The Morning after Yom Kippur

What should we feel on the day after Yom Kippur? On Yom Kippur, we naturally feel spiritually awakened, but what happens the following day? Can we sustain the heightened awareness of Yom Kippur throughout the year?

We find an answer to these questions in the Torah reading of Yom Kippur, which describes the sacrifices offered by the Kohen Gadol in the Beis HaMikdash on that holy day. The reading is introduced by the verse,1 “And G‑d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they had come close to G‑d and died.” This verse teaches us a les­son regarding Yom Kippur — the importance of what hap­pens afterwards.

Yom Kippur is a time when every Jew “comes close to G‑d.” That experience, however, must not be self-contained; it must be connected to the days and weeks that follow.

A Historical Precedent

In order to teach us how to approach this experience, the Torah recounts how Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, made a fundamental error in the way they “came close to G‑d” after the revelation of the Divine Presence at the consecration of the Sanctuary:2 “Each took his fire pan, placed fire in them, and placed incense upon it; they offered before G‑d an alien fire which He had not commanded them [to bring]. Fire came forth from before G‑d and consumed them.”

Although our Sages3 enumerate several flaws in the con­duct of Aharon’s sons which led to their deaths, these inter­pretations raise a number of difficulties. Nadav and Avihu had been chosen by G‑d to serve as priests. Moreover, as Rashi explains in his commentary on the Torah,4 they had attained a higher spiritual level than Moshe Rabbeinu him­self. How, then, could they have erred so seriously in their service of G‑d?

Several Torah commentaries5 explain that the death of Nadav and Avihu was not a punishment, but a natural conse­quence of their having soared to such spiritual heights that their souls could no longer remain in their bodies. Having experienced the rapture of cleaving to G‑d in dveikus, they could not return to life on this material plane.

Spiritual Experience Should Not Be Insular

Even according to this interpretation, however, the con­duct of Nadav and Avihu remains problematic because it was motivated by self-concern: they died because their souls wanted to cleave to G‑d, to remain in a state of absolute unity with Him. In this desire, they lost sight of G‑d’s ultimate intention in creation. Like all the other beings in the physical and spiritual worlds, they too had been created so that G‑d could have “a dwelling place in the lower worlds.”6 By leaving the world, even for the purpose of cleaving to G‑d, they were thus in conflict with the intention with which G‑d had cre­ated them and the world.

The deepest yearnings of our souls and the loftiest heights of our religious experience should be connected to the reali­ties of our material existence. Spirituality is not an added dimension, separate from our everyday experience, but a medium through which to elevate our ordinary lives. By fus­ing our material and spiritual realities, we refine the world, infuse it with holiness, and transform it into a dwelling for G‑d’s Presence.

Entering in Peace to Depart in Peace

The goal of fusing the material and spiritual realms is clearly illustrated in the Talmud.7 Four Sages “entered the Pardes (lit., “Orchard”); i.e., they strolled amidst the lush profusion hidden in the depths of the Torah and experienced overwhelming mystical revelations. One of them “peered within and died”; another “peered within and lost his mind”; a third “cut down the saplings” (i.e., distorted by misinterpre­tation). Rabbi Akiva alone “entered in peace and departed in peace.”

Rabbi Akiva was the only one who departed unharmed because he alone “entered in peace.” He was not merely seeking mystical experiences. He did not enter the Pardes in order to satisfy a yearning to cleave to G‑d, but in order to achieve a heightened spiritual awareness with which he could enhance his total service of G‑d. His colleagues, by contrast, sought personal mystical experiences. They wanted to “come close to G‑d,” but did not understand how to relate that experience to the full scope of their lives.

Extending Yom Kippur

The same potential problem exists with regard to our divine service on Yom Kippur. At the very time when we “draw close to G‑d,” we should not lose sight of our service of G‑d throughout the year. Yom Kippur should not be viewed as an isolated experience, but as a means to enhance our relationship with G‑d on a day-to-day level.8

The necessity of connecting Yom Kippur to the realities of the rest of the year is illustrated by the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. On this day he would enter the Holy of Holies where he was alone with the Shechinah, the revealed Divine Presence. No deeper religious experience is imagin­able.

Immediately, however, he would offer a short and simple prayer, requesting blessings for an untroubled livelihood on behalf of the Jewish people.9 Fresh from his ascent to great spiritual heights, he would immediately thrust himself into concern for the Jewish people on a day-to-day level.

Significantly, a prerequisite for serving as High Priest on Yom Kippur was marriage.10 If the High Priest was unmarried, i.e., if he lacked this basic commitment to living within the practical realities of this world, he was considered unfit to intercede on behalf of his brethren.11

Fusing Spiritual Awareness with Material Prosperity

We, perhaps, do not experience the same heights as Aharon’s sons or the High Priest in the Holy of Holies, but we do have spiritual peaks, times when we feel more in touch with our souls and with G‑d. Surely this applies to Yom Kippur, a day on which we are removed from all worldly concerns. We cannot allow such moments to remain uncon­nected to our ordinary lives; rather, the spiritual power of these special days should be used to recharge our everyday service of G‑d.12

This course of action also calls down blessings upon our material affairs. Yom Kippur is a day of judgment. When G‑d sees that an individual focuses his intention on elevating the world around him and keeps that intention in mind even at the highest peaks of his spiritual experience, He rewards him with success both in his divine service and in his material affairs. G‑d blesses him with health, wealth, and children. The individual, in turn, uses those blessings to elevate and refine the world, to transform it into a dwelling place for G‑d.

This approach to the service of G‑d leads to the ultimate fusion of material prosperity and spiritual growth which will take place in the Era of the Redemption. At that time,13 “good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust.” Simultaneously, “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.... ‘For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.’”14

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos,Vol. III,Parshas Acharei