Adapted from Likkutei Sichos,
What should we feel on the day after Yom Kippur? On Yom Kippur, we naturally feel spiritually awakened, but what happens the following day? Can we sustain the heightened awareness of Yom Kippur throughout the year?
We find an answer to these questions in the Torah reading of Yom Kippur, which describes the sacrifices offered by the Kohen Gadol in the Beis HaMikdash on that holy day. The reading is introduced by the verse, "And G-d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they had come close to G-d and died." This verse teaches us a lesson regarding Yom Kippur - the importance of what happens afterwards.
Yom Kippur is a time when every Jew "comes close to G-d." That experience, however, must not be self-contained; it must be connected to the days and weeks that follow.
In order to teach us how to approach this experience, the Torah recounts how Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, made a fundamental error in the way they "came close to G-d" after the revelation of the Divine Presence at the consecration of the Sanctuary:
"Each took his fire pan, placed fire in them, and placed incense upon it; they offered before G-d an alien fire which He had not commanded them [to bring]. Fire came forth from before G-d and consumed them."
Although our Sages enumerate several flaws in the conduct of Aharon's sons which led to their deaths, these interpretations raise a number of difficulties. Nadav and Avihu had been chosen by G-d to serve as priests. Moreover, as Rashi explains in his commentary on the Torah, they had attained a higher spiritual level than Moshe Rabbeinu himself. How, then, could they have erred so seriously in their service of G-d?
Several Torah commentaries explain that the death of Nadav and Avihu was not a punishment, but a natural consequence of their having soared to such spiritual heights that their souls could no longer remain in their bodies. Having experienced the rapture of cleaving to G-d in dveikus, they could not return to life on this material plane.
Even according to this interpretation, however, the conduct of Nadav and Avihu remains problematic because it was motivated by self-concern: they died because their souls wanted to cleave to G-d, to remain in a state of absolute unity with Him. In this desire, they lost sight of G-d's ultimate intention in creation. Like all the other beings in the physical and spiritual worlds, they too had been created so that G-d could have "a dwelling place in the lower worlds."
By leaving the world, even for the purpose of cleaving to G-d, they were thus in conflict with the intention with which G-d had created them and the world.
The deepest yearnings of our souls and the loftiest heights of our religious experience should be connected to the realities of our material existence. Spirituality is not an added dimension, separate from our everyday experience, but a medium through which to elevate our ordinary lives. By fusing our material and spiritual realities, we refine the world, infuse it with holiness, and transform it into a dwelling for G-d's Presence.
The goal of fusing the material and spiritual realms is clearly illustrated in the Talmud.
Four Sages "entered the Pardes" (lit., "Orchard"); i.e., they strolled amidst the lush profusion hidden in the depths of the Torah and experienced overwhelming mystical revelations. One of them "peered within and died"; another "peered within and lost his mind"; a third "cut down the saplings" (i.e., distorted by misinterpretation). Rabbi Akiva alone "entered in peace and departed in peace."
Rabbi Akiva was the only one who departed unharmed because he alone "entered in peace." He was not merely seeking mystical experiences. He did not enter the Pardes in order to satisfy a yearning to cleave to G-d, but in order to achieve a heightened spiritual awareness with which he could enhance his total service of G-d. His colleagues, by contrast, sought personal mystical experiences. They wanted to "come close to G-d," but did not understand how to relate that experience to the full scope of their lives.
The same potential problem exists with regard to our divine service on Yom Kippur. At the very time when we "draw close to G-d," we should not lose sight of our service of G-d throughout the year. Yom Kippur should not be viewed as an isolated experience, but as a means to enhance our relationship with G-d on a day-to-day level.
The necessity of connecting Yom Kippur to the realities of the rest of the year is illustrated by the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. On this day he would enter the Holy of Holies where he was alone with the Shechinah, the revealed Divine Presence. No deeper religious experience is imaginable.
Immediately, however, he would offer a short and simple prayer, requesting blessings for an untroubled livelihood on behalf of the Jewish people. Fresh from his ascent to great spiritual heights, he would immediately thrust himself into concern for the Jewish people on a day-to-day level.
Significantly, a prerequisite for serving as High Priest on Yom Kippur was marriage. If the High Priest was unmarried, i.e., if he lacked this basic commitment to living within the practical realities of this world, he was considered unfit to intercede on behalf of his brethren.
We, perhaps, do not experience the same heights as Aharon's sons or the High Priest in the Holy of Holies, but we do have spiritual peaks, times when we feel more in touch with our souls and with G-d. Surely this applies to Yom Kippur, a day on which we are removed from all worldly concerns. We cannot allow such moments to remain unconnected to our ordinary lives; rather, the spiritual power of these special days should be used to recharge our everyday service of G-d.
This course of action also calls down blessings upon our material affairs. Yom Kippur is a day of judgment. When G-d sees that an individual focuses his intention on elevating the world around him and keeps that intention in mind even at the highest peaks of his spiritual experience, He rewards him with success both in his divine service and in his material affairs. G-d blesses him with health, wealth, and children. The individual, in turn, uses those blessings to elevate and refine the world, to transform it into a dwelling place for G-d.
This approach to the service of G-d leads to the ultimate fusion of material prosperity and spiritual growth which will take place in the Era of the Redemption. At that time, "good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust." Simultaneously, "the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d.... 'For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed.' "
- (Back to text) Vayikra 16:1.
- (Back to text) Ibid. 10:1-2.
- (Back to text) Toras Kohanim on Vayikra 16:1; Vayikra Rabbah 20:8.
- (Back to text) In his comment on Vayikra 10:3, based on Zevachim 115b.
- (Back to text) Among them Or HaChayim on Vayikra 16:1. See also the maamar beginning Acharei in Sefer HaMaamarim 5649, p. 237 ff.
- (Back to text) Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
- (Back to text) Chagigah 14b. See also the maamar beginning Acharei, cited above.
- (Back to text) A similar concept is also alluded to in the Torah reading chosen for the afternoon service of Yom Kippur. By this time, for almost an entire day, we have - to borrow the expression of the Sages as cited in the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 410:9, 419:17 - conducted ourselves like angels. And what passage is read from the Torah at this time? - The passage (Vayikra, ch. 18) which warns us not to "imitate the ways of the land of Egypt, nor... the ways of the land of Canaan," and which proceeds to enumerate all the possible prohibitions against promiscuity. Of what relevance are these prohibitions to people whose conduct resembles that of angels?
The answer lies in their possible relevance after Yom Kippur: observing this holy day is intended to influence our conduct throughout the coming new year.
- (Back to text) Yoma 53b.
- (Back to text) Ibid. 2a.
- (Back to text) Here we also see a connection to the death of Aharon's sons. One of the reasons given by our Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 20:9) for their death was their refusal to marry and have children. This also reflected their desire for transcendence at the expense of involvement in the day-to-day realities of worldly experience.
- (Back to text) As noted in the series of discourses entitled VeKachah 5637, ch. 96, our divine service immediately after Yom Kippur begins a new phase that can be described by the verse (Bereishis 32:2), "And Yaakov went on his way." As we complete our worship on Yom Kippur, we are reminded that the heightened awareness achieved should not be left behind as we proceed "on our way" into the humdrum daily world.
- (Back to text) Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 12:5. In his Hadran on the Mishneh Torah in 5735 [adapted in English in the essay entitled "The Ultimate Good of the Era of the Redemption," which appears in I Await His Coming Every Day (Kehot, N.Y., 5751)], the Rebbe Shlita explains the interrelation between the material prosperity which will be present in the Era of the Redemption and the desire for the "knowledge of G-d" which will characterize that age.
- (Back to text) Yeshayahu 11:9.