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Parshas Haazinu - Yom HaKippurim - I'm So Sorry.......Now Not Later     7 Tishrei 5784

09/22/2023 08:55:13 AM


On erev Rosh Hashana and erev Yom Kippur there were locations where   the minhag of specifically going to the cemetery to daven at the graves of loved ones was observed.  The Rema in Orach Chaim siman 581-4 regarding Rosh Hashana writes, “וְיֵשׁ מְקוֹמוֹת נוֹהֲגִין לֵילֵךְ עַל הַקְּבָרוֹת וּלְהַרְבּוֹת שָׁם בִּתְחִנּוֹת, וְנוֹתְנִים שָׁם צְדָקָה לַעֲנִיִּים (כָּל בּוֹ).” –“There are places where the custom of visiting a cemetery and increasing our supplications and give charity to the poor were observed.” The Rema in Orach Chaim siman 605:1 regarding erev Yom Kippur writes, ”וְיֵשׁ מְקוֹמוֹת שֶׁנּוֹהֲגִין לֵילֵךְ עַל הַקְּבָרוֹת וּלְהַרְבּוֹת בִּצְדָקָה, וְהַכֹּל מִנְהָג יָפֶה” –“There are places where the custom to go to the graves and increase their charity.” This custom continues in many communities today, continuing to be positive and emotionally powerful during these days of teshuvah.

When I first arrived in San Diego, many of the local shuls and congregations met at the cemetery on the Sunday of Aseres Yemei Teshuva. Each group would visit their relatives and daven at their grave sites, asking their loved ones to carry their prayers and supplications to the throne of glory. The source for the custom of going to the cemetery during the ten days of repentance is obscure; we don’t know the precise source. I hypothesize that the reason people began the custom of visiting the grave sites of their relatives was due to the fact it may have been too difficult to go either erev Rosh Hashana or erev Yom Kippur. In the shtetl, the cemeteries were typically located on the outskirts of the town; they were located nearby and were readily  accessible.  For many of us today, traveling to the cemetery requires extra time and effort. Visiting the grave sites of loved ones may require a flight to another state or even to Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, the annual visit to loved ones’ grave sites was made at a more convenient time, a time of year easier than going on Erev Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, this practice has fallen by the wayside.  Nowadays, individuals make the effort to visit family grave sites, but do so individually rather than with a large group.

This year I found myself in the cemetery during this time. It was truly unexpected and not a planned trip or personal visit; I attended the levaya/funeral of Dr. Howard Kaye. When I officiate at a funeral, I mention to the attendees that they should ask for forgiveness from the niftar/ the deceased. The reason we do this is because the halacha states that if we need forgiveness from someone, we should ask them. But in a situation where the person has passed way prior to us asking for forgiveness, we take a minyan/quorum to the grave site and collectively ask for forgiveness. Therefore, at every funeral it does not hurt to ask for forgiveness- just in case. The Rabbi who eulogized Howard appropriately asked for forgiveness, as is the custom. At that moment it hit me. I thought to myself: why wait until now to ask forgiveness? Why not ask as soon as we think we may have hurt another person? This relates to the notion of needing to ask for forgiveness - Bein Adom Lachaveiro - between man and man -before approaching God for forgiveness. Although it is brought down in Halacha that a person should ask for mechila/forgiveness from everyone on erev Yom Kippur, why not ask immediately after the incident? This situation is especially poignant in our day and age. Once again, when we lived a simpler life, our circle was close and very confined, we were able to run around on Erev Yom Kippur to ask forgiveness from everyone. Today, our interaction is worldwide, occurring with people whom we know well and also with others with whom we are not well acquainted. We have different levels of contact with multiple people, making it difficult and frequently impossible to reach other than via an actual phone call, text or email. Therefore, if I were to attempt to ask forgiveness, I would need to start days before Yom Kippur, especially during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva. Typically, during the ten days of repentance, we focus primarily on our relationship with Hashem. We should also be focused on our relationship with our children, spouses, neighbors, co-workers, employees, employers’ friends, and family too. The notion of Teshuva/repentance is found everywhere, particularly the Shabbos before Yom Kippur.

In this week’s Parshas Haazinu the Torah states in Devarim 32:46 "ויאמר אלהם שימו לבבכם לכל הדברים אשר אנכי מעיד בכם היום, אשר תצום את בניכם לשמור לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת"  - he said to them, “Pay close attention to all the words through which I warn you today so that you will be able to instruct your children to keep all the words of this Torah carefully”. The words ‘pay close attention’ are not the literal translation; rather in actuality they mean ‘place on your hearts’- think about what goes on in your heart. Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, known as the Sfas Emes, writes that the heart mentioned here needs preparation, just as the earth and the dirt of a field need preparation to grow something. He writes that one can seed and plant a field only after the earth has been tilled. Only after the land is prepped and seeded will the raindrops be able to penetrate the soil, allowing the seed to be nourished so it can flourish and grow. Without proper preparation the water will bounce off the ground, unable to penetrate into the soil where it needs to go. So, too, a person needs to prepare his limbs and muscles and the different parts of his body to receive the abundance, the overflow of material needed to grow and prosper both physically and spiritually.

How do we prepare our hearts so that the compassion of God is able to reach deep within us, turning our sins into merits? The answer is simple:we each need to prepare our hearts by first asking forgiveness  Bein Adom LaChaveiro - between us. One of the main principles of teshuvah and atonement is stated in the Mishnah Yoma 8:8: “For transgressions between a person and God, Yom Kippur atones; however, for transgressions between one person and another, Yom Kippur does not atone until he appeases the other person.” In other words, the party who was wronged must grant forgiveness for the wrongdoing. Appeasing the other person prepares the heart for a complete Teshuva that extends to Hashem, helping us in the Teshuva process.

If someone is feeling a disconnect between himself  and God, perhaps one needs to soften up that heart and allow the water of purification to enter one’s heart. As the Mishna concludes with the words of Rebbi Akiva: Rabbi Akiva said: How fortunate are you, Israel. Before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? It is your Father in Heaven, as it is stated in Yechezkel 36:25: “And I will sprinkle purifying water upon you, and you shall be purified.” The Navi Yirmiyahu says in 17:13 “The ritual bath of Israel is God”. Just as a ritual bath purifies the impure, so too, the Holy One, Blessed be He, purifies Israel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Gutten Yom HaKippurim

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784