|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
אַחֲרֵי מוֹת ● Acharei Mos
● What is the connection between Yom Kippur and Pesach? ●
“Déjà Vu Passover Again: The Origin of Yom Kippur”
Much of Parshas Acharei Mos is devoted to the Avodas Yom HaKippurim or the Yom Kippur service, in which the Torah presents the extensive procedure through which the Kohein Gadol or High Priest would enter Hashem’s Presence in the Kodesh HaKadashim, the Holy of Holies, to attain closeness to Him and secure atonement on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael.
Most of the details described in this passage are only directly relevant to the Kohanim involved in the Temple service such as the daily Korbanos, the unique offerings for Yom Kippur itself, the lots of the two goats, the offering of the Ketores in the Kodesh HaKadashim, and much more. However, the primary assignment of the nation at large, through which it shall achieve purity and atonement for its sins on Yom Kippur, is emphasized a couple of times, as the Torah states: “…Ti’anu Es Nafshoseichem…V’Inisem Es Nafshoseichem”-“…you shall afflict yourselves [your souls]…and you shall afflict yourselves [your souls]…”1 The question is what it means to afflict oneself. Does it mean one is supposed to harm or hit oneself? It sounds like a rather painful demand for G-d to make of us. What exactly is the nature of this command?
FIRST SITE: The “Inui”-“Affliction” of Yom Kippur
Chazal clarify, and explain what we all know by practice, that this “affliction of the self” refers to abstaining from eating and drinking, in other words, fasting.2 Indeed, in the simplest sense, Ibn Ezra explains that “Inui,” or “affliction,” is just the Torah’s way of referring to fasting. However, Chazal learn out as well that on Yom Kippur, one is also forbidden to engage in other physically pleasurable activities such as anointing oneself, bathing, wearing leather and having marital relations.
But, why would the Torah command the B’nei Yisrael to fast specifically by telling them to afflict themselves? True, Yom Kippur is about being forgiven and atoned for one’s sins, but does the Torah truly believe in self-affliction as a means towards purity? On the contrary, in the Haftarah for Yom Kippur, which is taken from Yishaiyah, the Navi bemoans the superficiality of mere fasting and self-affliction.3
Moreover, even if one will argue, in the spirit of the Haftarah, that of course, mere fasting is insufficient and that one needs to be truly remorseful of his sins, the emphasis on affliction in particular seems a little bit sadistic on the Torah’s part. In other words, it is one thing for the Torah to command one not to eat and drink temporarily. Surely, fasting alone is can be understood as a necessary separation from physicality to achieve spiritual closeness with Hashem, and of course, this goal of spiritual closeness is one of the key themes of Yom Kippur. That is why, although not everyone recognizes this intuitively, Yom Kippur, in many ways is a happy day.
The question then is where this “affliction” comes in. Why should the process of being forgiven for our transgressions and getting close to Hashem entail have such negative overtones? Teshuvah, repentance, is a mending process, the restoration of a relationship. Even if fasting is essential for that process, as G-d clear says it is, then the Torah could just command us not to eat and drink. The Torah could command us to be extra holy and pure on the day of Yom Kippur. We could also refrain from the other pleasurable activities listed by Chazal and even spend the day in prayer, without calling it “affliction.” Why does Hashem want us to “afflict” ourselves?
A SIMILAR SITE: The “Inui” of Pesach
As was mentioned, Yom Kippur is highlighted by the national abstinence from material pleasures and its strong emphasis on spiritual strivings, thus we completely refrain from eating and drinking on this day. If one thinks about it, there is another day on the Torah’s calendar which resembles this model as well, but on a moderate scale.
On the holiday of Pesach, we engage in a degree of abstinence from physicality, as symbolized by the prohibitions of eating and owning Chameitz, or leavened bread. Although one may still obviously eat on Pesach, one is limited to the flat, unleavened Matzah, described in the Torah as “Lechem Oni”-“bread of affliction” (the word “Oni” [עני] directly resembles our word “Inui” [ענוי]). Like Yom Kippur, Pesach includes this aspect of cutting back on material luxuries, particularly in terms of eating, in favor of spirituality.
Interestingly, the above is not all that Pesach and Yom Kippur have in common. There are some Minhagim or customs as well as sections of the liturgy surrounding the two holidays which resemble one another. For example, on Pesach and Yom Kippur, there is a Minhag to wear a Kittel (white shroud-like garment), which, according to the simple explanations, is either meant to mimic the Kohein Gadol during his performance the Avodah6, or to symbolize shrouds so as to sober its wearer by reminding him of the day of his death.7
Similarly, both the eve of Pesach and that of Yom Kippur are introduced by the nullification of one’s spiritual “baggage,” on Pesach, that of one’s Chameitz, and on Yom Kippur, that of one’s vows. These nullification processes are each declared in liturgical recitations beginning with the word “Kol”-“all”; before Pesach, we recite “Kol Chamira”-“All leaven,” and before Yom Kippur, we recite “Kol Nidrei”-“All Vows,” in each case, declaring them void.
The resemblance between these two major holidays begs a couple of simple questions, one being, what the relationship truly is between the two days. But, of course, as was mentioned, they’re not quite the same. On Pesach, although one is no longer eating everything he pleases, one still can eat plenty. On Yom Kippur, eating is entirely eliminated from the equation. On Yom Kippur, G-d requires full-out “affliction.” On Pesach, there is just the “bread” or the taste of affliction.
Bearing the resemblance and apparent contrasts shared by Yom Kippur and Pesach in mind, why is it that Yom Kippur is so much more extreme that one may not even eat? If we humor the argument that both holidays are centered on attaining spiritual closeness to Hashem, then what is the key difference between the days that warrants this difference in “level”? And if we may also make the argument that self-punishment, in its own right, is not a Torah virtue, then what is the deeper purpose of affliction on these holidays? Does the “bread of affliction” of one holiday have anything to do with the “self-affliction” of the other? If so, how might this “taste” of affliction on Pesach inform our understanding of the complete “self-affliction” of Yom Kippur?
SOME HISTORY: Pesach and Yom Kippur
We have inferred thus far that in order to understand why the national Avodah of Yom Kippur is marked “affliction,” one might have to understand the true root of Yom Kippur in light of its relationship to Pesach. To recap, the days are apparently similar, but not exactly the identical. Each day curtails materialism in favor of a higher level of spirituality described as “affliction,” but the measures for attaining that level on both of these respective days are different, at least in their levels of intensity.
Now that we have spent enough time connecting some dots between Pesach and Yom Kippur and are possibly convinced of a potential relationship they share, we should try to crystalize our understanding of this relationship. But, in order to do that, let us temporarily look away from the features these two holidays share in common and investigate each holiday individually. Before we even get to the services and rituals of the day, what is each holiday actually about?
- History of Pesach
Let us begin with Pesach. What is Pesach about? What does the name “Pesach” even mean? Historically speaking the name “Pesach,” translated commonly as “Passover,” is based on the verse related to G-d’s “passing over” of the Israelite homes during Makkas Bechoros, the Plague of the Firstborns, amidst His redeeming them from their slavery in Egypt. The Torah there writes, “…U’Posachti Aleichem…U’Posach Hashem Al HaPesach…”-“…and I will pass over you…and Hashem will pass over the entrance…”8
Considering that the holiday is named for this particular event and even more specifically, this particular maneuver by Hashem, this act of “passing over” seems quite fundamental and requires further elaboration. The question one has to ask here is why G-d needed to specifically “pass over” the homes in the first place. Was He incapable of simply avoiding the homes of the Hebrews and simply plaguing the Egyptian homes alone? Is that what Pesach means? That G-d “avoided”? If so, where did this “Passover” concept come from? Moreover, the verse, in all simplicity, could have easily just stated that Hashem plagued the Egyptians—without mentioning the B’nei Yisrael at all—without informing us that He “passed over” them. Why, then, did the Pasuk emphasize that Hashem “passed over” the people?
Apparently, Pesach is not named specifically for Hashem’s salvation or protection of our nation, but it simply for G-d’s passing over us or His maneuvering around us. But, again, why would G-d have to do that, unless, of course, we were “in the way”? Indeed, the word “Pesach” seems to imply that we were in the way and there was a forethought that Hashem might not have skipped over us. Apparently, our nation was on the “hit-list” but Hashem chose to “pass over” us, as it were. He didn’t kill us along with the Egyptians. He spared them. While it doesn’t sound like the most secure form of salvation, it was the reality—that we were fortunate recipients of Hashem’s undeserved compassion and generosity. We were worthy of being wiped out.
This idea is illustrated well in a Midrash on Parshas Beshalach that discusses the event of Krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the Red Sea, the climax of the Exodus. The ministering angels witnessed the Egyptians pursuing Am Yisrael and didn’t know whom to fight for or against. Flustered as it were, the angels queried, “Hallalu Ovdei Avodah Zarah V’Hallalu Ovdei Avodah Zarah”-“These are idolaters and these are [also] idolaters!”9 This challenge warranted that G-d Himself, in His attribute of Mercy, to intervene and ultimately save the B’nei Yisrael. The point is that although there were certainly those among the B’nei Yisrael who were steadfast in their Avodas Hashem, many of them were not, and as a whole, the nation was unworthy of salvation. For this reason, most of them did not even make it out of Egypt as the bulk of them had fallen victim to assimilation and died during the Plague of Darkness.10
Thus, Pesach is marked by G-d’s compassion for an undeserving people. On Pesach, we are charged to recognize that it was His mercy that came to our aid then when we were weak and filthy with sin. He saved us despite our spiritual uncleanness, out of His great kindness. We fulfill this recognition by eating Matzah and refraining from Chameitz as the strict prohibition against the indulgence in pure physicality reminds us of the dependence we had and the humility we must have as a result. Moreover, it makes us conscious of our spiritual fragility in Egypt, how we had to fight the currents to remain true and worthy in our relationship with Hashem.
If all of the above encapsulates the main ideas behind the heightened standards of spirituality and “abstinence” on Pesach, the next question is how the history of Pesach can help us understand the even higher standards of Yom Kippur. Before we can answer that though, we have to better understand the historical significance of Yom Kippur.
- History of Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur or Yom HaKippurim is literally the Day of Atonement. That is in the name and it was the Torah describes as the simplest function of the day. But historically, what is Yom Kippur? The truth is that the Torah does not explicitly ascribe a history to Yom Kippur, but Chazal teach us that Yom Kippur finds its origins in the first national sin of the B’nei Yisrael.
Indeed, according to tradition, the “first” Yom Kippur marked our atonement from the spiritual disaster known today as the Cheit HaEigel, the worshiping of the Golden Calf.11, 12 The sin, on its face, is already horrific, containing shades of idolatry and overt defiance of the Will of G-d. But if one thinks about the sin in its larger context and considers the history of that critical period, it becomes much worse. Through their perpetration of the Cheit HaEigel, the B’nei Yisrael regressed to the same filthy practices of its rebellious “adolescent” stage in Egypt. They undid the progress that they made when they took the false, Egyptian deity and slaughtered it by Hashem’s directive. Moreover, they completely spit in the Face of the Father Who displayed for them the Chessed—or the undeserved lovingkindness we’ve described earlier—when He spared them in Egypt.
Thus, achieving atonement on Yom Kippur would necessarily entail much more than recognizing that one did the wrong thing which is obviously necessary. The B’nei Yisrael would have to also recognize the disgrace of their sin in light of that larger “historical” context. They would have to place their rebellion against the backdrop of the Chessed which Hashem had done them and get a truer sense of the ingratitude that allowed them to be so careless. Indeed, this realization is warranted any time a person sins to Hashem, because Hashem constantly provides for him. Thus, to sin is to take advantage of and misappropriate Hashem’s lovingkindness. The model for this profound degree of sin recognition can be found in this “first” Yom Kippur.
Surely, after messing up so drastically, we would love to just go back to the old times when G-d rescued us from our filthy state in Egypt, at which point we could serve Him again with that heightened level of spirituality by limiting our bread consumption to simple Matzah and refraining from eating “extravagant” Chameitz. The problem, though, is that when we betray Hashem to such a degree, it’s no longer that simple. Thus, Yom Kippur requires an even higher spiritual standard—to compensate for the incredible regression. Hence, Yom Kippur demands complete fasting to recover the progress and restore the equilibrium we gained on Pesach.
JOURNEYING BACKWARD: Our Earliest “Inui”
This historical context would explain the apparent relationship between Pesach and Yom Kippur and as well as the difference between them in spiritual degree. However, beyond the relationship between Pesach and Yom Kippur, all of the above would also answer our original question and explain why, on Yom Kippur, Hashem specifically commands us, “V’Inisem Es Nafshoseichem”-“and you shall afflict yourselves [your souls]…”
Again, we were wondering why the Torah framed the measures taken for extreme, spiritual elevation on Yom Kippur as an affliction. We noted that on Pesach too, we have this taste of affliction in the form of Matzah. But, we were somewhat stumped when we attempted to explain the virtue of engaging specifically in an act of self-affliction. The historical context, as we’ve explained it, will lead us to the answer.
As was mentioned, on Yom Kippur is not merely a cleansing process from the spiritual filth of sin, but it is the correction of an offense against Hashem, despite the undeserved kindness and compassion He displayed for us. And as we’ve explained, in order to restore the balance, it is not enough to go through the motions of Pesach. We have to heighten the standard and add to the spiritual load.
Perhaps, in that same vein, we have to journey further backward in the timeline to a time before the original Pesach. In other words, we have to go back to the very state in which Hashem “found” us in when we were in Egypt. And what exactly was the nature of the state in which Hashem found us? In fact, it was an unmistakable state of “Inui”-“affliction.” Indeed, Hashem foretold Avraham Avinu at the Bris Bein HaBisarim (Covenant Between the Parts) back in Parshas Lech Lecha, “…V’Inu Osam…”-“…and they will afflict them…”13 Moreover, at the onset of the subjugation in Parshas Shemos, the Chumash tells us, “Vayasimu Alav Sarei Misim L’ma’an Anoso B’Sivlosam…”-“And they appointed over it (the nation) taskmaster in order to afflict it…”14 Thus, the entire story began from affliction.
That is why, on Pesach, we eat the “bread of affliction,” to recall the desperate state we were in when Hashem originally demonstrated His compassion for us. Then, it is, as we’ve described it, a taste of affliction, because hopefully, that is all we should need to awaken our gratitude and inspire our devotion to Him. It is when we turn our back on G-d and defy Him that we’ve demonstrated not only our ability to rebel, but to ignore Hashem’s kindness, that we we need to reexperience affliction, when we need to afflict ourselves. Hence, on Yom Kippur, Hashem charges us, “V’Inisem Es Nafshoseichem”-“and you shall afflict yourselves [your souls]…”
FINAL DESTINATION: “Déjà Vu Passover Again”
In summation, the Torah’s calendar brilliantly captures our history and teaches us how to approach Hashem at every given point of the year. We’ve seen that on Pesach, Hashem went beyond the letter of the law when He pulled us out of the dirt. He does not preoccupy Himself with “retribution.” He much prefers to give us compassion than what we truly deserve. All Hashem wants from us is to be His people, serve Him B’Leiv Shaleim (with a complete heart), and be able enjoy His Chessed. But, when we forget His Chessed and transgress His Will, it is difficult for Hashem to tolerate. However, it is not the end. There is Yom Kippur, a time when we can regain the former “dignity” of the first Pesach. At that critical period, we have to be reminded that indeed, all He really wanted was for us to mature and demonstrate that we do appreciate His Chessed. Our revisiting of our former state of affliction is the route towards atonement, and indeed, the goal is not affliction as an end in and of itself. It is just the most appropriate state for us to humbly await Hashem’s rescue as in the days of old.
May we all be Zocheh not only to Hashem’s Chessed, but to properly appreciate it, demonstrating that appreciation to Him in our Avodah, and we shall be purified and eternally free from all affliction with the coming of the ultimate Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Vayikra 16:29
- Yoma 74B
- Yishaiah 58:2-5
- Devarim 16:3
- Pesachim 115B
- Maharal of Prague in Divrei Negidim, R’ Dovid Cohen, and R’ Avraham Schorr
- Taz and R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi
- Shemos 12:13-23
- See the comments of the Vilna Ga’on recorded in HaMa’or HaGadol (to Shemos 14:22) citing Shemos Rabbah 21:7 and Yalkut Shim’oni, Shemos 247, 241. Other variations of this Midrash can be found in Yalkut Shim’oni, Shemos 14:234, 238.
- Based on Mechilta to Beshalach 13:18
- The narrative of the Cheit HaEigel can be found in Shemos 32.
- See Rashi to Shemos 33:11 citing Tanchuma 31 and Seder Olam 6 as well as Rashi to 35:1.
- Bereishis 15:13
- Shemos 1:11