By Yochanan Gordon
One of the seminal events we read about during the Yom Kippur liturgy is of the twin goats: one is dedicated on high and the other is cast off a cliff and breaks into pieces. Upon further reflection, we will see that this portrays an idea that is fundamental to the optimal Yom Kippur experience.
The halachah mandates that these two goats need to be identical in image, stature, and monetary value, which is necessary in order to be able to choose between the two of them without the choice being compelled or made simpler by one or a series of distinctions. This notion of sameness and equality not only runs through the yom tov of Yom Kippur but all of the holidays of Tishrei, as I have written about in the past at length. From the moment we all congregate in our shuls, it is this sentiment that we express when we say: “With the knowledge of the Omnipresent, and the awareness of the congregation, in the Supernal academy and the lower academy, we are permitted to pray with the sinners.”
I’ve noticed that what begins with a permissiveness to pray with the sinners culminates on Simchas Torah, as we dance arm in arm with people who might come from backgrounds different than ours and be at a different level of observance than we are, and it doesn’t stop us from being able to embrace, enveloped in the all-encompassing light of the infinite G-d.
There is no relativism between the finite and the infinite. As such, while there are sugyos relevant to Yom Kippur, discussions about the nature of teshuvah or the avodah of the kohen gadol in the Kodesh HaKedoshim, it is apropos to retell a story connected to Yom Kippur, which is a davar ha’shaveh l’chol nefesh and expresses a facet of a father–child relationship that no other pastime or project could uncover.
It happened in the days of the holy Ba’al Shem Tov that an ominous decree hung over one of the kehillos, prompting an intense increase in prayer and supplication during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Neilah, the closing of the gates, had arrived and the students of the Ba’al Shem Tov and his colleagues began to realize the severity of the situation and they, too, intensified their prayers.
As the Ba’al Shem Tov and his colleagues and students processed the urgency of the hour, the laymen in the shul also began to realize that their future rode on their ability to storm the heavens and tear to shreds the evil mandate that hovered above them as the day of Yom Kippur waned and the judgment was about to be signed and sealed.
There was a young Jewish villager who had spent a number of years herding cattle and sheep on a nearby farm. As he spent most of his waking time in the presence of animals, he was completely ignorant, and all he could do was mimic the sounds of the animals who had become his friends. He could imitate the sounds of sheep, cows, goats, and birds, but more accurate than them all was his mimicry of the rooster. When this simple lad observed the intensity that had pervaded the shul in the crescendo of prayers and the tears flowing from the eyes of the townspeople gathered there, his heart broke within him and he began to excitedly scream out, “Kukariku! Our Father in Heaven, have mercy!!”
When the people noticed this boy making rooster sounds at the pinnacle of Yom Kippur they wanted to expel him in enmity out of the shul. He answered them: “I, too, am a Jew. Your G-d is my G-d.” The old sexton Reb Yosef Yuzpa calmed the spirit of the congregants and directed the young villager to remain right where he was.
A few moments later, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s voice rang out and then the voices of his talmidim responding to the piyutim of tefillas Neilah, which they were barreling through to finish on time with the end of the fast. With great arousal they declared the verses of Shema, Baruch Shem, and Hashem Hu HaElokim and then they began to sing happy Chassidic songs. As the Besht sat with his students eating the post-Yom Kippur breakfast, he began retelling of the great threat that hung over the town all the day until Neilah, which they had begun just a few minutes earlier. He said it was a severe decree, one that he was at a loss to figure out a way to nullify. But then, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere he heard the voice of the simple stable boy saying “Kukariku! Our Father in Heaven, have mercy!” It was this sincere, unpretentious cry that succeeded in nullifying the decree, ultimately saving an entire congregation within the Jewish nation.
The Gemara states: “Why is it that the Jewish people cry out and aren’t answered?” And it answers: “Because they don’t know how to focus appropriately on the right names.” Initially it would seem that our lack of success in prayer had to do with a deficiency in kavanah, but chassidus explains otherwise. It is due to the fact that we have forgotten the language of the King.
However, there is one manner of speech that the king will always recognize, and that is when his child who has gone astray calls out from the depths of his heart, “Father, have mercy and save me.” The knowledge that a child recognizes his dependence upon his father and that only he could come to his aid in a time of desperate need is one call that our King and our Father will never overlook.
It’s impossible to overstate the level of desperation in which we find ourselves. Above it all, instead of clear, sound, authoritative leadership we have broken up into splintered groups with each one promulgating the path that they feel is the Torah way. The year we are now in is that of Tav Shin Pei Beis. Each year possesses a unique acronym that represents the potential in the year ahead. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburgh, shlita, writes that the year Tav Shin Pei Beis is an acronym of the words Tehei Sh’nas Panim B’Panim—let this be a face-to-face year.
Clearly, much of the pain that we as a nation have been suffering is a result of hester panim, the concealment of G-d’s countenance. Therefore, we daven that this year we should merit to see G-d’s shining face, that spouses should be able to look lovingly into each other’s eyes, and children into the eyes of their parents and siblings. We should be able to look at each other’s faces unencumbered by the obstruction of a mask without controversy or risk of infection. Ultimately, we should see this world through the eyes of our Creator and all the blessings and redemptive beauty that come along with that.
We are approaching the day that Chazal refer to as “achas ba’shanah,” a day of lifnei Hashem titharu, which ma’amarei chassidus say gives us collectively a view from beyond the realm of Havaya. Now is not the time for complex scholarly dissertations on teshuvah; it’s a time when all of us, regardless of how we perceive ourselves until this point in time, need to call out from the pristine depths of our souls: “Father, have mercy on us.”
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.