Thursday, September 20, 2018

Building on Yom Kippur’s Momentum

With Yom Kippur in the rear view mirror, we find ourselves confronting the festival of Sukkot, beginning a mere five days after Yom Kippur. While we must transition quickly from the intensity of Yom Kippur to the unbridled joy of Sukkot, our sages understood that we cannot just merely run away from Yom Kippur, as if school ended and we run to our summer vacations. Yom Kippur is meant to spiritually enrich and inspire us for the entire year.

We reluctantly depart from Yom Kippur, absorbing its lessons. A comment by Rabbi Zev Shandalov may be apt: “While it’s important to act properly between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is perhaps more important to act properly between Yom Kippur and (the next) Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin in his book "Moadim b'Halacha" notes that if we follow along the Torah’s narrative of the High Priest’s immersions in the mikveh on Yom Kippur, it appears that at the end of the day, the High Priest immerses in the mikveh after he exits the Holy of Holies. Isn’t the mikveh used to prepare for a holy event? Why would he immerse after exiting the Holy of Holies? He answers that there is great holiness in entering the “real world.” The challenge is to build on the momentum of the spiritual high achieved on Yom Kippur so it continues far after the fast ends.

Many have the custom to begin morning prayers a little earlier than usual on the morning following Yom Kippur. This makes a strong statement that we are not running away from the closeness that we felt to God during the Ten Days of Penitence. We want to sustain all that was gained during the Days of Awe. As such, some show eagerness and love through their actions by coming early to the synagogue. Others have a custom to begin building the Sukkah a mere hours after the Yom Kippur fasts are broken and “the gates” were sealed. Aside from transitioning to Sukkot, we begin our post Yom Kippur life in the performance of a mitzvah, a Torah commandment.

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