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Yom Kippur 5778-2017

“Forgiveness Before Sin”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

According to tradition, the Torah was given to the People of Israel at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew year 2448 (1312 BCE), on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. On the seventh day of Sivan, Moses went back up the mountain for forty days to be with G-d and to master the Oral Code.

Forty days later, on the seventeenth of Tammuz, Moses descended the mountain with the two tablets of G-d in his arms. When he beheld the frenzied People of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets.

Moses remained in the camp with the people for forty days and then returned to Mount Sinai on the first day of Elul. After remaining atop the mountain far an additional forty days, Moses descended and joined the people on the tenth day of Tishrei–Yom Kippur. The Divine clouds, that had always hovered above the people but had vanished when they sinned, suddenly reappeared, confirming Divine forgiveness for the nation. In recognition of these clouds of mercy, the People of Israel celebrated their first Sukkot holiday, as the prayer states, וּפְרושׂ עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלומֶךָ , Spread over us Your canopy, “Sukkah,” of peace.

The Midrashic tradition records a dispute regarding which came first, Yom Kippur or the sin of the Golden Calf. The Tanna Dabai Eliyahu Rabba, 28  records, that on the final day of the forty days that Moses was on Mount Sinai preparing to deliver the second set of tablets, the heavens declared a fast day, so that the evil inclination would not hold sway. On the very next day, the people arose early in the morning to greet Moses as he returned.

The People of Israel cried when they saw Moses, and he cried when he saw the people, until both cries ascended directly to G-d. G-d’s compassion reached out to the people and He accepted their repentance. G-d pronounced a vow to the people, saying, “My children, I swear in My great Name and in My Holy Throne, that this crying will be converted into happiness and great joy. This day [Yom Kippur] will be a day of atonement and forgiveness, for you and your children, until the end of generations.”

The Midrash Rabbah  on Genesis 2, maintains that G-d established the Day of Atonement even before the sin of the Golden Calf. According to the Midrash, Yom Kippur was given as a gift to the first humans, Adam and Eve. In fact, when the Bible declares, (Genesis 1:5), “And there was evening and there was morning, one day,” this “day” was the gift of Yom Kippur that G-d gave to the people.

According to Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 46, it was not the atonement and the repentance of the people for the sin of the Golden Calf that led to the establishment of Yom Kippur, but rather it was the Day of Atonement that caused the people to do Teshuvah, to repent. When the people saw in the written Torah that Moses had delivered, that there was a specific day of atonement on which the people were to afflict their souls and sound of the shofar, they all fasted, young and old.

Unfortunately, today, there are no prophets to inspire the people to repent, nor a High Priest to perform the ritual of the scapegoat, and there is no Holy Temple to help the people to atone. We have only the prayers of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to help us atone.

Therefore, it is most vital to acknowledge that the Ten Days of Penitence are special times for atonement. G-d is out “in the field” waiting for His people to return and repent. So propitious is this time that the rabbis of the Talmud declare (Talmud, Yoma 86b) that when one repents with a full heart, not only are his/her sins forgiven, but sins are actually turned into merits.

Clearly, the Al-mighty greatly desires the peoples’ repentance. So desperately does G-d want to forgive us, that it is reflected in the Midrash that Yom Kippur was created even before the sin of the Golden Calf.

רַחֲמָנָא לִבָּא בָּעֵי, Sanhedrin 106b, G-d wants our hearts. Come, let us go out now and embrace Him, and pour out our hearts before the Al-mighty. This is the propitious moment. Let us not fritter away this very precious opportunity.

May you be blessed.

Wishing you a Shanah Tovah and a G’mar Chatimah Tovah, a very Happy and Healthy New Year. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, and may all our prayers be answered favorably.

Yom Kippur will be observed this year on Friday evening, September 29th through nightfall on Saturday, September 30, 2017. Have a most meaningful fast.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and Friday, October 4th, 5th and 6th, 2017. The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Wednesday, October 11th. On Wednesday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Thursday, October 12th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Thursday evening, October 12th and continues through Friday, October 13th.