Our incredible capabilities on Yom Kippur can influence the rest of the year
y earliest memory of Shabbos coinciding with Yom Kippur was in ninth grade. Sitting with my mother and sisters in the ezras nashim, the tables decked in white, we reverently awaited the first strains of Kol Nidrei to ascend from the other side of the mechitzah. Machzorim opened, fingers in place, the scene was set for the most awesome day of the year. Except all I could think of was how disappointed I was to be forfeiting Shabbos, my desperately needed recharge from the rigors of another week in ninth grade.
Many years have passed since then, and I matured in perspective (somewhat), but the interplay between Shabbos and Yom Kippur still left me puzzled. Even when Yom Kippur didn’t fall on Shabbos, we still referred to it as “Shabbos Shabbason,” the ultimate Shabbos. But to my mind, Shabbos was about cessation of melachah, creative activity, and about rest, with the emphasis on rest. With its lengthy tefillos, many of them uttered while standing, emotional viduim, and general fatigue from fasting, Yom Kippur is hardly a paradigm of relaxation.
On the flip side, finding the Yom Kippur hidden in Shabbos was equally baffling. What did Shabbos have to do with teshuvah? How indeed do these two days intersect?
Day of Return
My first mistake was discounting teshuvah as an integral theme in Shabbos. Ohr Gedalyahu writes that the root of the word Shabbos is shav, to return, as is the root of the word teshuvah. The Mishnah Berurah (250:3) exhorts us to engage in teshuvah before Shabbos “For [on Shabbos] one greets the King, may His name be blessed, and it is unseemly to receive Him dressed in the tattered rags of sin.”
Reishis Chochmah (Shaar Hakedushah 2:21) applies similar logic, and suggests that just as we make physical preparations to ready ourselves before Shabbos, we should make spiritual preparations as well. He explains that when we do teshuvah on Erev Shabbos, we’re more capable of receiving the neshamah yeseirah on Shabbos. In fact, the way we anticipate and prepare for Shabbos during the week directly affects our capacity to experience the kedushah of Shabbos.
We clearly see elements of Yom Kippur intertwined with Shabbos. The teshuvah we customarily associate with the fast day is very relevant to the day of rest. Yom Kippur is indeed hidden in Shabbos, but is there a trace of Shabbos hidden within Yom Kippur?
For women like me, who rarely snatch more than a few hurried minutes in shul, the most outstanding feature of Yom Kippur is unquestionably the five prohibited activities, including, of course, eating and drinking. What is their source?
The Gemara (Yoma 74a) attributes them to a pasuk in Vayikra (16:31): “Shabbos Shabboson hi lachem….” The word shabbason also contains the word shevus, to rest or cease.
When we consider the reasons we refrain from eating and drinking on other fast days, the central theme is generally one of mourning (Tishah B’Av, Asarah B’Teves, Shivah Asar B’Tammuz), or a substantial threat to our nation (Taanis Esther or times of drought). Yom Kippur diverges from this trend in declaring its unique reason for fasting: cessation. We fast because there’s a shevisah, a cessation of an otherwise acceptable activity.
The cessation of Yom Kippur bears an uncanny resemblance to our weekly cessation from creative activity on Shabbos, and in fact Ohr Gedalyahu draws a direct parallel between the two. As the name Shabbos implies, we desist from melachah on the seventh day of the week. But on Yom Kippur, the day of Shabbos Shabbason, we carry the concept even further, and abstain from five other activities as well. Thus “Shabbos Shabboson” is the expression of ultimate cessation.
What is our goal in these multiple acts of cessation? On Shabbos, when I refrain from doing melachah, I can effectively disengage from Olam Hazeh’s chokehold on my life. When I cannot cook, properly clean, do business, drive around, or engage electronically, my portals to the physical world are largely shut down.
But nevertheless, I’m still engaged in eating, drinking, washing, etc., and find myself tethered, albeit tenuously, to the activities and interests of this world. The “cessation” of Shabbos can only convey me so far in my journey away from the physical domain of Olam Hazeh.
Yom Kippur catapults me to an entirely other dimension. Not only do I reap the spiritual benefits of refraining from melachah, but when I desist from engaging in the five prohibited activities as well, Olam Hazeh’s tenuous hold simply melts away. And in the absence of the physical world’s weighty magnetism, I become, in the words of the Maharal, “kemo malach l’gamrei, entirely like a malach.”
Whether or not we’re aware of it, our neshamah is on a perpetual quest for closeness to Hashem. At times we heed her plaintive cries to abandon our preoccupation with the pursuits of this world — the fabrics and colors, the rush toward status and renown, the pretense that has us locked in a golden cage of our own doing. But all too often we find ourselves hopelessly entangled in the allures of the physical world, light years away from our True Source. How will we ever make it back home?
On Yom Kippur, when we utterly disengage from the physical world, we discover the shevisah of Shabbos winking from just beneath the surface. And when we desist from engaging in Olam Hazeh, disentangled from its cloying grasp, and stretch toward the exalted strata of malachim, we’re finally able lashuv, to come back home.
These two fundamental aspects of Shabbos — cessation from engaging in worldly pursuits, and our consequent ability to rest — are the hefty pillars that bolster our Yom Kippur. Because only when we take a break and come rushing back to our Source, are we in fact standing “lifnei Hashem,” poised to enter the cleansing mikveh of taharah, of purity.
It’s only on Yom Kippur that we’re capable of skimming the upper echelons of the malachim, and only on Yom Kippur are we meant to reach this spiritual stratosphere. But our incredible capabilities on Yom Kippur can influence the rest of the year.
When we consider the dizzying heights we return to annually, how tall we can actually stretch, and the lofty summit that is the Source for us all, the base urges that propel us to sin seem beneath our status. Our aveiros, the missteps and misdeeds we take as givens, start to feel crass and base when we see ourselves as capable of so much better. And then we are able to engage in a different sort of teshuvah, not of battling our demons from below, but a teshuvah of reaching higher and rising above.
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz has been teaching in seminaries for nearly 20 years.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 662)