Rabbi Oury Cherki
Yom Kippur - The Ten Days of Awe
The time from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is called the "Days of Awe." It is a time for repentance. "Days of Awe" is a frightful concept, a time when a person is happy to renew his actions. Of course every renewal requires the person to make an effort, and there always remains a fear that the person will not succeed in the task. However, Judaism has a very optimistic outlook, it depends on the fact that every man is able to renew himself. And this is in fact the main message of this time.
What novel strategic plan did the Torah give us in order to achieve a renewal?
The answer is that the Days of Awe begin with the concept of listening. This starts with the first day, when we listen to the sounds of the shofar (the ram's horn), when opening our ears, and it ends on a day when we mend our hearts, which is the result of our full repentance on Yom Kippur. What is significant of listening?
In general, we must admit that we appreciate vision more than we do listening. Looking gives us a wealth of information, while hearing is considered to be much more restricted. But in Judaism we do not say, "Look, Israel, your G-d is One." This is not a general theory, we actually close our eyes tight when we recite the "Shema", – "Listen, Israel..." We become accustomed to opening our ears to silent content and to things that are beyond the normal range of human recognition. We are trained to use this ability on the day of Rosh Hashanah, when we open our ears to hear the sound of the shofar – reminding us of the shofar of creation, the shofar of the ingathering of the exiles, the shofar of the end of days. And as a result we develop our human capacity to listen. This ability to listen is what gives us the ability for renewal.
And when Yom Kippur comes, we are indeed rejuvenated.
How do the rituals of Yom Kippur lead to renewal? The source of the rituals is the holy service performed that was performed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Two goats were brought to stand before the High Priest. A goat is known as a "sa'ir". This Hebrew word is a hint of a similar word, "se'arah", meaning stormy and agitated. This symbolizes the stormy forces at work in our souls.
A part of the stormy forces of our souls must be preserved, in order to play a role in our service of G-d. One goat is offered as a sacrifice, and its blood is offered up in the innermost section of the Temple. We must offer up the stormy and agitated forces of our souls – the forces of youth, the forces of life. We raise them up to a holy status. However, the second goat is sent into the desert, far away, to a place called Azazel. There it is sent over a cliff and disappears from our sight. That is, there are agitated forces within us that are attempting to take control take control of us.
We must learn to differentiate between the two goats. When a person knows how to surrender part of the stormy forces within him that could lead to a downfall, evil, and bad inclinations, he can then channel those very forces onto a holy level and utilize them in the service of G-d. In the past, this was accomplished through the rituals in the Temple.
Today, unfortunately, we no longer have a High Priest or the rituals of Yom Kippur in the Temple, but we have similar labor that we can attempt to do internally, in our own soul. A person can do a self-analysis. He can determine his good and his bad traits, not in order to feel depressed but in order to make a diagnosis. First of all, a person must find out what traits of his are good and positive. This can help him to get rid of the negative aspects of his character and not to incorporate them into his personality.
It is very important for a person to see in front of him a spiritual and moral alternative with which he can identify, in order to lift himself up. When a person is encouraged he already has a positive opinion of himself. Then, without fear, he can then clean away the elements that must be discarded. He can send these elements into the desert, into uninhabited land. This can lead him into the great joy of the days of Succot which are approaching, during which a person can finally celebrate a true joy within the world of the Holy One, Blessed be He, without any bad feelings, without any sense of a lack in his life. He can celebrate for eight full days, as one who has atoned for all his sins.