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Mitzvah/Concept 94 Yom Kippur Part Three

Isaac and Jacob
The Zohar says1 that when Isaac summoned Esau to go and hunt for him so that he could give Esau a blessing,


it represents the time of the year when God, represented by Isaac, sits on the throne of judgment. Isaac, who is always a representation of judgment, summons Esau, who is the representative of Satan, and says; “Go out and hunt,” meaning bring me the sins of the Jewish People so I can consume them and give you the power to destroy them.  This is because from the perspective of pure justice no one deserves to exist.  So Esau goes out to hunt for the sins of the Jews.  Rebecca, who is the maternal representation of God, goes out and calls the Jewish people and says, “Listen, your daddy is angry and your daddy is going to kill you.  I want you to take your sins and instead of waiting for Satan to bring your sins in go and put your sins on your shoulders and go into Isaac and tell Isaac “Here I am. I confess that I act no differently than Esau.  I admit that I am evil.  And I want you to bless me despite that because I want to be close to you.” 

This means that the Jewish people have to say to God, “Here we are, with all of our sins, and we know that coming to face You while You are sitting in judgment, even though You may destroy us in pure justice.  Despite that risk we want to be here with you.”  So God, represented by Isaac, says, “Do you really want a relationship so much that you are willing to risk everything?”  God is so moved that, Isaac gets off the throne of judgment and goes and sits down on the throne of mercy, and blesses Jacob.

We are acting out the story of Isaac, Esau, Rebecca and Jacob. We are going into the king, as did Esther, wearing the clothes of Esau, admitting everything we are, and saying to God that we want a relationship with Him. We know that we are undeserving. We know that if He dealt with us with pure justice that He would destroy us. We want the relationship anyway. We do not wash ourselves. We do not anoint ourselves. We do not even wear shoes when we enter the King’s room. We have bad breath from fasting. We are weak. We do not beautify ourselves in any way as we approach God. We do not pretend to be anything other than what we are. We know the risks. We are willing to take them just to have a direct relationship with God.

Even the Deniers
The Midrash asks, what was it, what was the final thing, that made Isaac decide to bless Jacob?  It says,  “Vayarach et Reiach Begadav,” he smelled the smell of his clothes.  The Midrash says,  “Al Tikri Begadav,”  don’t read it as ‘his clothes’ read it as; Bogedav, his deniers.  Meaning, that Isaac smelled that Jacob would have children who would deny God’s existence and said, “I love it,” and gave him a blessing.  “How is it that he smelled that Jacob would have children who would deny God’s existence and this is what made Isaac bless Jacob?”  The Midrash answers with the story of Yosef Meshisa.

When the Romans decided to destroy the second temple, they were a little nervous, because they were scared of this God, this Jewish God.  So they were scared to go in to ransack the Temple before they burned it.  So they made an announcement that any Jew who would go in to the Temple could take whatever he wanted from the Temple and take it home to keep.  Can you imagine that they would find a Jew, so low, that he would be willing to go into the temple of Jerusalem and ransack it to take something home?   They did find somebody; his name was Yosef Meshisa.  He said, “I will go in,” and he went in.

The holiest object in the Second Temple was the Menorah.  Yosef Meshisa picked up the Menorah, swung it over his shoulder and he walked out.  The Romans were shocked by his audacity and they said to him, “Is that not a little disgusting?  It is your God and you take the Menorah.  When we said you could take whatever you want we did not mean that you could take the Menorah!”  They were worried that the reason he was not struck down by lightning was because he was carrying the Menorah, and they assumed that the Menorah protected him. 

The Roman soldiers made a second offer to Yosef; “We will keep the Menorah, it belongs to a King. Go back in and take something else.”  Yosef said, “No!”  They said, “Don’t be difficult, go back in.”  He said, “No.”  So they said, “We have a lot of ways, we will make you.”  So he said, “No, you won’t.”  They offered large sums of money, but he still refused.  The Romans were so desperate that they stretched Yosef out on the cross and they began to torture him. He was screaming in pain and eventually he died.  The Midrash says that a Heavenly Voice came out and said, “Do not think that Yosef Meshisa was crying because of the physical pain. He was crying because he realized that the Romans were right; he was a terrible person. He could not understand  how he could have had the chutzpa to take out the Menorah.”

This, the Midrash says, is what Isaac smelled in Jacob, and he said, “Even the deniers of Jacob, the worst Jews, such as Yosef Meshisa have a spark of clarity. These are the people who deserve a blessing from God.”2 

The point of Yom Kippur is not to pretend that we are super holy Jews for one day. The point of Yom Kippur is that we forget that we have this very powerful spark inside.  And it is good to remember that that spark is there and that it is a real part of us.  We accept all the afflictions in order to sense and nurture that spark deep inside our souls.

Suffering From Our Sins
One of the reasons that we have these laws of affliction is to remind us that people suffer from their sins when they are conscious of them.

At the end of the movie Schindler’s List there is a powerful scene in which Oskar Schindler cries because he could have saved more Jews. That scene is not true. Schindler often broke out into a sweat over the fact that he could have saved more Jews. It wasn’t a momentary cry; it was heard by “his Jews” quite often. He constantly suffered over the fact that he could have done more.

When we recite the confession ten times, we are saying that we are not having a momentary pain over our sins. We carry the pain with us. The pain is constant. We can break out into a sweat over our sins. That is why we have all the afflictions. We suffer physically to show that we suffer emotionally over our sins; not a momentary suffering but constant.3

Related Laws
There are other important concepts that are introduced in the Torah through this Mitzvah that apply to many other areas in Jewish law. The law of adding on to the Sabbath and Holidays is derived from the verses that command us to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur.  The laws of rebuke4; which Mitzvot demand that we rebuke others who are breaking it and when do we consider a person’s reaction to rebuke, are all included in this positive commandment to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur.

This is a Mitzvah that teaches us to transform the physical into spiritual, which also includes adding from the mundane weekday onto the holiness of the Sabbath and Holidays. We are altering the ordinary into sanctity.

When we rebuke someone we are also breaking down barriers between that person’s physical and spiritual lives. However, we must do it in a manner that does not create barriers of resentment. Therefore, many of the laws of rebuke are derived from this law.

1 Ra’ay Meihimna, Vayikra; Emor 99b

2 Bereishit Rabbah 65:22

3 I heard this idea from Gerald August

4 Mitzvah/Concept 16

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