In a few short hours Yom Kippur will be upon us. I’d like to elaborate a little bit more on what we spoke about before Rosh HaShanah, specifically in regards to the bracha in shemoneh esrei of “v’chein tein pachdecha”.
We ask in that bracha for God to please instill freight and terror upon us, and upon the nations of the world. Why would I want to pray for fright and terror? As discussed before Rosh HaShanah, it seems to be that the purpose is for everyone to come to the realization that God, as understood through the tradition of the Hebrews, is the ultimate cause of everything. We want the world to remember its Maker. Basically, we don’t trust humanity and we realize that we won’t get there without trauma.
Our quest for truth, we hope, is so strong that we are willing to undergo such trauma in order to get there. This idea recalls the great explorers of the past who knew they were entering into mortal danger, but they did so for a cause, and they were determined. They, and we, are willing to give our lives for these values, and even suffer. Or at least we hope that we can say such a thing with honesty.
We state, on this day, that we want to understand all of this more, and that we want the world to understand the truth as well. We know it, but I guess we don’t know it well enough. We ask, on this day, to live in a religiously conducive environment.
There is another place in halacha that speaks about “terror”, and that is the laws of mourning. What is mourning? Simply put, it is “missing something you care about”. There is sadness. But it is interesting that it is not about the death, but rather about yourself. Do you mourn the dead, or do you mourn your own sadness? Hypothetically, if you would die at the same time, you wouldn’t care. Such mourning is egocentric, but normal. Without it, there’d be something seriously wrong with.
Rashi states in Kesubos that this, however, is not the real mourning of halacha. It is not the real mourning that God demands of you. Rather, he calls it “tzar d’rishus”. Rambam, in Hilchos Aveilus, writes that the real mourning that God wants from us is a sense of “fright and concern”. What are we scared about, exactly? Well, that we’re not going to live forever.
Death freezes and destabilizes you. You had this confident sense of being, and it knocks you down. That’s pachad. It shakes you up. Like a sword is on your neck, to use the words of Rambam. After a couple of days, you get used to this new awareness, and now you’ve moved onto the “concern” stage. As in, what do I do about it now?
And this, quite simply, is why, as humans, we don’t change. Transition is uncomfortable. Who wants to so honestly look at ourselves and the cesspool of our own deeds? Most people will only make transitions when the old world has been destroyed. And that is what death is.
That is what we ask for on Yom Kippur (and Rosh HaShanah). It’s pretty gutsy, so before we say that, think, do we really mean it? Saying “God, I guess I need trauma”. No one wants to encounter death, but it does have the benefit of destabilizing one’s world to the point that they will then look for truths.
On a personal level, I know of many people who bought life insurance in the day or two after one of their parents died. The death forced them to confront the reality that they won’t be around forever, and that they should do something to benefit those that they care about. And on a global scale, World War I and World War II actually led to quite a number of great things as a result of the war. The League of Nations and the United Nations. Even the modern state of Israel is essentially an cashing in on the trauma of the Holocaust. These were huge, huge accomplishments made possible only by the catalyst that was war and death. True, these things didn’t really last in their greatest capacity, but that is precisely because the world loses hold of that truth very quickly, and things return to normal.
We hear about a tragedy across the world — say, a volcano erupts somewhere — can we “cash in on that”? Are we being shaken up by calamity? Because we prayed for that! You just had your prayer fulfilled! But has it enhanced your God awareness? Is it shaking your resolves? Are you now looking for some truths? “V’chein tein pachdecha” — You just had your prayer fulfilled! Now what? the Christian will do what they do. The Buddhist what they do. And so forth. But are you, as a Jew, turning to God? This is the posuk in Tzefaniah:
I said, "Surely you will fear Me, you will accept reproof…” (3:7)
This should be the reaction to trauma and to instability in life. Such is the short prayer of “V’chein tein pachdecha”.
Now, what does “King” really mean? There is a fascinating GR”A on Mishlei that points out the different between a “King” and a “Ruler”. A ruler can be an outsider. It can be some random person who happens to have certain people under his dominion. But a king is part of the nation, and his nation sees him as an embodiment of their nation.
You see, our personality and out bodies change all the time. If we gain or lose a pound, we are not a different person now. There isn’t any more or loess of YOU now. Bodies change. People change. And yet YOU are still always there, and never changing. YOU has all sorts of “clothing”, but there is something beyond all these individual things that remains constant no matter what. We call that a “soul”, whatever that means. And that soul is One with God. That soul is part of God’s nation. Deep down, YOU and God are on the same page.
Yom Kippur is, in this way, a day of soul searching. It is meant to be a paradigm shift. Sometimes God is nice. Sometimes God is obnoxious. True. But I am created, and He is the creator. I am but a pawn in His chess game. But we need a hell of a lot of trauma to realize that, because we are stuck between our body and our soul.
Yom Kippur, and the davening, is a day to remember that physicality is not forever. YOU is not your body, YOU is not your clothes. Your body will get old and sag. Your clothing will wear out. But your soul is forever. YOU are forever.
But we have to formulate it, and internalize it. We cannot say “Sorry, BUT…”. We must acknowledge the mistake. We must recognize that we messed up. We admit that it was stupid. And now I will do my best to live by new values. That’s honest.
The more we know this, and the more we internalize it, the more we will be better people.
Gmar chasimah tova.