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Caution: Temper Your Ecstasy

Caution: Temper Your Ecstasy

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It was the day after Yom Kippur when Yankel the village thief made an appearance at the house of the rabbi. Yankel was "well-respected" for his prowess in burglary; indeed, although his shady occupation was common knowledge, he had never been caught red-handed throughout his lengthy career. In his hands were two large sacks filled to the brim with stolen goods. Candelabras, jewelry, antiques — you name it, it was there. "Rabbi," Yankel tearfully blurted, "I was so inspired by the services yesterday that I decided to return all these items to their rightful owners. Would you do the honors?"

The delighted rabbi congratulated Yankel on his courageous and upright deed and proceeded to deliver the valuables to their grateful owners. When he returned home, he saw that his office had been ransacked. Gone was all the cash intended for the poor for the holiday of Sukkot.

The rabbi raced to Yankel's home. "How could you do such a thing? What happened to all the remorse and inspiration?!" he roared.

"Rabbi," Yankel responded, "Yom Kippur is Yom Kippur, but business is business..."


The Yom Kippur Torah reading discusses the service of the High Priest in the Temple on this holiest day of the year. The reading begins with the words: "The L-rd spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the L-rd, and they died."

Other religions, all of which are predicated on the pursuit of spirituality, would reward such an act with instant sainthoodWhat bearing does this prefatory verse have on our personal Yom Kippur service? An examination of the "sin" which led to the premature deaths of Nadab and Abihu will answer this question.

The Tabernacle was inaugurated by a Divine revelation witnessed by the entire nation. The entire nation breathed a collective sigh of relief, as they realized that G‑d had in fact wholeheartedly forgiven them for the sin of the Golden Calf. At this historic and hallowed moment, Aaron's two saintly sons were seized by holy ecstasy. Their spiritual high caused them to dash into the Holy of Holies with an incense offering, where their souls overdosed on divinity and slipped away to be absorbed into the Holy Fire which emerged to welcome their pure souls.

While other religions, all of which are predicated on the pursuit of spirituality, would reward such an act with instant sainthood, Judaism looks askance at their deed. Spiritual highs are elating and inspiring, but they are not the reason for which we were created. Rather, we were created to infuse our physical environment with G‑dliness, through the seemingly mundane acts of mitzvot. Any spiritual high which does not express itself in subsequent daily life is exhilarating — but virtually pointless.

What an important lesson to bear in mind on Yom Kippur!

"Business is business" cannot simply continue after Yom Kippur. The whole point of this holy day, the day when we are likened to white-clad angels, is to bring meaning and holiness to the everyday "business as usual."

By Naftali Silberberg, based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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