(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)
The Nesivos Shalom provides an essential understanding to Yom Kippur.
The Gemorah in Yuma (85b) cites a statement made by Rabbi Akiva: “Fortunate are you, O Israel, for before Whom you are purifying yourselves, and Who is purifying you!”
It is possible that Rabbi Akiva is actually responding to a previous statement of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah. Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah understands the words “lifnei Hashem” in the verse, “Mikol Chatosaichem Lifnei Hashem Tit-haru” as attached to Mikol Chatosaichem. He, therefore, darshens that on Yom Kippur it is only the sins that are Bain Adam LaMakom – the chatosaichem lifnei Hashem that are purified. But there is no forgiveness on sins that are Bain Adam Lechaveiro.
Rabbi Akiva darshens the verse a different way. He has Lifnei hashem connected to Tit-haru. “Mikol Chatosaichem Lifnei Hashem Tit-haru”
One can ask, what additional insight is Rabbi Akiva providing us with? What is special about this tahara – specifically?
The Nesivos Shalom explains to us that Rabbi Akiva is revealing to us the fundamental essence of how atonement on Yom Kippur works. The Maharal at the end of his Shabbos Shuvah drasha explains Rabbi Akiva’s words as “that which Klal Yisroel achieves atonement on Yom Kippur is because they have a Dveikus with Hashem yisaleh, as it states (Dvarim 4:4), ‘va’atem hadveikim lashem elokaichem..’
On this Rabbi Akiva comments, “Fortunate are you O’ Israel before Whom you are purifying yourselves” – because there is no greater Maaleh – or quality. He further adds – “And who purifies you? Your father in Shamayim.” Because Klal Yisroel is entirely attached to Him – the Dveikus in and of itself removes and eradicates the sin from Klal Yisroel. Because regarding HaKadosh Boruch Hu – there is no chait – sin it removes sins from those that cleave to Him.
This is what the posuk means “Lifnei hashem tit-haru” that through the fact that you stand before Hashem and cleave and have Dveikus to Him this in and of itself purifies. When a Jew truly cleaves to Hashem all his sins and Tumah become eliminated. “Kol Hamechubar laTahor tahor.” Whatever is connected to that which is pure – is pure. [This is a Mishna in Kailim 12:2]
The Maharal cites a proof from Mikvah The Mikvah is the source of purity. One who sticks to it with no chatzitzah (something interpolating in between), is free from Tumah. The same is true with purifying Klal Yisroel through complete Dveikus to hashem – with no Chatzitzah in between.
Through this we can explain the words of a Chazal in Meseches Shabbos (118b): “Whomsoever observes Shabbos properly – even if he served Avodah Zarah like the generation of Enosh – he is forgiven.” Now how could the most serious sin in the Torah be rectified by through the zchus of keeping Shabbos? The answer is only because Shabbos is also the “Day of Dveikus” of Klal Yisroel with Hashem in heaven, as the posuk says, “Bris Olam Baini Uvain Bnai Yisroel..” Therefore this great sin is forgiven through the mechanism of “whatever is connected to Tahor is tahor.” [See Mishna Kailim 12:2 dealing with the laws of purity and impurity].
According to this, the essential Avodah of Yom Kippur is Dveikus Bashem. This is the secret of purity and atonement. This is the essence of the day.
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