“And Aaron is to come to the Tent of Meeting and remove the linen garments that he had put on before entering the Sanctuary, and he is to leave them there” [Leviticus 16:23].
Not only were these vestments removed, but the clothing that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) wore when he achieved complete forgiveness for the Jewish People had to be buried. Those clothes were never to be worn again, not by him and not by anyone else.
On Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol reaches an elevated level and from there he achieves forgiveness for the Jewish People. On the next Yom Kippur he will have to reach a new place and attain fresh forgiveness for people before him at that time. In burying the clothing he wore he acknowledges that next year, even though it looks the same, will be a brand new job. He should not rely on his spiritual experience from one year to the next, thinking “I’ve been here and done this.” He needs to start anew.
In the first Mishnah of Pirkei Avot we are told to be patient in judgment. Rabeinu Ovadiah of Bartenurah explains that even if a question had come before a judge repeatedly he should not make a snap judgment but should pause and look anew at the case before him. The lessons of Avot apply on one level to rabbis and judges and on another level to each of us. We all must remember to look at every person and every situation that comes before us in life in a fresh way and not dismiss anyone or anyone quickly because of similarities to past cases. Perhaps this aphorism can also be applied to this time of year; we must approach the judgment that is upon us from God, and we must reflect upon this moment anew. This may feel just like last year, and the year before that, but this High Holiday season is this one, separate and distinct from any that came before it.
We are all haunted by ghosts of Yom Kippurs past, yet one of the secrets of this day, sometimes referred to in whispers as “Yom HaKadosh” (“The Holy Day”) is that it allows us to begin again. This is a day for transformation, a day to let go of the past and to set new, real, achievable goals toward being servants of God this year. This is a time to begin again, particularly regarding our efforts to begin again. Like Aaron we must bury the approaches, the context and past years. It’s time to dress in white both metaphorically and actually, and to start on starting again.
The rabbis say that every day the Torah should be new in our eyes. This means that the Torah way in which we experience life has to be refreshed daily. As we seek atonement on Yom Kippur, we need to do it in a newly holy manner. We need to return to God without getting stuck on the past, but moving forward. One of Maimonides’ Four Pillars of Repentance is acceptance of the future. This element is often mistakenly pushed aside in favor of focusing on our past. The Lechovitcher Rebbe addressed this misjudgment when he proclaimed that “teshuvah [repentance] is 99 percent about the future and one percent about the past.”
May we merit approaching this day, and then this year, in a new and blessed way.
May we be blessed to accomplish a teshuvah sheleimah, a complete return to God. n
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann is a teacher, guidance counselor, and director of Torah Guidance in the Frisch school. He is a writer, comedian, actor and poet. You can find his writing at rabbifleischmann.blogspot.com.
Candlelighting: 6:16 p.m.
Torah: Lev. 16; Numbers 29:7-11; Lev. 18.
Haftarah: Isaiah 57:14-58:14; Book of Jonah; Micha 7:18-20
Havdalah: 7:15 p.m.