By HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir
Yom Kippur is the day of purification.
As Rabbi Akiva said: “How fortunate you are, O Israel! Before whom are you being purified? Who is purifying you? Your Father in Heaven! As it says, ‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean’ (Ezekiel 35:25). And it also says, ‘The Lord is the mikveh [hope, or ritual bath] of Israel’ (Jeremiah 17:14). Just as a ritual bath purifies the impure, so does G-d purify Israel.” (Yoma 85b).
All this is particularly relevant on Yom Kippur. As Rambam wrote: “Yom Kippur is a time of repentance for all, for the individual and for the public. It results in forgiveness for Israel” (Hilchot Teshuva 2:7).
Now it is true that the very essence of Yom Kippur atones, as it says, “This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before G-d you will be cleansed of all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). Yet G-d simultaneously issues us a command. As Rambam wrote: “Everyone is obligated to repent and to confess sin on Yom Kippur” (Rambam, ibid.).
And just as to be purified in a ritual bath we have to do a physical deed, to enter the mikveh, so, too, on Yom Kippur we are commanded to confess, and by such means we merit purification, with G-d’s help. The wording of the confession is entirely in the plural:
“May it be G-d’s will … that You should forgive us for all our sins and pardon us for all our iniquity and atone for us for all our wrongdoings.” We then go on to specify our sins, using a formula organized according to the Hebrew alphabet.
When we confess, we have to have in mind not just to confess on our own behalf, but on behalf of everyone. All of Israel are like one body, with one heart. When someone sins, it’s not just him! It’s also me, for all of us are one people, one soul.
We must learn this lesson from the great rabbis of Israel down through the generations from our inception as a people until this day. This is a point that the entire Jewish People, and every individual member of it, always bore in their hearts. It is like the High Priest on Yom Kippur, who would confess for the sins of all Israel: “Aaron shall press both his hands on the live goat's head, and he shall confess on it all the Israelites' sins, rebellious acts and inadvertent misdeeds" (Leviticus 16:21). And because he felt the pain of the people in the aggregate, and of every individual, and he poured out his heart and prayed to G-d, he was successful, and “he atoned for the entire people” (verse 24).
The day is not far off when we will be privileged to see the building of the Third Temple and to see kohanim, levi’im and Yisraelim each performing his task in the Temple service. Leading them all will be the kohen gadol, the high priest, in the Holy of Holies, praying and atoning for all his people Israel, and blessing them with love.
Looking forward to complete salvation,
With blessings that you be signed and sealed for a good year,