir Rephael ben Rachel Bracha
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