Consider the following two nights on the Jewish calendar: Leil HaSeder, the night of the festive and joyous Pesach Seder, and Leil Yom HaKippurim, the solemn and somber Kol Nidrei night. The two seem to be completely and utterly different from one another, sharing no commonality other than the fact that they both are Mikra’ei Kodesh. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that these two incredibly holy nights share another common feature: on both, the Ashkenazic Minhag is to wear a Kittel.
In his Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe sheds light on the significance of this long, white robe that we call a Kittel. He explains that it represents the idea of Hitchadshut, renewal, and that it signifies the start of a fresh page and the beginning of a new chapter in our spiritual lives. Both the night of the Seder and the night of Yom Kippur, are remarkably holy nights. Each one inherently possesses the power to renew each member of Am Yisrael like a “Beri’ah Chadashah,” a new creature. These two nights give us an amazing opportunity to draw closer to Hashem by renewing our commitment to Torah and Mitzvot.
One might be inclined to ask how it can be that both of these nights possess this amazing power. After all, these two Mo’adim seem to be almost completely different! On Yom Kippur we fast and abstain from physical pleasures, while on Pesach we dine, recline, eat meat, and drink wine! The Slonimer Rebbe addresses this point by explaining that the Hitchadshut brought about by Yom Kippur night is inherently different than the renewal brought about by the Seder night. Whereas Yom Kippur’s renewal stems from our own efforts to draw close to Hashem as a result of Yir’ah, Leil HaSeder’s renewal stems from the abundance of love that Hashem showers down upon us on that night. While on Yom Kippur the renewal is based on our own initiative, on the night of the Seder, the Hitchadshut is a function that is independent of our personal efforts. On this one night each year, Hashem’s love for us is so intense that all Jews are automatically gifted this sense of renewal, regardless of whether or not they deserve it.
This subtle difference between the natures of these two renewals is indicative of the broader, more elemental difference between Pesach and Yom Kippur. According to Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the fundamental difference between these two Mo’adim is that Pesach is a Chag rooted in Ahavah and Chesed, whereas Yom Kippur is a Mo’eid embedded in Yir’ah and Gevurah.
The two characteristics of Pesach, Ahavah and Chesed, are usually viewed as two distinct concepts and are often interpreted as love and kindness, respectively. In truth, however, the two are very much interconnected, as both stem from the act of giving. The word “Ahavah” is formed from the root “Hav” (Hei-Vav), which means “to give” in Aramaic. This is sensible, for when a person gives in any way to somebody else, he or she demonstrates his or her love for that other person. The idea of Chesed being rooted in giving is one that is Kabbalistic in nature. According to Kabbalah, Chesed represents Hitpashtut, meaning expansion, enlargement, and openness. Chesed means branching out, and the act of going outside of oneself in order to help others is an act that exemplifies the Middah of Chesed. Avraham Avinu personifies this Midah, for he is always looking outside of himself in order to help and give to others. On Pesach, we focus on Ahavah and Chesed by inviting “Kol DiTzrich,” anybody who needs, to join us at our Seder, and we share our experiences, emotions, and Divrei Torah with our friends and family at the Seder.
On Yom Kippur, we act in a completely different matter, because the day is characterized by Yir’ah and Gevurah. Gevurah represents the exact opposite of Chesed; it denotes Tzimtzum, the act of contracting. When people act with Gevurah, they turn away from the outside world and turn inwards towards themselves – they dissociate themselves from their community and focus on their personal character and on their individual relationship with Hashem. On Yom Kippur, the pinnacle of the Yamim Nora’im, we act with Gevura – we do not eat together with the community, but rather, we are engaged for a full twenty-five hours in the individualistic process of Teshuvah.
Yom Kippur is a time for isolation and separation, whereas Pesach is a time for the exact opposite – inclusion and communion. Pesach is a Chag rooted in Ahavah, and on this Chag, particularly on Leil Haseder, Hashem’s love for us is so powerful and intense that we all automatically become Beri’ot Chadashot, spiritually renewed creatures.
While Hashem’s love is present on Pesach regardless of our efforts and actions, our love on Pesach is completely dependent on how hard we work towards producing it. The Seder itself is designed to promote feelings of love and kindness. It is incredibly important for us to work on our Ahavat Hashem and to improve our relationship with Him, but it is equally important, if not more important, to work on our Ahavat Yisrael as well. If we can utilize the Seder, which is designed to promote a sense of Achdut, to increase the amount of love that we have for all of our brothers and sisters of Am Yisrael, we will turn the Seder into an amazingly transformative experience, and hopefully, through our combined efforts to increase our Ahavat Yisrael, may we be Zocheh to witness the Bi’at HaMashiach.