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Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Davening: Joy of Repentance #6

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Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Davening: Joy of Repentance #6
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes - September 15, 2010

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In the days of the Temple, the Yom Kippur service was like no other, in terms of its majesty and the joy it engendered, for it was clear that Hashem had granted the Jewish people atonement. In the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei of Mussaf, we recount the avoda of the Kohein Gadol in great detail. When the chazan intones how the High Priest would utter the Ineffable Name, we prostrate ourselves just as the Jews did long ago in the Beit Hamikdash.

The machzor depicts the many sacrifices that were brought on this holy day including the korbanot of the se'er la'azazel and the se'er l'Hashem. Lots would determine which of the two identical goats would be dedicated to Hashem and which would be hurled off a cliff. Rav Soloveitchik notes that this teaches significant lesson. You can choose to stay mired in your own evil, tumbling over the cliff or dedicate yourself completely to serve Hashem. As the seder avoda draws to a close, we recite a moving piyut describing the joyous, luminous countenance of the Kohen Gadol when forgiveness was granted. We then mourn the majesty that once was. The splendor of the avoda is gone, all we are left with is teshuva.

During Mincha, we read the book of Yonah, which tells how the non-Jewish city of Ninveh repented for their misdeeds. This is meant to teach us that teshuva is open to all humanity and is a necessary means of rectification for the entire world. Rav Soloveitchik points out that a Jew's role is to interact with the world while simultaneously retaining his uniqueness. When the people of Ninveh repented, the Navi writes, "Vayar Elokim et maseihem. Hashem saw their deeds." Rav Soloveitchik writes that rituals, incantations, and fasting did not open the gates of mercy for the people of Ninveh, rather their turning away from evil and performing righteous deeds. Action speaks louder than words. Yom Kippur is like spring training before the baseball season begins. Everyone's in shul fervently praying. The real question is whose left on the team the next day. Do our actions reflect our commitment to change?

Yom Kippur is the only day of the year that contains five tefilot. The stirring prayer of Neila is recited as the day wanes, and the gates of heaven close. We pray, "Ata noten yad l'poshim. You stretch out a hand to those who have sinned." During the year, one needs self motivation to return. On Yom Kippur, Hashem reaches out to accept our teshuva. We don't even need to enter the mikva. Hashem sprinkles its purifying waters upon us. We end Yom Kippur with the shofar blast. Rav Soloveitchik explains that after a full day of prayer, it as if we are telling Hashem, "I haven't begun to verbalize what I should have prayed. Please accept this cry of the shofar as my last offering." Alternatively, the shofar blast signifies a cry of delightful accomplishment. The happiness of Sukkot follows close on the heels of the dveikut to Hashem that we attained on Yom Kippur. May the wondrous joy achieved on this holy day permeate the entire year.

About the Author: Rabbi Michael Taubes
Rabbi Michael Taubes has over 25 years experience in high school and post high school Jewish education. He received Semicha from RIETS and a Masters in Jewish Education from Yeshiva University. He is the co-editor of Artscroll's Rabbi Joseph B.Soleveitchik Machzor on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Currently, RabbiTaubes is the Rabbi of Congregation Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck, teaches in Yeshiva University and is an author and editor for Artscroll.

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