Finding Inner Peace a Goal of Yom Kippur


Yom Kippur is when we shine as Jews. It’s when our inner G-dliness unites with our outer self. It’s a time of true oneness, unity and shine.

Yom Kippur and Parshat Vayeilech


When a child cries, we ask, “What’s wrong?” If they are happily playing we don’t ask, “Why are you happy?”

Yet strangely with an adult it’s the opposite. If someone walks around with a smile, we ask, “What’s wrong? Why are you smiling?” But if they are moping around with a frown, we don’t ask anything. We assume that’s normal.

The simple answer is that children are worry-free. We have an endless list of worrisome issues. To the child, their entire world is front of their eyes, in the present, in the now. The adult sees life as elusive, just beyond reach. The truth seems concealed.

This is the definition of exile given in a verse in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeilech, “… and I will hide My face from them.” Even though this is only an appearance of G-d hiding, it creates anxiety, worry and fear. Coming to appreciate the facade of hiddenness and living our lives in peace and harmony, is very much the goal of Yom Kippur.

There is no greater day of closeness and at-one-ment with G-d than Yom Kippur. It’s a day that reminds us of how He cradles us. The theme of the day is not hopelessness, but G-d’s personal involvement in our lives.

This is dramatically ex-pressed in a moving liturgical poem that we sing on Kol Nidre night. I want to share an explanation I heard of its seven stanzas that discovers of our closeness and intimacy with G-d through metaphors of craftsmanship.

It opens with the words, “Behold, as the clay in hand of the potter … so are we in your hand.” On the potter’s wheel, a subtle touch of the finger creates shape, detail and the cavity of the vessel. So, too, G-d forms us every moment something out of nothing, creating us as open vessels to the many opportunities and joys of life and destiny.

If we are full vessels, as in full of ourselves, there is no room for anything else. On Yom Kippur, we empty our vessel, open ourselves and realize who is the “clay” and who is the “potter.”

The next stanza says “Behold, as a stone in the hand of a mason … so are we in your hand.” G-d is the “rock of our salvation.” His bedrock allows us to have the confidence, strength and pride as Jews, in a world often less than hospitable to the Torah’s ethics, values and directives. Each challenge allows us to dig deeper, down to our foundations, where we can truly see how rock-solid we are despite the turbulence around us.

“Behold, as the iron in the hand of the blacksmith … so are we in your hand.” Iron sources the implements of war: swords and spears. We must be physically strong and ready for battle. With that same bravery, we also wage our internal battles. The fight against immoral desires, depression, narcissism, superficiality, arrogance, laziness, is supported by our ironclad G-dly connection.

“Behold, as an anchor in the hand of the sailor … so are we in your hand.” G-d holds our anchor as we navigate the rough seas of life. This is the key to staying on course, directed and safe. Torah and mitzvot are the anchors of every Jew. Yom Kippur anchors and reconnects us to the cosmic sailor.

The fifth stanza says, “Be-hold, like the glass in the hand of the glazier … so are we in your hand.” Life, like glass, is fragile and should never be taken for granted. Handle with care. If we make the wrong moral decision, I am shattering my soul, like glass. Something beautiful and precious. However, the glass maker can remelt, remold and repair. On Yom Kippur, we appreciate the fragility and restorative nature of our relationship with G-d.

“Behold, like a cloth in the hands of the weaver … so are we in your hand.” G-d’s cloak protects and warms us. So, too, are we charged with doing the same for others. G-d gives each of us our own tailor-made weave, as each of us has our own unique way of delivering that warmth, care and love to others. This is the master weaver’s plan.

Lastly, “Behold, like silver in the hands of the silversmith … so are we in your hand.” If the smith leaves the silver too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. Sometimes life is like being in a hot spot. However, G-d places us there just the right amount of time for refinement, to burn the impurities away. And how do we know when it’s polished enough? When we see our own image in it. G-d is refining and polishing us, until He sees His image in us.

Yom Kippur is when we shine as Jews. It’s when our inner G-dliness unites with our outer self. It’s a time of true oneness, unity and shine. Good Shabbos and good Yom Tov!

Shraga Sherman is the senior rabbi at Chabad of the Main Line. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide the Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent.


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