Torah for the Times  

Friday, April 19 - Iyar 9, 5773 

Torah Reading: Acharei-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:21 PM

Shabbat ends: 8:25 PM   

One Day?

In the Year

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, occurs in the month of Tishrei. Nevertheless, we read of this Holy Day several times throughout the year, including in this week’s parsha of Acharei-Kedoshim. In our parsha, the Torah goes into elaborate detail concerning the offerings that were to be brought to the Beis Hamikdash-the Holy Temple - by the Kohain Gadol-the High Priest.

Interestingly, the Torah describes Yom Kippur in our parsha as “achas bashanah,” routinely translated as a “once a year” observance. 

Why is it necessary to tell us that Yom Kippur is only one day a year? Only a few verses earlier, the Torah explicitly states that Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei. It also states that “on this day G‑d shall atone for you.” There is no obvious need to repeat that Yom Kippur is a one day Holiday.

Another difficulty arises when we consider the literal translation of the words “achas bashanah.” Instead of “once a year,” the literal rendition is: “Once in the year. Why the emphasis on the fact that it is one day “in” the year? What other place could the day be if not “in the year?”

There is one other place where the Torah employs the expression “in the year” with regard to a Holiday. In a subsequent parsha (Vayikra 23:40-41) that discusses the festival of Sukkos, the Torah states: “…You should rejoice before G‑d your G‑d, for a period of seven days. You should celebrate it as a festival to G‑d for seven days in the year…” Here too, the Torah adds the preposition “in” in relation to the word “year.” Why does this phenomenon only occur with regard to Yom Kippur and Sukkos?

Furthermore, what do these two Holidays have in common? On the surface, Yom Kippur and Sukkos seem to be complete opposites. The former is a solemn day of fasting and prayer, whereas the latter is a period of incredible joy and feasting.

The Hebrew word for “one” that the Torah employs here is achas. According to Rabbenu Nissim, cited by the Tosphos commentary on the Talmud (Menachos 18a) that term has another connotation as well. Achas refers to the level of the soul called “yechidah.”

The Five Names of the Soul

To explain the significance of yechidah and its relationship to Yom Kippur, it is necessary to elaborate on the Midrash and Zohar’s description of the five levels of the G‑dly soul. They are listed in ascending order as: nefesh, ru’ach, neshama, chaya and yechidah.

The first and lowest level of the soul, nefesh, is identified as the part of the soul that is responsible for our actions. When a Jew is motivated to do a Mitzvah and is engaged in its performance, it is the nefesh that is expressing itself.

When we invest our actions with emotion, love and awe, it is the level of ru’ach that is active within us.

To develop a profound understanding of the Mitzvah and a deep intellectual awareness of G‑d’s greatness, we must bring the next level of the soul, called neshama, to the fore.

However, the Jew who is able to exercise a tremendous will-power, one that enables him or her to go beyond his or her understanding  and sacrifice physical comfort and personal needs to fulfill the will of G‑d, is actually being empowered by the transcendent aspect of his or her soul called chaya.

Yet the highest and most powerful level of the soul—sometimes identified as the soul’s very essence—is the yechidah.  From the vantage point of the yechidah there is no need to sacrifice oneself to G‑d. Sacrifice implies that there are two disparate entities, one of which must surrender itself to the other. But on the level of yechidah, the Jew feels such an intrinsic attachment to G‑d that there is no sense that he or she is surrendering to Him. In addition, at the level of yechidah one is in touch with the inner delight that is the source of all other faculties. Why do we harbor the desire for something? It arises when our inner delight motivates us to want that particular something. It’s the inner delight that motivates us to use our nefesh and ru’ach to think, emote and act. It is the source of all else that transpires in our lives.

The Yom Kippur Five

On Yom Kippur, we are required to pray five times, as opposed to Shabbos and other Holidays when there are only four required prayers.

Chassidic literature explains that these five prayers correspond to and affect all of the five levels of the soul. When we reach the fifth and concluding prayer of ne’ilah, the soul’s yechidah is expressed. That experience is so powerful that it can totally transform the person who, for whatever reason, was incapable of being so inspired throughout the rest of the year. And while the entire day of Yom Kippur is a day of five prayers, implying that the level of yechidah is present throughout the day, it is most dominant during the fifth prayer, ne’ilah.

We can now understand why the Torah refers to Yom Kippur in Acharei-Kedoshim as “achas.” It is intended to teach us that Yom Kippur is not just a one day Holiday but rather it is a day when the achas, i.e., the yechidah, is fully revealed.

We can now also answer the second question posed above, why the Torah refers to the day as “one day in the year.”

This can be resolved in light of the foregoing understanding of achas as the level of yechidah, but first a prefatory story is in order.

Tefillin “On” the Head or “In” the Head?

Once, when a Czarist official observed the Alter Rebbe wearing his Tefillin, the official was overcome with dread. When a Chosid asked the Alter Rebbe to explain this incident, he replied by referring to a passage in the Talmud: “Rabbi Eliezer the Great stated: ‘When the Torah says, “And all the nations of the earth will see the name of G‑d called upon you and they will fear you,” it was referring to the Head Tefillin.’ Thus, when the Czarist official noticed my Tefillin he was overcome with fear.”

The Chosid then asked the Alter Rebbe, “Why doesn’t that happen when I wear Tefillin? It does not elicit any fearful reaction by gentiles who notice me wearing them.”

The Alter Rebbe replied: “In the Talmudic text it does not say that Tefillin that we wear on the head evoke fear. Rather it says, ”elu tefillin sheberosh,” Tefillin that are in the head.” By this, the Alter Rebbe makes it clear that for the Tefillin to be awe inspiring to an outsider it must be internalized within one’s head. The message of Tefillin, which is G‑d’s absolute unity, must become an integral part of one’s consciousness.

Here too, we may suggest, when the Torah describes the day of Yom Kippur as a day of achas, a day when the yechidah of the soul is revealed, it cannot be allowed to dissipate when Yom Kippur is over. The Torah exhorts us to extend the effect of the yechidah that we experienced on Yom Kippur into the other days of the year. However, the message here is that it does not suffice for it to be extended to the other days of the year; instead it must be achas bashanah, one day, a yechidah day, in the days of the year.

Yom Kippur poses a unique challenge that does not exist in other Holidays. Because of Yom Kippur’s singular role as G‑d’s designated Day of Atonement it captures the yechidah. One would thus be entitled to think that it is impossible to have this Yom Kippur/yechidah experience any other time of the year. To dispel this notion the Torah states, “achas bashanah,” one can take the achas/yechidah and instill it into the rest of the year.

There is a similar challenge with the Festival of Sukkos, which requires and empowers us to celebrate for a full cycle of seven days. Could we reasonably contemplate the idea of bringing that powerful joy to the rest of the year? Most would say that it is simply impossible. To dispel that notion, here too, the Torah states “seven days in the year.” These seven days do not have to end with the culmination of Sukkos. They can be extended and instilled within the rest of the year.

Moshiach: The Yechidah of Souls

How can we take the profound soul experiences of Yom Kippur or the unmitigated Festival joy of Sukkos into an ordinary weekday?

To answer this question we must recall the teaching of Kabbalah and Chassidus that there were/are five unique personalities who represent the five soul-modalities mentioned above. King David represented all the souls on the level of nefesh.  Elijah represented ru’ach, Moses neshama, Adam chaya while Moshiach will embodies the level of yechidah.

When we connect our lives to Moshiach and focus our attention on what we can do to bring Moshiach and the Final Redemption in our days, we can then experience the level of yechidah. The “mere” desire to be there places us there in consonance with what the Ba’al Shem Tov taught: “A person is where his will is.” If we truly want to be with Moshiach—and express that desire sincerely by attempting to live our lives in harmony with the ideals of Moshiach—we are there! When we live a Moshiach life we ignite the internal spark of Moshiach within us—our yechidah—and we get a taste of the profound joy of Sukkos that is a portent of the perennial joy we will experience in the Messianic Age.


 Moshiach Matters 

If the Jewish people begin now to rejoice already in the
Redemption, out of absolute trust that G‑d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were)
compel our Father in heaven to redeem them from exile.
(Likutei Sichos, vol. 20 p. 384)

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