Expanding the Holy by Matis Shulman


If asked “when does Yom Kippur start this year?” most people would look at a calendar and reply that it begins at 7:03, when the sun sets on Friday, September 17th. However, the answer to this question may not be so simple. The Gemara (Rosh HaShannah 9b) explains that regarding Yom Kippur, one must add from the non-holy on to the holy and start a little early. Rabbi Yishmaeil bases this Din on the Pasuk, “…VeInitem Et Nafshoteichem BeTishah LaChodesh BaErev MeiErev Ad Erev Tishbetu Shabattechem,” “You should afflict yourselves on the ninth of the month at night, from night to night you should rest” (VaYikra 23:32). Even though we know that the tenth of Tishrei is the real fast, the Pasuk states “BeTishah” and “BaErev” to teach that we begin Yom Kippur on the ninth to add from Kodesh onto Chol.  In fact, the Halachah derives from Yom Kippur that one is required to add on to every Shabbat and holiday.

The simple logic behind this rule is straightforward. Don’t eat your chocolate cake right up to the buzzer because maybe you’ll get so involved that you’ll eat a little after sundown as well. Also, we want you to bring a little holiness of Shabbat into the mundane week.

Still, what is special about Yom Kippur that we use it as a model to extend this rule to every Shabboat and holiday? What special connection does this law of adding to the holy have to Yom Kippur?

I suggest an approach that highlights an important element of Yom Kippur. It is interesting to note that Yom Kippur stands out amongst all the holidays as a day of extremes, and specifically of uncharacteristic asceticism. Rambam quotes in the context of Nazir that the Torah frowns on acts of self-flagellation as even abstaining from wine alone earns one the title of a sinner. How can we justify a day of complete abstention as holy in light of this idea?

We can approach this question by explaining that although Judaism values bringing holiness into the physical world, on the Day of Atonement, we spend a single day completely immersed in spirituality as a way of resetting ourselves after a year of mistakes and sins. This day of complete holiness is not, however, valuable if it exists in a vacuum, unable to influence the mundane and physical acts of the rest of the year. We add onto the day of Yom Kippur to demonstrate that as we are fasting in Shul, we internalize the messages of holiness and complete commitment to Hashem to the point that they will influence our lives for the days and months to come. We are showing that we do not simply rip our “clothes,” but rather we rip our hearts as well.

 This point may be illustrated in the following famous tale. The Ari once mentioned in a class that anyone who refrains from speaking for forty days merits Ruach HaKodesh. Upon hearing this, the simple carriage driver of Tzefat decided that he would abstain from speaking for the required time in order to merit the divine spirit. After the allotted time the carriage driver came to the Ari and complained that although he had fulfilled the suggested forty day silence he was still lacking any divine inspiration. The Ari responded by asking, during the past forty days has your horse spoken? The message of the story is that abstinence in a vacuum does not create holiness. We must use our breaks from mundane activities to reflect and become more enlightened spiritual people. Hopefully, we will take this lesson to extend Yom Kippur to the rest of the year and merit its spiritual blessing in our daily lives.

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