אשריכם ישראל

 By: Mrs. Atara Starr

Did you know that you are the luckiest person in the world? Why, you may ask. The answer: Yom Kippur. We approach the holy day of Yom Kippur with trepidation, the weeks leading up to it are filled with so much intensity and effort. But as the day comes upon us, we must step back and recognize what it’s really all about.

We are all familiar with the Mishna in יומא that states:

״אמר ר׳ עקיבא אשריכם ישראל לפני מי אתם מטהרים ומי מטהר אתכם אביכם שבשמים"[1]

According to the statement of R’ Akiva, what makes the Jewish people fortunate is the fact that HaKadosh Baruch Hu purifies us. If you were to tell me what you feel is the best part of being a yid, would this be your answer?! There are so many things that make us fortunate, the primary answer that comes to mind is our acquisition of a חלק of the Torah itself. So what is special and unique about this purification process?


The Nesivos Shalom[2] explains that the words of R’ Akiva reveal to us the great secret of how Yom Kippur works. Every other day of the year we ask for selicha and mechila, constantly seeking improvement and repenting from our bad ways. Only once a year do we ask for forgiveness in the form of .״כפרה״ The level of atonement and purity that we reach on Yom Kippur is above and beyond that which we can reach on a daily basis. The Maharal[3] explains that the level of purity that we reach on Yom Kippur comes solely from the fact that we reach the highest level of דבקות בה׳ on this day. In Rabbi Akiva’s statement, two questions are posed: (1) Who does one stand before when one is purified? (2) Who does the act of purifying? Yet, one answer is given to both questions: אביכם שבשמים. The Maharal’s insight explains this clearly: we stand before Hashem, our Father in Heaven on this lofty day, and as a result of the way in which we interact with Him, He purifies us. When we come to the level of דבקות, of attaching ourselves to Hashem, that in itself rids us of our sins and purifies us!

Practically, how do we connect on such a level? The Kedushas Levi[4] explains that in order to attain this kind of relationship we need to acquire the ״מדת האי״ן״. We need to nullify ourselves and our needs, recognize our lowliness and the reality that we are but a servant to the Holiest King and only then can we come close to our Creator. We live in a generation where everything is ״מגיע לי״. We have everything we want and more. On Yom Kippur, we have the ultimate challenge of leaving all of our baggage out the door and recognize that we deserve nothing כלפי ה׳.

A story is told of the Baal Shem Tov[5]:

One year, before Rosh Hashana, the Baal Shem Tov z”l arrived in a nearby city. Upon arrival, he asked some of the townspeople who the baal tefilla would be for the ימים נוראים. They responded that a certain Rav davens for them every year. The Besht asked them how he behaves during his tefillot. They responded: “On Yom Kippur, when he says ודוי, he sings them in the tunes of the happiest niggunim!”  The Baal Shem Tov immediately called for this Rav and asked him to explain this behavior. The Rav replied: Think about the lowest servant of a king’s palace. His job is to clean and scrub the courtyard of every speck of dirt so that it would be suitable for the king. If this servant loves the king though, while he is down on the ground, scrubbing and dusting, he is doing it with the biggest smile on his face, humming pleasant tunes to himself because he knows that he is making the king happy…

On Yom Kippur we are given the task of “cleaning up” this world from sins. HaKadosh Baruch Hu granted us the gift of starting anew. If we can leave our baggage outside, remember our place in this world, and recognize our מדת האי״ן, we may all be zoche this Yom Kippur to be purified completely and walk away from this Yom Tov really feeling a true sense of אשריכם ישראל

גמר חתימה טובה!

[1] יומא פרק ח משנה ט

[2] נתיבות שלום חלק ב קסג

[3] As quoted by the Nesivos Shalom

[4] קדושת לוי מאמר ליום הכפוריםי

[5] ספורי חסידים מועדים 92

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