Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed PR photo

The main atonement of Yom Kippur is achieved by the two goats drawn by lots – one for God, and the other for Azazel. What is amazing is that the goat for Azazel atoned for all of Israel’s sins and that of the Kohanim (Priests), whereas the goat for God was meant to atone solely for Israel’s transgressions in the Mikdash (the Holy Temple), and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would also sacrifice a young bull for a sin offering to atone for the transgressions of the Kohanim in the Mikdash.

Why were the bull and the goat whose blood was sprinkled in the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies) and afterwards in the Kodesh (Inner Sanctuary), intended only to atone for iniquities of the Mikdash, whereas the goat for Azazel alone atoned for all the remaining sins?

This however represents a very important idea: the root of all sins stems from our failing to fully identify with the sacred values. Consequently, atonement is mainly dependent on the tikkun (rectification) of our relation to sacred values, and after this pivotal tikkun is made, of its own accord, it becomes clear that all of the sins are superficial, and one can release himself from them with relative ease. And this is why we were commanded to atone for all the rest of the sins with the goat sent to Azazel – to desolation.

The Fault of the People’s Leaders

Our Sages also said: “Everything that the great ones do, the generation does. How? The Nasi (Prince of the Sanhedrin) permits, and the Av Beit Din (head of the court) says: The Nasi permits, and I prohibit? The judges say: The Av Beit Din permits, and we prohibit? And the rest of the generation says: The dayanim (judges) permit, and we prohibit?! Who caused the entire generation to sin? The Nasi who sinned first! Rabbi Simlai said: It is written, ‘In that their mother has played the harlot, she that conceived them has acted shamelessly’ (Hosea 2:7), that they put their words to shame before the amei ha’aretz (uneducated Jews).

How? The chacham (sage) sits and preaches in public: ‘Do not lend money and exact interest’, and he lends and exacts interest. He says ‘You shall not defraud’ – and he defrauds. He says ‘You shall not steal’ – and he steals. Rabbi Brechiya said: There was a case of a man whose tallit was stolen and he went to complain to the dayan about it – and found it spread out on his bed… A case of one man whose kettle was stolen and he went to the dayan to complain about it – and found it on his oven.” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:19).

Similarly, our Sages said about the law of the Torah, that involuntary murderers should find refuge in the ir miklat (city of refuge) until the death of the High Priest, because “they should have pleaded for mercy for their generation, and they did not plead” (Makkot 11a). In other words, had the High Priest entirely fulfilled his role, there would have been no cases of accidental murder.

The tikkun to this is that when a Nasi sins, he must confess and offer a sacrifice for his atonement (Leviticus 4:22). Rashi interpreted according to the Gemara in Horayot (10b): ” Happy [ashrei] is the generation whose Nasi feels the need to bring an offering for his unwitting transgression, and how much more does he experience remorse for the sins he has committed willfully.” And the most serious mistake is in the words of Torah, for an error in study counts as a deliberate sin (Avot 4:13).

Love of Humanity

Our teacher and mentor Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz’l, the head of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, in a conversation leading up to Yom Kippur, regularly encouraged us to love humanity, while mentioning the verse “Deal loyally and compassionately with one another.” And the entire verse: “Thus said the LORD of Hosts: Execute true justice; deal loyally and compassionately with one another. Do not defraud the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; and do not plot evil against one another” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

He was accustomed to explain the Mishna: “Love mankind (habri’ot), and draw them close to the Torah” (Avot 1:12), which contains two matters that are independent of each other. It does not say ‘Love mankind in order to draw them close to the Torah’. That is fake love. Love of humanity has self-worth, and out of this, comes drawing close to the Torah.

Who are the bri’ot the Mishnah is talking about? Certainly those far away from Torah, for they are the ones we need to draw close, and it is a mitzvah to love them as well”(Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, Vayikra p. 30). “Ahavat ha’briot – has self-worth! It is absolute! It is true! It is natural! It is normal! It is Divine! – and out of this – draw them close to the Torah.” “First of all, Jews need to get used to fulfilling the mitzvah ‘love your neighbor as yourself. This is a mitzvah from the Torah! One has to get used to fulfilling it for a very long time. This mitzvah is the foundation of everything.

Our Sages say that ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is the entire Torah. The foundation of everything, the root of everything. Afterwards, it can be explained how, and in what way (to draw close those far away from Torah).” “We must cleanse ourselves from the impurity of hatred, and from the impurity of the hatred of such Talmidei Chachamim, and such Roshei yeshivot (heads of yeshivas), who desecrate Hashem and profess in the name of the Torah, to bring into the atmosphere of the world the hatred of mankind, God have mercy on us, God save us!” (Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, ‘Middot’, pg. 35; Am Yisrael, pg. 212).

“There are some Jews who ‘grasp’ the verse from Tehillim (Psalms): ‘Hashem, You know I hate those who hate You,’ and there are educational approaches that emphasize this above all, as being a foundation in education. They place the value of sinat ha’bri’ot (hatred of humanity) as a foundation, arguing this is how they protect themselves. Interesting, that we have never heard of a tzaddik (righteous person) and a gadol be’Yisrael (eminent rabbi) designated as the “Sonei Yisrael” (Hater of Israel). On the other hand, we have heard of special individuals who have been called: “The Tzadik, the Gaon, and the Kadosh, Ohev Yisrael (Lover of Israel)!” (From ‘HaTorah HaGoelet’, Vol.4, p. 160).

A True Torah Scholar Loves Humanity

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook further taught us: “Avraham Avinu is called ‘Avraham, my friend’. He is entirely ‘ohev et ha’bri’ot’ (lover of humankind). Only based on Avraham Avinu do we reach Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah comes to us from ‘Moshe received Torah from Sinai’, but our middot (virtues) are from Avraham Avinu. Moshe Rabbeinu is the grandson of Avraham Avinu: one is worthy of Torah only based on the pure virtues, sensitivity, and merit of Avraham Avinu. The more of a lamdan (scholar) a Talmid Chacham is, the more suitable he is to the definition of Talmid Chacham, who is termed ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ – the more he must be full of ahavat ha’bri’ot” (Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, ‘Middot’, pg. 13).

If so, we have learned from the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda ztz’l that it is necessary to give precedence to the value of love for mankind over the value of studying the Torah and its strict observance. Because the Torah is meant to bring blessing to man, therefore, one must always be a man first, reveal his character, and out of that, ascend in the guidance of the Torah. Otherwise, the Torah is liable to turn into a sam ha’mavet (death potion) for him, make him the bearer of an evil eye, and a source of contention. God loves His creatures, but this one, in his wickedness, and supposedly in the name of the Torah, hates God’s creatures.

Love of Israel Precedes Love of the Torah

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda also used to mention the words of Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabbah: “Once I was travelling from one place to another, and I came upon a man… He said to me: Rebbe, I have two things in my heart, and I love them with great love, Torah and Israel, but I don’t know which of them comes first. I said to him: Usually, people say the Torah comes before everything, as it is said, ‘The LORD created me at the beginning of His course as the first of His works of old,” but I would say, the holy Jewish people come first, as it is said, ‘Israel was holy to the LORD, The first fruits of His harvest.” It can be likened to a king of flesh and blood, who had a wife and sons in his house, and wrote a letter (which was his Torah). If it were not for the wife and sons of the king who do his will in his house, the letter would not return…” (Tanna Devei Eliyahu Parsha 15).

The Tikkun between Man and His Fellow Man Comes First

Our Sages said: “For transgressions between a person and God, Yom Kippur atones; however, for transgressions between a person and another, Yom Kippur does not atone until he appeases the other person” (Mishna Yoma 85:2). And even if one brings all the sacrifices in the world, and abounds in prayers and fasts, he is not forgiven until he requests forgiveness from his fellow man (Baba Kama 92a).

Therefore, it is necessary to first correct the sins between man and his fellow man, otherwise even if a person tries very hard to repent the transgressions between man and God, since he is burdened with iniquities between man and his fellow man, he will not be able to draw close to God. Similarly, Rabbi Yoshyahu Pinto wrote on Ein Ya’akov (Yoma 85b), that as long as a person has transgressions between man and his fellow man, the atonement of the transgressions between a person and God also depends on him first reconciling his friend. “And since he appeases and reconciles him, then God is pleased with him to atone for his transgressions that he sinned between him and God” (and see Birkei Yosef 606:1; Kaf HaCha’im 606:3).

Similar to this, our Sages said that derech eretz (proper behavior) precedes the Torah (Tana Devei Eliyahu 1; Vayikra Rabbah 9:3).

Fasting opens us to Teshuva

Throughout the year, the soul is enveloped by a cloak of physicality, of various bodily desires, which make people forget their inner aspirations and sin. God commanded us to fast on Yom Kippur so that our soul can disconnect itself somewhat from the bonds of the body and materiality, thus allowing its true, noble aspirations to be free and to express themselves.

The fast opens us to the tikkun of sins between man and his fellow man. Usually, a person is engaged in promoting his goals, and in order to achieve them, he sometimes ignores the sorrow of his friends and hurts them. By feeling the sorrow of the fast, man’s heart opens to recognize the sorrow of his friends, and the sorrow of all mankind. His small problems are given their rightful place compared to the great sorrow that exists in the world, and compared to the moral injustices whose pain pierces to the abyss.

Out of this, he awakens to understand that only through emunah (faith) in God and observance of the Torah and mitzvot can a person reach his tikkun and reveal all his powers and talents, and thus, out of the desire to do good for humanity, he comes to repentance out of love in the mitzvot between man and his fellow man, and between man and God.

The Joy of Sukkot and Simchat Torah

From the repentance of Yom Kippur, Israel merits the joy of Sukkot, which expresses the unity of Israel, and as our Sages said: All of the Jewish people are fit to reside in one sukka (Sukka 27b).

Also, the four species allude to all types of Jews who gather together on the Sukkot holiday, even though the arava (leafy branch of the willow tree) alludes to Jews who have no Torah and mitzvot, and seemingly, their lives have no value.

However, precisely thanks to the unity of all of Israel, all Israel atones, and the glory of God is exalted (see Vayikra Rabbah 30:12). And out of this, one merits the joy of Simchat Torah, and merits life and blessing in this world, and in the world to come.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.