Yom Kippur: The Greatest Gift
Hashem tells us to put aside bodily needs for one special day and to concentrate on binding our souls to Him. At least once a year, the soul deserves the final say...
"There were never such wonderful days for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur," the Gemara tells us. Sure, we all understand how the 15th of Av is a great day, for all the wonderful things that happened then. That's the reason it's called "Love Day", for it's an expression of Hashem's love for us. But what about Yom Kippur?
People dread Yom Kippur as a day of no eating or drinking. But, with only a bit of emuna and spiritual awareness, they should be rejoicing. Hashem tells us to put aside bodily needs for one special day and to concentrate on binding our souls to Him. We do that by way of prayer; that's why we spend the entire day in the synagogue. It's like spending the day with the King in His palace.
Prayer, like everything else, is a gift from Hashem. It reflects our innermost desires, particularly the desire to bind our souls to Hashem. The rest of the year, our bodies get in the way, but on Yom Kippur, our souls are free to soar. Our true desires surface from deep within.
Rebbe Nachman's once said to one of his pupils, "If you desire, you do; if you don't desire, you do not." The desire that Rebbe Nachman is referring to is the desire to pray. In yearning for holiness, desire is praiseworthy, but desire without prayer is not enough. In order to convert the desire for holiness to one's day-to-day practice, one must pray profusely to succeed in implementing what he desires. Yom Kippur gives us that opportunity.
Just as Yom Kippur is a special day of prayer, it's a special day of holiness. If holiness were something that the evil inclination wanted us to attain, one wouldn't need to pray at all, because anything the evil inclination wants a person to have is obtained by desire alone. There are no obstacles in the way of following the evil inclination's advice, as the Gemara tells us, "He who desires to contaminate himself, the path is opened for him." The evil inclination is delighted to help a person attain his evil desires and satiate his bodily appetites, while trampling the Torah on the way, Heaven forbid.
In stark contrast, holiness comes with stiff resistance. Desire isn't enough – one must pray tenaciously and not give up. Our desires for holiness are not fulfilled immediately, for when things come with difficulty, one's desire is tested. Does he sincerely want this? Extensive prayer gives a person the power to overcome all obstacles; it also creates a worthy spiritual vessel for receiving the additional, more intense Divine light of a higher spiritual level.
One who lacks prayer doesn't have the tools to obtain what he desires in holiness. He resembles a person who needs to traverse the sea, but he doesn't have a boat. Yet, someone who does have a good yacht might have challenges at sea with stormy weather and the like, but the better the boat, the better his chances of reaching the other shore safely.
Hashem doesn't demand anything from a person that he can't do. In fact, Hashem's demands can be fulfilled by anyone, for the Torah says, "This thing [the Torah's command] is very close to you – it is in your mouth and heart to do it" (Deuteronomy 30:14); the Torah is telling us that by way of prayer, we can readily fulfill all of its commandments.
Continuing the line of thought that one who lacks prayer lacks free choice, one who lacks a daily hour of personal prayer lacks free choice. To obtain all our spiritual needs and to rectify our spiritual deficiencies, we need prodigious amounts of prayer. Without an hour a day of "Yom Kippur", devoted to personal prayer and teshuva, holiness and holiness-related goals are tremendously expensive because of their inestimable value; their spiritual price-tag is consequently very high. Prayer is the spiritual currency that has the purchasing power to obtain whatever we need. One must simply pay the required price for whatever he is seeking.
Conclusively, a person's entire teshuva depends on prayer. One has no true power other than prayer. Only Hashem can help us obtain what we need, overcome obstacles and give us the right advice. Only Hashem gives us genuine wisdom and understanding. Only Hashem can give us our spiritual health and our physical well-being. We must therefore devote as much of our efforts to prayer as we possibly can. Teshuva is prayer, not self-persecution, so start praying!
Take advantage of Hashem's greatest gift to us, this special Day of Atonement known as Yom Kippur, and may all your prayers be answered for the very best. Gmar Chatima Tova!