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High Holy DaysTishreiYom Kipur

Relating to God on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is our day of intimacy with God. We refrain from eating, drinking and other physical comforts in an effort to resemble the angels. We desire to peel away the soiled garments of gross materialism with which we have covered ourselves, and to reveal our inner, Divine essence. In this state we strive to enter a consciousness in which we can feel God's closeness to us.

Making a Dwelling Place for God

In the Torah, the focal point of Yom Kippur is the cleansing and purification of the Temple service, which would create the conditions necessary for God to continue to dwell in our midst. God's Divine Presence in the home that we have built for Him — be it the Temple or our hearts — is the true shlom bayit, the wholeness and serenity of marital life for which we strive. For this reason, the apex of the Divine service of Yom Kippur is performed in the Holy of Holies. On Yom Kippur our hearts should be focused on ensuring that God's Divine Presence will continue to dwell between the two cherubim, the symbol of the consummate love between God and Israel, so that they may continue their face-to-face embrace. (For more on the symbolism of the cherubim, listen to Rabbi Ginsburgh's audio lecture on the Torah portion of Terumah: The Cherubim–Symmetrical Innocence in Union). Thus, the prayers of Yom Kippur are replete with intricate confessions of our personal sins, resembling a heart-to-heart talk with God. We must ensure that our hearts are a pure and befitting dwelling place for God's Divine Presence.

Are We Communicating with God?

When Israel did not fulfill God's will, the cherubim would miraculously turn back-to-back. This back-to-back posture does not necessarily reflect hostility, but on a more subtle level — a lack of communication. Sometimes, our friends or family request our attention when we are totally consumed with ourselves. Our face is turned inward, and we do not wish to turn our hearts to our loved ones. On the other hand, we do not wish to insult them, so we blithely answer their appeal for our attention with an offhand, "a little later." What we are really saying is "Please allow me to remain engrossed in my own world." The face that we turn to our loved one has left its inner dimension behind.

This example helps us to understand the face-to-face relationship with God on Yom Kippur. While our routine relationship with God may usually be based on "a little later" — a back-to-back posture, on Yom Kippur our attention is focused on God, and our hearts are open completely to Him.

He is our immediate and closest concern. Instead of being absorbed in our own world, we strive to bring God into the finest details of our lives and to achieve a consciousness in which we truly  "know Him in all our ways." (For more on this concept, called B'chol drachecha da'eihu, "Know Him in all your ways," listen to Harav Ginsburgh's audio lectures: "Revealing God's Signature in Creation" and "The Seven Paths of the Tree of the Field.").

Enter My Soul

When a person is in love, he associates everything he sees and hears with his beloved. His thoughts are focused on his beloved even when he is busy with his mundane matters. This is the relationship that we strive for with God. In all that we do, God should be the focal point of our thoughts. When we realize how crucial this relationship is to us, and how distant we are from it, we ask God to "Cleanse us." We realize that any hint of dirt, insensitivity, estrangement or cold-heartedness overshadows and blemishes our relationship with Him. Even though cleansing our souls to make them a dwelling place for God may be a demanding experience, we slowly discover God as our essential identity. Our sins then dissipate, as we understand that they were only superficial stains, totally irrelevant to our true, Divine essence and desires.

Other chapters in this series:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Father-Son Relationship
  3. The King-Servant Relationship
  4. The Husband-Wife Relationship
  5. Relating to God in Elul
  6. Relating to God on Rosh Hashanah
  7. Relating to God on Yom Kipur

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