The Dual Nature of Yom Kippur and Our Relationship to God by Rabbi Howard Jachter

1997/5758

              During the Yamim Noraim, we stress the dual nature of our relationship to God.  We characterize God as אבינו מלכנו, our Father our King.  We also characterize ourselves as אם כבנים אם כעבדים, as children and as servants of God.  Let us explore the nature of this duality.  Our discussion will be based on a Sicha delivered by Rav Moshe Lichtenstein.

              On one hand, we must obey God because He is our King.  If we fail to abide follow His commandments, we are punished just as a servant is punished for disobeying his master.  However, God is also viewed as our Father with whom we are called upon to develop a loving relationship.  The Torah teaches us to love Hashem, something we mention twice (three times, counting the bedtime Kriat Shema) every day.  This underscores the tremendous importance of this Mitzva, to the point that we must be so close to Him that He is like a father to us.  We must strive not only to perform Mitzvot, but to engage in religious experience.  The wellspring for this religious desire is the Neshama, the breath of life which God breathed into us (Bereishit 2:7, see Ramban's comments).  The Neshama thirsts for religious experiences which bring us closer to the Creator.

              Accordingly, we understand why the Mishna at the conclusion of Taanit describes Yom Kippur as the happiest day of the year.  It is the day when we satisfy the profound spiritual yearning of our souls.

              Yom Kippur is a day of כפרה and טהרה as we say, כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם לפני ה' אלוקיכם.  Rav Soloveitchik zt"l often emphasized that כפרה and טהרה are two distinct processes.  כפרה is the asking for forgiveness for our sins, so that we avoid punishment from God.  טהרה is repairing our relationship with God.  This duality dovetails with the dual nature of our relationship with Hashem.  As our King, we seek from Him clemency from our sins.  As our Father, we need to repair our relationship with Him.

               Rav Moshe Lichtenstein offered a profound insight into the concept of God being our Father and us being His children.  He noted that part of cultivating this aspect of our relationship with God is cultivating our relationship with the rest of God's children - Am Yisrael.  He pointed out that a necessary requirement for a healthy family is that its members should be tolerant of the differences between different members of the family unit.  Thus, part of developing a Father-son relationship with Hashem is cultivating a healthy relationship with all members of Am Yisrael.

              May we find inspiration this Yom Kippur from Rav Kook's elegant teaching that the truly righteous do not complain about the darkness, but strive to add light instead.

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