Return to Torah, faith, and intimacy

The Holy of Holies expressed the foundations of faith, and in its absence we should return to the value of faith, and to the belief that the world can be repaired in its light * The Holy of Holies is also the place of the Torah.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Judaism מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Yom Kippur - the Holy of Holies

The essence of 'teshuva' (repentance) lies in the uppermost of sources, and thus, the primary service of Yom Kippur in the 'Beit Ha'Mikdash' (Holy Temple) took place in the 'Kodesh HaKodeshim' (the 'Holy of Holies', the Inner Sanctuary). The 'Beit Ha'Mikdash' is the place where Godly values ​​are revealed, and are drawn from there to the entire world. In the 'Heichal' (Sanctuary), entitled 'Kodesh', was situated the 'menorah' (candelabrum), symbolizing all of human wisdom; the 'shulchan' (the 'Table of the Showbread') symbolizing all types of work with which man makes a livelihood; and the 'mizbayach ha'ketoret' (the 'Altar of Incense') symbolizing the prayers and yearnings for closeness to God. On a more exalted level, in the 'Kodesh Ha'Kodeshim', the 'Holy of Holies', the foundation of Israel's faith and Torah is revealed.

Thus, the 'Aron Ha'Brit' (the Holy Ark), in which the 'luchot HaBrit' (Tablets of the Law) and the Torah were placed, was situated in the 'Holy of Holies', and above it were the two 'Cherubim' symbolizing the covenantal connection and love between God and Israel. From the 'Holy of Holies', life force is drawn to the entire world, to all the various human wisdoms and types of work, and to all living beings and their longings. Only the Kohen Ha'Gadol (High Priest) himself, in the name of all of Israel, would enter the 'Holy of Holies' on Yom Kippur, so as to unite the entire world with its source, and thereby draw to it atonement, forgiveness, and life.

After the destruction of the Holy Temple and the subsequent exile, the sanctity of the 'Holy of Holies' is revealed by way of Israel's desires and yearnings for God's name to be sanctified on His nation of Israel, on His city of Jerusalem, on Zion the dwelling place of His glory, on the kingdom of the House of David, on His foundation and sanctuary, and God alone will reign King over all His works.

Return to the Values ​​of the 'Holy of Holies'

The repentance of Yom Kippur is the return to the basic values ​​revealed in the 'Holy of Holies'. First and foremost is the value of 'emunah' (faith), which is compatible to Israel's ideals. For indeed, the purpose of the Jewish people is to reveal faith in God and Divine ideals – in other words, the way to live in this world in the light of the Divine values according to the guidance of the Torah, until the world's complete rectification. This ideal is expressed in the infinite belief that it is always possible to correct reality, and elevate it to a higher level. The tablets of the Ten Commandments placed in the Ark in the 'Holy of Holies' symbolized the covenant of faith between God and Israel, receiving expression through the commandments of the Torah – the essence of which is the Ten Commandments. The 'Cherubim' above the ark also hinted to the connection between God and 'Knesset Yisrael' (the Assembly of Israel).

Consequently, the main prayers on Yom Kippur concern 'Clal Yisrael', in whose redemption the revelation of faith and redemption of the entire world depends.

Awakening to Torah Study

Inside the Ark were the Tablets of the Law, and a Torah scroll was also placed in the 'Holy of Holies'. True, there is a dispute as to whether it was placed inside the Ark, or on its side. The opinion that the Torah scroll was placed inside the Ark is understandable, for the Torah is the foundation for all the revelation of God's Word to the world and His guidance. The question is: What is the reasoning of those Torah scholars who believe that the Torah scroll was placed on the side of the Ark? Perhaps it can be explained that in their opinion the Torah is not only the tangible Torah scroll itself, i.e., the Written Torah alone, rather, the Torah includes both the Written and the Oral Torah; consequently, the Tablets of the Law, which symbolize the covenant between God and 'Knesset Yisrael' expresses the entire Torah, and therefore only they were placed in the Ark.

As a continuation to the Yom Kippur service in the 'Holy of Holies', it would be appropriate on Yom Kippur for every man and woman, old and young, to connect to the Torah with greater drive and enthusiasm, and take upon ourselves to increase and deepen our Torah study in the coming year. Shabbat is the day on which one must be most diligent about increasing Torah study, because by learning on Shabbat, illumination is drawn from the 'Holy of Holies' and infused into the practical aspects of life. This is particularly appropriate for those engaged in 'yishuv ha'olam' (developing society practically), upon whose Torah study on Shabbat, 'Tikkun Ha-Olam' and its redemption, depends.

Establishing Blessed Jewish Families 

When the 'Beit HaMikdash' existed, after the service of the 'Kohen HaGadol' in the Temple, the daughters of Jerusalem would dance in the orchards, and in this manner, find their future husbands. Seemingly, one could ask: How could it be that on the sacred and awesome Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, they concerned themselves with finding their spouse? However, establishing a Jewish family is interrelated to the 'Holy of Holies', as our Sages said concerning a husband and wife who are loyal to each other, that the Divine Presence abides among them (Sotah 17a), for through their loyalty and love, Divine unity is revealed in the world. Similarly, the Ari HaKadosh said that the mitzvah to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), regarding which Rabbi Akiva said, “This is a great rule in the Torah” (Safra, ibid.), is fulfilled in its completeness between husband and wife. We also find that the shape of the 'Cherubs' placed on the Ark in the 'Holy of Holies' was in the form of a man and woman fulfilling the mitzvah of conjugal relations. This comes to teach us that holiness does not diminish life, but rather, empowers it. And when Israel ceased to do the will of God, the 'Cherubs' parted one another, turning their faces towards the Temple (Bava Batra 99a).

Think and Pray about Matchmaking

True, nowadays we do not engage in matchmaking on Yom Kippur. Perhaps because we do not deserve to do so when the Temple is destroyed. In any case, seeing as the sanctity of Yom Kippur is interrelated with the sanctity of the Jewish family, it is appropriate for all single men and women to think and pray about finding their respective partners. Often, the negative character traits of pride and greed prevent a person from finding a suitable match. On Yom Kippur, when one's pure soul is revealed, he is able to reflect more accurately about his aspirations in life, and about a truly suitable match with whom he can fulfill a life of Torah and mitzvot, and together, increase joy and life.

Married couples should also repent on Yom Kippur for not having loved and cheered each other properly, and pray they will unite in love and joy, that the 'Shekhina' (Divine Presence) dwell between them, and merit raising sons and daughters engaged in Torah and mitzvoth.

The Protests of the Disabled and Social Organizations

Q: Rabbi, with Yom Kippur approaching, I would like to ask you a question: Why is it that the religious public, who knows how to fight for national causes, does not participate in the social struggles of justice for disadvantaged groups, such as the disabled and single mothers?

A: These issues are complex, and the majority of people fighting for them are ignorant of the complexities, and as a result, their positions contain numerous moral flaws. Thus, often the damage of accepting the demands of the activists is greater than the benefits, both morally and socio-economically. Take for example the protest of the disabled: the majority of their claims are unjustified, mainly because they refuse to accept the government's proposal to provide substantial assistance to those who are truly unable to make a living, and provide reduced assistance to those with disabilities who are able to earn a living (the definition of work disability is only a partial measure of physical work).

The principle is that a person should be responsible for his own life, and only when he incapable of doing so is it a mitzvah for society to assist him. The term "disadvantaged" is also fundamentally flawed, because it assumes that there are groups that have 'deprived' them, and as a result, are obligated to compensate them. In order to win these struggles, left-wing movements throughout the generations use methods of false propaganda, and implant misleading terms in the public discourse which unconsciously create a distorted picture of the world.

Yom Kippur is intended for 'teshuva' out of love, and the most severely immoral thing is to exploit the emotional motivation of 'teshuva' and love for foreign purposes that conform to the interests of various groups. Similarly, it is also forbidden to exploit the feelings of repentance in order to humiliate people who work and earn a living, and instill in them feelings of guilt for supposedly weakening other people, accusing them of being successful, healthy, and having functioning families, instead of praising them for their contribution to society, and to the state. 

It should be noted that even a poor person, or one who suffers, should repent on Yom Kippur. He must cleanse his heart of feelings of jealousy, envy, and blaming others for his fate, and fill his heart with gratitude towards those who help him. Precisely on account of this, he will enjoy a good life, honor, and well-being.

This article appears in the 'Besheva' newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: