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Yom Kippur (morning) 5764

Yom Kippur Morning
(Isaiah 57:14-58:14)
October 6, 2003

Judaism as a religion preaches as one of its ultimate ideals the idea of religious responsibility. Individuals are not supposed to avoid responsibility for their actions. There must be a realization that actions bear consequences. This being said, since human beings are not perfect, there must be a religious mechanism for dealing with this frailty. This dilemma and the requisite solution seem to be found in the opening verses of the haftarah for the morning of Yom Kippur: “For I will not always contend, I will not be angry forever; Nay, I who make spirits flag also create the breathe of life. For their sinful greed I [God] was angry; I struck them and turned away in My wrath. Though stubborn, they follow the way of their hearts, I note how they fare and will heal them: I will guide them and mete out solace to them and to the mourners among them heartening, comforting words: It shall be well, well with the far and the near – said the Lord – and I will heal them.” (Isaiah 57:16-19)

This obscure passage contains a crucial message. While initially God is intent on punishing evil doers, He realizes that the world cannot withstand absolute justice, as Rashi points out: If I [God] bring afflictions upon man, he [man] will not exist for long.” God’s main thrust is rather to heal people and to bring them comfort. What is the significance of God’s healing? Rashi explains: “When a person’s spirit comes before God and becomes enveloped by God’s spirit, that person will have the strength to admit to his or her wrong-doings and set these wrongs aside. Then there will be no reason for God to contend with him or her. (adapted from Rashi)

The results of this process can be seen in the following midrash: “And so Isaiah prophesied: ‘Peace. Peace be to the one who is far and to the one who is near’, said the Lord, ‘And I will heal him.’ (Isaiah 57:19). And who is the one who is far? The person who has distanced himself [from God]. But [if that is the meaning of the one who is far] what healing does the one who is close need? But rather who are we talking about in this passage? It is the wicked person who has repented and consequentially becomes close to God. The verse talks about just such a person and should be read to mean: ‘Peace, peace to the one who was far and became close to God…[God will heal him]’” (adapted from Pesikta Rabati Parshah 44)

God has created the opportunity for people to draw closer to Him, whether they are already close to God or whether they are far away from God because of their waywardness. The message of Yom Kippur is that if a person yearns to be closer to God, then God will be available to assist him.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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