"We have transgressed."
QUESTION: Why does one strike his chest over his heart with his hand when reciting the confession?
According to Torah law, one cannot be found guilty lest there are witnesses who testify to the crime. In the prayer of "Unetanah tokef kedushat hayom"
- "Let us proclaim the mighty holiness of this day" - we proclaim, "You open the Book of Remembrance and it reads itself; every man's signature is in it." Thus, by applying his signature to all his deeds, the person serves as the witness who attests to the validity of his actions.
The Torah prescribes that when punishment is meted out, "The hand of the witnesses shall be upon him first to put him to death" (Devarim 17:7). Thus, in keeping with this rule, the hand - which is the witness - is, so to speak, the first to apply punishment. It strikes the heart because it is the power in the body that, through expressing its desires, causes man to sin.
Perhaps, the striking of the chest over the heart is because it is the person's life source and through sin one affects his very life.
The Chofetz Chaim once said, "It is not the one who knocks on his heart for his sins that Hashem forgives; rather it is the one whose heart pounds him for the sins he committed."
"We have transgressed."
QUESTION: Why is it customary to start each verse in this prayer with a lyrical melody - wouldn't it be more appropriate to cry and wail?
86b) states that when one's repentance is motivated by fear, his zedonot
- willful transgressions - are accounted for the [the penitent] as shegagot
- inadvertent errors. When one's repentance is motivated by love, his willful transgressions are accounted for him as zechutim
- merits. Hence, we are in a confident spirit when we make our confession and repent because of the many merits being acquired.
"For the sin that we sinned before You in public and in private."
QUESTION: This verse is superfluous since all the sins enumerated in the Al Cheit were done either in private or in public?
There are people who, unfortunately, live by two standards. In public they act very frum
- meticulously religious - while in private they are lacking immensely in their observance. For instance, some people are very inquisitive about the kashrut
at a catered affair, while in private when no one observes them, they are very lax in their kashrut
standards. In shul
they appear to be very religious and criticize davening
quickly or without proper thought and in private they will run through the entire davening
in an extremely short time.
On the other hand, there are those who in the privacy of their home are meticulous in their observance of kashrut, but when going out with friends or associates they are afraid of being considered a fanatic and therefore will "cut corners" in their kashrut standards.
The proper conduct for a Jew is to be the same on the inside and the outside. Piety should be consistent in public and in private. To live by two standards is deceit and hypocrisy, and indeed a grave iniquity and a horrendous sin.
In this Al Cheit we are begging forgiveness for the sin of being hypocritical and committing the sin of having different standards in public and in private.
"For the sins that we have committed before You, knowingly and unknowingly."
QUESTION: Since it already says, "For the sins that we have committed before You bezadon u'bishgagah - intentionally and unintentionally" - isn't this redundant?
In the Gemara
20a) Rav Huna says, "When one commits a transgression and repeats his wrongdoing a second time, the deed becomes something which seems permissible to him, for his repeated performance of the sin has removed his inhibition regarding it."
The intent of the person in this confession is that in the beginning when he committed a transgression he was aware that he did something wrong and felt remorse. However, after the sin was repeated a few times it became a habitual way of life and he continued doing it callously and no longer felt that he was doing something wrong.
"For the sin which we have committed before You by embezzlement."
QUESTION: The expression "tesumet yad" appears in the Torah: "If a person will sin and commit a trespass against Hashem and be deceitful toward his friend regarding a pikadon - pledge - or betusumat yad - a putting of a hand [That he put money in his hand to do business with, or as a loan (Vayikra 5:21, Rashi)]." So if "tesumet yad" means "embezzlement," isn't this already included in our saying, "Al cheit shechatanu lefanecha bemasa u'bematan" - "For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealing"?
ANSWER: "Tesumet yad"
can be interpreted as "extending a hand," i.e. cooperating or lending support to one who commits a crime or perpetrates an iniquity. Similar to the Biblical expression, "Al tashet yadecha im rasha"
- "Do not extend your hand with the wicked [to be a venal witness]" (Shemot
23:1). Any involvement with a person that may be in the category of "mesai'a yedei over aveirah"
- "helping, assisting, or encouraging a perpetrator of a crime" - even if one is not committing the crime personally, is a sin for which one must beg forgiveness.
"For the sin which we have committed before You with a confused heart."
QUESTION: In the Tochachah - Admonition - we are told that for violating Torah, "Hashem will strike you with madness and with blindness ubetimhon leivav - using of the heart" (Devarim 28:28). What sin does one commit through this?
Faith and belief in Hashem is the basic tenet of our religion. A Jew must believe in Individual Divine Providence and that there is a "Master to this palace." Nothing occurs by chance or accident. One is not to question why the righteous suffer nor why the wicked are successful. Similarly, to credit the wonders of the world as acts of nature and not the doing of Hashem is heresy.
Skepticism about G-dliness is a grave iniquity, and it is an evil condition that induces man to sin against Hashem. Since a used heart leads a person to skepticism about Hashem and his Providence, we ask for forgiveness for sins committed through timhon leivav.
"If your dispersed will be at the ends of the heavens, from there G-d, your G-d, will gather you in and from there He will take you."
QUESTION: Since people do not live in heavens, should not the pasuk have stated, "If your dispersed will be at the ends of the earth?"
- heavens - denotes spiritual matters, while aretz
- earth - refers to the mundane and material. The term "biketzeih"
- "at the ends" - comes from the word "ketzat"
- "a little bit."
Since every Jew has certainly done some good and therefore has some merits in Heaven, Moshe told the Jewish people: "Im yiheyeh nidachacha - In the event that some of you may be dispersed - you need not worry because as long as you are holding onto ketzeih hashamayim - a little bit of spirituality - this will serve as the string through which Hashem will take hold of you and bring you back to Him and the Jewish people."
Many people have questioned the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's mitzvah campaigns: "Why bother putting tefillin on a mechaleil Shabbat - Shabbat desecrator - why go through the effort of putting a mezuzah on a home where kashrut is not observed?"
In light of the abovementioned, his efforts can be well understood. The Rebbe has unlimited love for Klal Yisrael, and he wants every Jew to perform at least one mitzvah through which Hashem will take hold of him and bring him back into the fold of Judaism.
"Even if your sins will be scarlet, they will become white as snow."
QUESTION: It should have said "kashani"; why does it say "kashanim" in plural?
The word "kashanim"
can also mean "years." To sin is sometimes inevitable. Mortal man at times cannot subdue his temptations and inclinations. However, when the sin is fitting to the person's age, it is comprehensible and forgivable. When it is not, Hashem is angered. For instance, the Gemara
113b) cites, among the people which the mind cannot tolerate, "an old man who commits adultery." Likewise, this could be said about the craze of our society - young children bringing guns to school.
It is human to sin, and the Divine One forgives, providing that the sin fits the sinner's age.
"Hear our voice, G-d our G-d."
QUESTION: Instead of asking Hashem to hear our voice, shouldn't we ask him to hear "tefilateinu" - "our prayers" - or "bakashateinu" - "our supplication"?
A king had an only son, whom he brought up in princely fashion, denying him nothing. He loved him, had him well educated, and when the boy grew up, had him wed to a lovely princess. The king hoped to have his son follow a righteous path and eventually rule the kingdom. However, the son did not follow his father's advice. He associated with bad company, people whose goals in life were pleasures and the satisfaction of lust. Soon, he left his wife and became attached to other women. This caused his parents great heartache, so much so, that in time the father banished him from the palace. The son left the place of his birth and wandered from city to city all over the world. His clothing became tattered. The features of his face changed so that it was impossible to recognize him, let alone believe that he was once a prince.
Years passed. The former prince suffered greatly. He began to think about the causes for his exile and his great suffering. He regretted his behavior and decided to turn over a new leaf. He planned to return to his father and beg forgiveness, and after many difficulties he succeeded in reaching his father's palace. When he approached the king, he fell to his knees, sobbing and pleading for forgiveness for the sins he had committed against him. His father did not recognize him because conditions had so changed his physical features. In desperation the son exclaimed, "Father, if you don't recognize my face because of the change in me, surely you recognize my voice. My voice has not changed." The father listened carefully and did recognize it. He had mercy on his only son and took him back into the palace.
So it is with us. We are the children of Hashem. He loves us, takes pleasure in us, exalted us above all people, escorted us under the wedding canopy, gave us the holy Torah that teaches righteousness. But we turned away from his commandments and were exiled from our land. The multitude of our sins has caused our features to change and become unrecognizable. But now that the Holy Days have arrived, we are indeed sorry for our misbehavior. We want to return to Hashem. We therefore exclaim, "Hear our voice, Hashem our G-d. If you do not recognize our features, please recognize our voice because we are Your children. Spare us and have mercy on us and accept us in mercy and with favor."
"Do not cast us aside in old age"
QUESTION: "Le'eit ziknah" literally means "to old age." Grammatically, shouldn't we say "Al tashlicheinu be'eit ziknah"?
5b) says that when Hashem found it necessary for the prophet Shmuel to expire, He made him age prematurely (to remove any implication that he had sinned). Thus, the intent of our prayer is that Hashem should let us fully enjoy the young and middle age portions of our life and that He should not, G-d forbid, cast us prematurely into the period of "ziknah"
- "old age" - the time of life when one is lacking in strength and vigor.
"Act for the sake of Your magnificence."
QUESTION: What is "pe'eircha" - "magnificence" referring to?
6a) says that Hashem wears tefillin
containing the pasuk
, "And who is like Your people like Israel, one nation on earth" (II Samuel 7:23), which testifies to the uniqueness and greatness of the Jewish people. The Gemara
11a) also says that tefillin
are called "pe'eir"
- "magnificence" - as we find that when Yechezkeil was in mourning, he was told, "Pe'eirecha chavush alecha"
- "Put on your magnificent headgear (tefillin
)" (Ezekiel 24:17).
Thus, when beseeching Hashem, "Asei lema'an pe'eirecha" - "Act for the sake of your magnificence," this may be explained to mean that we are asking Hashem to act on behalf of His "pe'eir" - tefillin - i.e. the Jewish people: "Please forgive the sins of the Jewish people and make them the 'one nation on earth.' Thus, Your tefillin, which declare the praise and uniqueness of the Jewish people, will be telling the truth. Otherwise, the kashrut of Your tefillin will be questionable."
When tefillin fall to the ground they should be picked up immediately, and it is customary to give them a kiss.
When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once observed such a scene in his shul, he lifted his eyes to Heaven and said, "Al-mighty G-d, when this simple Jew's tefillin fell down, he immediately picked them up and kissed them. The Gemara (Berachot 6a) says that You, too, wear tefillin and in Your tefillin is written Your pride in the Jewish people. Unfortunately, Your tefillin - the Jewish people - have fallen, and have been lying in disgrace for many years with the nations of the world stepping on them. Why don't You pick up Your tefillin - the Jewish people - and give them the 'kiss' they so well deserve?"
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's heartfelt plea to Hashem to "pick up Your tefillin and give them a kiss," was that Hashem should immediately send Mashiach to redeem the Jews and take them out of exile.
"How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, O Israel."
QUESTION: Why do we open our daily prayers with words of the vile Bilaam, uttered in an attempt to annihilate the Jewish people? (In fact, some omit it and start from "Va'ani berov chasdecha" - see Responsa Maharshal 64).
Inherent humility and insecurity usually inhibits a person from thinking highly of or praising his own endeavors and accomplishments. Very often he needs the assurance of an outsider to be convinced that his decision or action was correct.
A popular adage states: "A stranger for a while sees for a mile." Particularly one who is familiar with "both sides of the fence" is in the best position to honestly appraise one's virtues.
Bilaam the non-Jewish prophet had a profound insight of the secular world. When he took a close look at the Jewish people, he was stunned and flabbergasted at their beauty. Knowing keenly the shortcomings and faults of the gentile world, he involuntarily proclaimed, "How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov."
In order to dispel any doubts that we may have about our convictions of G-dliness and Judaism, we proclaim these words at the very beginning of our prayers. We thus recall that even the great gentile prophet, Bilaam, attested to the beauty and superiority of our religion.
"How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, O Israel."
QUESTION: Rashi (Bamidbar 24:5) comments that Bilaam uttered this in amazement when "he saw that the openings [of their tents] were not lined up one with the other." Why did he focus on their "openings"?
The Midrash Rabbah
(Song of Songs 5:2) says that Hashem urges the Jewish people to do teshuvah
, saying: "Pitchu li petach kechudo shel machat ve'Ani potei'ach lachem petachim shetiheyu agalot nichnasot bo"
- "Make a small opening like that of the head of a needle and I will open for you an opening through which caravans can enter." In other words, the Jew merely has to begin the teshuvah
process and Hashem will help him to attain the most lofty goals. Thus, the "openings" that Jews have to make and Hashem's reciprocal "opening" are not comparable.
Therefore, in praise and envy Bilaam said, "You Jews are so lucky; your opening and Hashem's opening are not 'lined up' - identical - to each other. You only have to put in a little effort and Hashem opens for you the vast gates of teshuvah. If your G-d loves you so much, how can my cursing possibly have an effect?"
"By the mouth of the upright shall You be exalted, and by the lips of the righteous shall You be blessed. By the tongue of the pious shall You be sanctified, and among the holy shall You be praised."
QUESTION: In many machzorim this statement is written in four lines of three words each to show that the first letter of the second word of each line forms an acrostic of the name "Yitzchak." Additionally, the third letter of the final word of each line forms an acrostic of the name "Rivkah."
What is the significance of this?
The combined numerical value of Yitzchak and Rivkah is 515, which is also the numerical value of the word Tefillah
- prayer. They are the only couple that the Torah mentions prayed together (see Bereishit
Prayer is song and praise to Hashem, and it should be recited with joy and happiness. Our Sages (Taanit 2a) in explanation of the verse "to serve Him with all your heart" (Devarim 11:13) have defined prayer as the "service of Hashem performed in the heart." It is elementary that mental and emotional concentration is an essential component of prayer (Rambam, Tefillah 4:15).
It is interesting to note that the word "shirah" - "song" - and also the words "bekavanat haleiv" - "concentration of the heart" - have the same numerical value as the word "tefillah" (515).
"A crown given to you... Hear O Israel, G-d our G-d, G-d is the One and Only." (6:4)
QUESTION: Why is the Shema recited in the Kedushah of the Musaf Amidah on Shabbat and Yom Tov?
During the middle of the fifth century, the Persian king Yezdegerd II (see Zevachim
19a) issued a decree forbidding the daily recital of the Shema
. His purpose was in order to eradicate belief in Hashem and his Oneness. To counteract this, the Sages inserted it into the Kedushah
The Talmudic sage Rav Ashi prayed for the abolishment of the decree, and miraculously a crocodile appeared in the king's bedroom and swallowed him up in broad daylight, and the decree was nullified. The recital of Shema was thus reinstated, and removed from the Kedushah of Shacharit. However, in order that this miracle be remembered, it was left in the Kedushah of Musaf, since there is otherwise no reciting of the Shema during the prayer.
It is not mentioned, however, in the Rosh Chodesh Musaf Amidah, because Rosh Chodesh is often on a weekday when the attendance for public prayer is not so large and the goal of publicizing the miracle does not apply.
"Repentance, Prayer, and Charity."
QUESTION: In all Machzorim the word "tzom" - "fasting" - is printed over the word "teshuvah," the word "kol" - "voice" - is printed over the word "tefilah," and the word "mamon" - "money" - is printed over the word "tzedakah."
Why is it necessary to explain that tzedakah means money - isn't it well known?
When responding to a charitable cause, many (instead of giving according to their financial means) give according to a gematria
- numerical value. They feel that the merit of giving "chai"
- "eighteen dollars" - will assure them with "chai"
- "a good life." Therefore, the placing of the word "mamon"
above the word "tzedakah"
is to emphasize that a person should not limit his giving to a numerical value, but if possible he should give a significant amount.
A wise man once said, if one who wants "a good life" would contribute the numerical value of "mitah" - "death" - (=455) instead of "chai" - "life" (=18), he would definitely have a better chance to merit "chai" - "a good life."
Alternatively, during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur period of the year, people customarily give charity more generously than they would give throughout the year. There are many who graciously make magnificent pledges, but when it comes to redeeming them they are lax or find excuses not to pay. The word "mamon" - "money" - above the word "tzedakah" is to emphasize that tzedakah consists of money and not just pledges. To pledge is commendable but for the organization to exist and flourish, they must have your actual mamon - money.
A person who was very sick and obviously frightened said to his rabbi, "Pray for me, and if I get well, I'll donate $25,000 to the synagogue building fund."
Several months later the rabbi met the person on the street. "How are you?" he asked. "Just marvelous, Rabbi," the other replied.
"I have been meaning to speak to you," continued the rabbi, "about that money for the synagogue."
"What are you talking about?"
"You asked that I pray for you and that if you got well, you would donate $25,000 to the fund for the new synagogue."
"If I said that," the former patient exclaimed, "then I really must have been sick."
"I beg You Hashem
I beg You, with The Name forgive
QUESTION: Why does he first say "Hashem" and later says "Besheim"?
Hashem's Ineffable Four Letter Name (The Tetragramaton) is spelled, "yud, hei, vav, hei."
Ordinarily it is pronounced "A-donoy"
and not as it is written. In his confessions on Yom Kippur
the Kohen Gadol
would pronounce the Ineffable Four Letter Name as it is spelled.
The first time he mentions it he is addressing Him directly, and thus he says "Ana Hashem" - "Please G-d." After addressing Him he appeals, "Ana Besheim" - "Please use the Name, which represents absolute mercy, to grant forgiveness on this Yom Kippur day."
When the Kohanim would hear the Kohen Gadol this pronounced Name, they would respond after him; "Baruch sheim kevod malchuto le'olam va'ed" - "Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever." Perhaps this is another reason why we say this passage on Yom Kippur loudly, to emphasize that it was through The Name that G-d granted forgiveness to Klal Yisrael.
"And when the Kohanim and the people standing in the Temple court"
QUESTION: Why is it customary that the congregation sing along when the chazan recites this passage?
During the Yom Kippur
service the Kohen Gadol
would recite the Ineffable Holy Four Letter Name (The Tetragramaton) ten times. He would recite it very loud and it would be heard at a distance. However, once the "indiscreet ones" became numerous, he would intone it in a low voice so that they would not learn the proper pronunciation of the Name and use it improperly. Rabbi Tarfon, who was a Kohen
in the times of the Beit Hamikdash
said, "I was standing among my brothers the Kohanim
, and I attuned my ear to hear the Kohen Gadol
, and I heard him drown it in into the pleasant singing of the Kohanim
To commemorate this, the community sings so that the voice of the chazan will be over toned by their voices.
"When the Kohanim and the people
heard the glorious and awesome Name
emanating from the mouth of the Kohen Gadol."
QUESTION: Isn't the word "yotzei" - "coming out" - superfluous?
According to the Arizal
, the Kohen Gadol
would not actually recite the Holy Name; rather, when he opened his mouth to say it, miraculously it emanated from his mouth without him actually doing anything.
There is an opinion in the Mishnah (Tamid 3:8) that when the Kohen Gadol recited the Name, his voice was heard all the way to Jericho, which was ten parsah away (approximately twenty-five miles). The Tosafot Yom Tov (ibid.) says that it is difficult to say that every Kohen Gadol had such a strong voice, and therefore he concludes that it was not the Kohen Gadol's voice that was heard, rather it was the voice of all the Kohanim and the people who would proclaim, "Baruch sheim kevod malchuto" - when they heard the Name being pronounced. However, based on the Gemara (Yoma 20b), many agree that it was indeed the Kohen Gadol's voice that was heard.
As to the question of how is it possible that every Kohen Gadol possessed such a powerful voice, it can be answered according to the abovementioned Arizal that the recitation of the Holy Name was not done physically by the Kohen Gadol - rather the Al-mighty Himself would utter it through the mouth of the Kohen Gadol.
"He entered to the Holy of Holies to bring out the ladle and the fire-pan which he had taken in during the morning service."
QUESTION: In the morning he entered holding a ketoret-pan with glowing coals in his right hand and a ladle with incense in his left. He transferred all the incense from the ladle into his hands and put them on the glowing coals and waited there till the Holy of Holies became filled with smoke. Why didn't he take out the empty ladle immediately upon leaving?
The Sadducees denied the validity of the Oral Tradition of the Jewish people and misinterpreted Scripture in accordance with their whims. The Torah says (Vayikra
16:2), "He [the Kohen Gadol
] shall not come at all times into the Holy within the Curtain [i.e., Holy of Holies], for with a cloud I will be seen upon the Ark-cover." The Sadducees expounded this incorrectly as meaning that the Kohen Gadol
should not enter with unburned ketoret
; rather he should place the incense on the burning coals before
Thus, according to them, the Kohen Gadol brings in only the fire-pan with the incense on it and there is no need at all to bring in the ladle. Our rabbis strongly disagreed with them and therefore made the Kohen swear that he would do it the traditional way and not like the Sadducees (see Yoma 19b).
In order to negate the view of the Sadducees, the Kohen Gadol would bring in the ladle filled with unburned incense. Additionally, to further emphasize their error, the empty ladle was left there till the afternoon and a special entry was made to remove it at the end of the special services of the day.
"A year in which you will lead us upright to our land."
QUESTION: How can this be reconciled with the Gemara (Kedushin 31a) that says it is forbidden for a person to walk four cubits "bekomah zekufah" - "with an erect posture"?
ANSWER: Eretz Yisrael
is our holy land, and all Jews yearn to live there. Those who do not reach it during their lifetime will ultimately come there in the days of techiyat hameitim
- the Resurrection. However, they will have to roll through tunnels under the earth until they reach the holy land (see Bereishit
Our prayer to Hashem that He "lead us upright to our land" asks that we merit to come to Eretz Yisrael happily and healthily during our lifetime and not, G-d forbid, have to roll through underground tunnels to reach it.
"He would celebrate a festive-day for his coming out from the Holy of Holies in piece."
QUESTION: Some say the Kohen Gadol made the feast at night and others say it was made on the following day. What is the basis for their views?
There are two reasons for this festivity:
- When a person is in a dangerous situation and emerges from it safely, it is incumbent on him to make a thanksgiving offering (karban todah). Thus, the Kohen Gadol made a feast to express his thanks to Hashem that unlike other Kohanim Gedolim who were unworthy of the position or may have deviated in the incense offering and who would not come out alive from the Holy of Holies, he survived.
- Because his service of the day was accepted by Hashem. This was proven by the fact that he came out in peace.
If the reason is that his services were received by Hashem, it makes sense that the feast should be at night, immediately following the service of the day. However, according to the view that it was a personal expression of thanks to Hashem and was in lieu of a karban todah - thanksgiving offering - he intentionally waited till the morning because a karban - sacrifice - can only be offered during the day and not at night.
"All the people accompanied him to his house."
QUESTION: Why, upon the completion of the services did he go specifically to his house?
2a) says, "Seven days before Yom Kippur
they sequester the Kohen Gadol
from his house
. According to Rabbi Yochanan (Ibid. 3b) this practice is derived from the inauguration of the Tabernacle where Aharon and his sons were instructed, "To dwell seven days and nights at the entrance of the Ohel Mo'eid
- Tent of Meeting" (Vayikra
8:35). According to Reish Lakish it is derived from Mount Sinai that one who enters an area of intense sanctity needs seclusion away from his home in preparation for the event. After Moshe received the commandments at Sinai, he went up to Heaven for forty days. At the start of the forty-day period Moshe ascended the mountain. The Torah (Shemot
24:15-16) relates, "The glory of Hashem rested upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for a six-day period. Hashem then called Moshe on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud." (From Sinai we learn that a sequester of six days is required before entering an area of intense sanctity, the seventh day is added to insure against the possibility of Tumah
- see ibid.).
Hence, the seclusion of the Kohen Gadol spent away from his home was not merely a preventive measure lest he become contaminated, but an integral detail of the Yom Kippur services. Consequently, just as the services commence with the Kohen Gadol's being sequestered from his home, it concludes with his return home after Yom Kippur.
The lesson to be learned from this is the following: On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the Kohen Gadol, the holiest person of the community, after a period of seclusion, sequesters himself in the Kodesh Hakodeshim, the holiest place in the world - and there he achieves the greatest revelation of G-dliness. Nevertheless, he must bear in mind that this was not Hashem's ultimate interest in the creation. Rather, He desired to have an abode in the lower worlds (Tanchuma, Nasso 7:1, Tanya, ch. 36), and this cannot be accomplished through seclusion from the world and sequestration within the Holy of Holies, but through involvement in the mundane world and observance of Torah and mitzvot.
For this reason, immediately after completing the Yom Kippur service, the Kohen Gadol would return to his house to emphasize that the sublime elevation attained on this day must be transferred to his house and become a way of life for him and his household throughout the entire year. (The same also applies to every individual on his particular level.)
"These I recall and my soul overflows with sorrow for the ten martyrs who were put to death by the government."
QUESTION: On Yom Kippur when the avodah - order of service - in the Beit Hamikdash is discussed, there is a prayer of "Eilah Ezkarah" - "These I recall" - about the asarah harugei malchut - the ten Sages martyred by the Roman government. Also, in the Kinot - Lamentations said on Tishah B'Av - we recite Arzei Halevanon - Cedars of Lebanon - about the ten martyred Sages.
Why are these martyred Sages mentioned on Yom Kippur and Tishah B'Av?
The juxtaposing of Miriam's death with the red heifer teaches us that just as karbanot
- offerings - bring atonement for the Jewish people, so does the death of tzaddikim
- righteous people (Bamidbar
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18b) says that the fast day of the seventh month, which was established because Gedalyah (the appointed governor by Nebuchadnezzar over the remaining Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael following the destruction of the First Temple) was assassinated, is listed in Scripture together with the fast days commemorating the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (Zechariah 8:19) because the death of the righteous is equivalent to the burning of Hashem's house.
Hence, on Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - when the avodah which brought atonement is recited, the ten martyred Sages are mentioned, since their passing is a source of atonement for the Jewish people. Also on Tishah B'Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the ten martyred Sages are also mentioned since their death is equivalent to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.
In the liturgy we are told that "Rabbi Yishmael purified himself and ascended to the heavenly heights and inquired of the angel clothed in white [about the martyrdom of the Sages]. He answered 'Kablu aleichem - take it upon yourself - righteous, beloved Sages, for I have heard from behind the Curtain that this decree has been imposed upon you. [Rabbi Yishmael] descended and informed his colleagues of the word of G-d.' "
In view of the above, that their death was like an offering in the Beit Hamikdash, it is understood why the angel said to Rabbi Yishmael "Kablu aleichem" - "take it upon yourself": According to halachah, for an offering to be qualified it must be brought "liretzono" - "voluntarily" - uncoerced and with the willingness of the owner (see Vayikra 1:3).
"The ten martyrs who were put to death by the government."
QUESTION: Where is there a remez - hint - in the Torah for the martyred Sages?
The Romans summoned the ten Sages and inquired, "What is the law regarding one who kidnaps a person and sells him as a slave?" They answered, "According to Biblical law, the perpetrator should be put to death." "If so," the king exclaimed, "this punishment should have been meted out to the brothers who kidnapped Yosef and sold him into captivity, and now it is you who must bear the sin of your forefathers."
When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, the Torah related that "He kissed his brothers and vayeivk aleihem - he cried upon them" (Bereishit 45:15). The word "aleihem" - upon them - is superfluous, wouldn't just "vayeivk" - "and he cried" - be sufficient?
The word "aleihem" is an acronym for atidim lih'yot harugei malchut - "There will be ten martyrs." Yosef saw through Ruach Hakodesh - Divine inspiration - that in the future ten great Sages would be slain by the Roman government because he was sold.
"They brought out Rabbi Akiva... and lacerated his body with sharp pointed iron combs."
QUESTION: The martyring of the ten Sages was done by the Romans as a punishment for the brothers kidnapping and selling of Yoseph.
When Yosef was sold, only nine brothers were present (Reuven had returned home and Binyamin did not participate). Why were ten Sages killed?
According to the Midrash
the brothers had agreed not to reveal to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef and had made Hashem a party to the agreement (see Rashi, Bereishit
37:33). The Roman King thus calculated that ten
(counting Hashem) had cooperated in the kidnapping, and therefore he killed ten
Commentaries ask why Rabbi Akiva was among the ten Sages killed since he was a descendant of converts and his ancestors had taken no part in the kidnapping.
The answer given is that Rabbi Akiva was punished on behalf of Hashem, who participated in the kidnapping by not revealing to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef.
A hint to this in the Torah can be found in the pasuk "Vechol ma'aseir bakar vatzon kol asher ya'avor tachat hasheivet ha'asiri yiheheh kodesh la'Hashem" - "and all the tithe of cattle and sheep, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy to G-d" (Vayikra 27:32). The words "Vechol ma'asar" are an acronym for v'yeid'u kulam - "let it be known to all" - lamah meit Akiva - "the reason for the death of Akiva," - she'hayah ro'eh - "who was a shepherd of" - "bakar vatzon" - "cattle and sheep." The pasuk continues "kol asher ya'avor" - "all those who died" (literally "went under") - "tachat hashavet" - "represented one of the tribes (the shevatim)." But Rabbi Akiva had no relationship to the tribes, so why was he killed? We must conclude that "ha'asiri" - "the tenth" sage, that is, Rabbi Akiva - was "kodesh laHashem" - martyred on behalf of Hashem.
QUESTION: Why was Rabbi Akiva selected to be the one martyred on behalf of Hashem?
The Gemara (Pesachim
22b) says that Shimon Ha'amsuni had a practice of interpreting every occurrence of the word "et"
in the Torah to mean a reference to something additional. When he reached the pasuk, "Et Hashem Elokecha tira" -
"Hashem, your G-d, shall you fear" (Devarim
10:20) - he stopped because what could there be in addition to G-d? Rabbi Akiva interpreted the word "et"
as including talmidei chachamim
- Torah scholars. Since it was Rabbi Akiva who equated Torah scholars with Hashem, he was the one selected to represent Hashem.
The Gemara (Berachot 61b) says that while Rabbi Akiva was being put to death, he recited the Shema, and when he said the word "echad" he expired. A voice emanated from heaven and said, "Lucky are you, Rabbi Akiva, that your soul 'went out' with 'echad.'" In light of the above, we may say that the voice also meant, "Lucky are you Rabbi Akiva that your soul went out on behalf of 'Echad' - Hashem - the One and only One."
"The tyrant commanded them to bring out Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon... he was immediately consumed with the Torah Scroll [in which he was wrapped]."
QUESTION: Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon was one of the ten martyrs who were killed by the Roman government. His body was wrapped in a Sefer Torah and consumed by fire. While he was experiencing excruciating pain, his students asked him, "Our teacher, what do you see?" He responded, "I see the parchment being burnt and the letters flying into the sky" (Avodah Zarah 18a). What did he mean to convey by telling them this vision?
He meant that all attempts of the gentile world to destroy the Jewish community and the Torah would fail. Even at a time when the "parchment" (the Jewish community) was being destroyed, the "letters" of Torah would ascend and be transferred to another part of the world, where another Jewish community would be built anew.
This has been true throughout the history of the Jewish people. Our generation witnessed a holocaust where a tyrant sought to eradicate the Jewish people. Miraculously, the survivors have reestablished themselves in other parts of the world and have succeeded in building new citadels of Torah learning which are, thank G-d, greater and larger than the ones destroyed.
G-d, I remember, and I lament when I see every city built on its site while the city of G-d is cast down to the depth of the abyss."
QUESTION: Why is the destruction of Jerusalem mentioned in the Ne'ilah prayers?
Unfortunately, human nature is such that one is usually more excited about the physical and material than the spiritual. One may be tempted to chase after material delights and enjoyment rather than attend a Torah lecture or perform a mitzvah
. The word "ir,"
in addition to meaning "city," may also stem from the word "hitorerut"
- arousal and awakening (see Psalms 35:23, Jeremiah 50:9).
During Ne'ilah, when we reach the pinnacle of our prayers, we are expressing remorse and frustration that, unfortunately, "bire'oti kol ir al tilah benuyah" - our excitement for physical matters and pleasures is in full blossom - we run to enjoy them, but "ir ha'Elokim" - our awakening and excitement for G-dly matters - is "mushpelet ad she'ol tachtiyah" - cast down to the depth of the abyss.
"You extend a hand to transgressors, and Your right hand is stretched forth to receive penitent."
QUESTION: By emphasizing "Atah" - "You" - over whom are we singling out Hashem?
A question was posed: What penalty is appropriate for the sinning soul? Wisdom (chachmah)
answered; "The sinning soul should be punished with suffering." Prophecy (nevu'ah)
answered; "The soul who sins should be put to death. Torah responded; "He should bring a sacrifice and he will be forgiven." Hashem Himself said; "The sinner should repent and he will be pardoned" (see Jerusalem Talmud, Makot
According to the first three opinions the concept of Teshuvah does not exist, and either man or animal suffers. It is only Hashem's advice that the sinner should do teshuvah and he will be pardoned.
"Open the gates of heaven, open for us Your good treasure."
QUESTION: The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn asks, "From Hashem emanates only good and all that He does is for our good, so why the emphasis 'otzarcha hatov' - 'Your good treasure?' "
The punctuation in the prayer needs adjustment. The comma in the statement has to be moved and placed after the word "lanu"
- "for us." Since man does not know what is really good for him, we implore Hashem that, "Otzarcha hatov lanu
- the treasure which is good for us - tiftach
- You should open."
"Next year in Jerusalem"
QUESTION: Why is this prayer recited twice a year; at the conclusion of the Pesach Seder and at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur services? And why "next year"?
In the Gemara
11a) Rabbi Yehoshua states that just as the redemption from Egypt was in the month of Nissan
, so too, the final redemption will be in Nissan
. Rabbi Eliezer opines that the final redemption will take place in Tishrei
The intent is not that we should wait until next year to be in Jerusalem. Rather, we are asking to be immediately redeemed and our prayers follow both opinions. Hence, when we celebrate the festival of Pesach during the month of Nissan, we pray "Leshanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim - May we be redeemed immediately and thus, next year we will be celebrating with a karban Pesach in Yerushalayim." Yom Kippur is in the month of Tishrei; thus, we pray that we be redeemed immediately so that next year when Yom Kippur occurs we will all be in Yerushalayim with a Kohen Gadol officiating in the third Beit Hamikdash.