By: Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui
On the 10th of Tishrei we observe the biblical fast day of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. We proclaim the mighty holiness of this day, for it is awe-inspiring and fearsome. The Day of Judgment is here, and all created beings pass before G-d one by one. G-d reckons and G-d allocates the fixed portion, for the needs of all creatures and inscribes the verdict of their judgment. “Who shall live who shall die…. who by earthquake and who by pestilence…..but Repentance, Prayer and Charity avert the severity of the decree.”
The great Rabbis said. If G-d granted us only one Day of Atonement in our lifetime we would be extremely lucky. How much more so, when every year, we are granted atonement and a chance to start fresh. A brand new chapter in our relationship with G-d.
Rabbi Yochonan Ben Zakai an important Jewish sage in the era of the Second Temple is widely regarded as one of the most important Jewish figures of his time. Yet, even he, being the smallest of all Hillel’s students had the power to be bring the dead back to life. He was knowledgeable in every area of the Torah – Bible, numerology, the language of angels, demons, and palm trees. He knew the secrets of creation, and the secrets of G-ds heavenly Chariot.
Having fallen gravely ill, Rabbi Yochonan ben Zakai’s students came to visit him, and in seeing them he began to cry. His students asked, “Our master, the light and pillar of Israel, why are you crying?”
Rabbi Yochonan ben Zakai replied, “If I were being prepared to come before a king of flesh and blood, a king who is today in the world and tomorrow in the grave, I know that if this king were angry with me, his anger would not be forever. If he were to imprison me, the imprisonment ordered by him would not last forever. If he were to put me to death, the death ordered by him would not be eternal. I would appease him ……. Nevertheless, I would still cry.
Now, today, I am being brought before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. He lives forever, and His anger, if He were to turn it against me, would be final. If He were to imprison me, this imprisonment would be forever. If He would put me to death, this death would be eternal. I will not be able to appease Him with words or bribe Him with money. And not only that, but there are two paths that lie before me – one for the garden of Eden and the other for hell – and I don’t know by which path they will make me go. And yet you don’t want me to cry?
His students said, “Our Master, bless us!”
Rabbi Yochonan ben Zakai replied, “May G-d grant that your fear of Heaven equal your fear of beings of flesh and blood!”
Surprised by this response, the students asked him, “That’s all? Nothing more?”
Rabbi Yochonan ben Zakai said to them, “If only, you (were to) reach that level. Know this: When a man commits a sin, he tells himself, ‘I hope no one saw me!’”
Do you remember the last time you went a bit over the speed limit and passed a police car and prayed, “G-d, please, I hope I don’t get caught, or I hope he didn’t see me?”
We all know the feeling of sitting in our car and wondering how many points and how much money will the ticket be. The prophet tells us, “I do not desire the death of the wicked, but that he turns from his (evil) ways so he can live.”
On Yom Kippur you don’t have to wonder. By asking G-d for forgiveness and sincerely putting the past behind us, all tickets are wiped out. The essence of the day – brings atonement. What a great and merciful G-d.
To read more articles from Rabbi Ezagui visit him at http://koshercaffeine.blogspot.com/