Yom Kippur 5775 – Gilayon #870


SHABBAT SHALOM


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Yom Kippur

"And for the

sin we committed against thee of tale bearing"

(From the prayer

of confession on the Day of Atonement)

 

"Thou shall

not go about as a talebearer"

"Do not stand

idly over the blood of your neighbor. I am the Lord".

(Leviticus 19:17)

 

"Thou shall not go

about as a talebearer"

It is my opinion that it is

because all inciters of quarrel and those that relate evil talk "go" into

the house of their friends to spy out what they can see as evil, in order to

tell it in the marketplace, consequently, they are called "those who go

about spying," . And proof for my words is the fact that we do not find

tale bearing that is not written together with the term "going"; (e.g.),

"Thou shall not go as a talebearer"; "going about as

talebearers; they are brass and iron" (Jeremiah 6:28). But

other evil talk, there is not written concerning it "going"; "who

so slanders his neighbor in secret" (Psalms 101"5) "a deceitful tongue" (ibid 120:3); the tongue that speaketh

proud things" (ibid 12:4).

(Rashi

Leviticus 19:17)

 

"Thou shall not go up

and down as a talebearer among thy people" – Some say that one shall not be a talebearer, but

if one is privy to information that his colleague will be executed, wouldn't

one inform him so that he may be saved? On the contrary, it is as if you

yourself transgressed and killed him, as it is written "You shall not

stand idly over your neighbor's blood". You should inform him

immediately, and if not God will hold you accountable, as Solomon says in

Ecclesiastes "So don't overdo goodness" (Ecc 7:16) for

that is tale bearing.

"Thou shall not stand

idly over your neighbor's blood" – Tale bearing should not lead to any killing, for if it does, one can no

longer stand before God, even if he himself does not kill, it is as if he has

killed. He can no longer be subject to the laws of man but will be judged by

God alone. Furthermore, we learn from, "Thou shall not stand idly over

your neighbor's blood", that if one knows someone is being tried for

murder, every effort should be made to speak up in their favor and find some

merit in them, as it is written "I have waited ’til they stopped

speaking, ’til they ended and no longer replied." (Job 32:16) and as Nehemiah said, "As he opened

it all the people stood," meaning in silence.

(Rabbi Mordehai

HaCohen: Siftei Cohen, Leviticus)

 

Remember us for life, the king who loves life and inscribe us

in the book of life, for your sake, the living god

 

 

Forgiveness as Poetry

Benjamin Segal

Over

the centuries, the prayer book has "rediscovered" various psalms, including

them in appropriate slots in the liturgy. So it is with Psalm 130, a

psalm of forgiveness, first designated by(eighth century) tractate Sofrim for Yom Kippur, and then by Isaac Luria (the ARI) for

all ten days of repentance (before the morning kaddish

and barchu), a practice which continues to

gain popularity.

The

subject of Psalm 130 is sin-and-forgiveness.

The noun "forgiveness" is a late biblical word, appearing only here

in the singular and in Nehemiah and Daniel in the plural ("God of forgivenesses"). It is the first mention, then, of

what would become the object of much theological musing across all the

centuries. (As a verb, the root "forgive," s-l-ch, appears a number of

times earlier. It is of some interest that within the Bible "forgiving"

is always an act of God and never an act the man.)

This

is not, however, theology, a systematic attempt to describe or proscribe

forgiveness. It is, rather, what we might call pre-theological musing, an

attempt through poetry to reflect on forgiveness as we confront it in our lives:

its import, its difficulties, its uncertainties. (Religious search and angst

are best reflected in poetry. Theology is articulated in prose.)

To

appreciate this psalm, we must first note a number of poetic techniques used by

Psalms. These include the import of repetition in defining sections, a careful

subtlety in use of words, and a clear preference for coexistent levels of

interpretation (a reflection of the complexity of life). Form helps determine

meaning.

 

Psalm 130

1. A Song of Ascents. From the depths I call You,

O LORD,

2. O Lord, hear

my voice; let Your ears be attentive to the voice of

my pleas for mercy.

3. If You would

keep account of sins, O LORD, Lord, who could endure?

4. For forgiveness is Yours, so that You may be held in awe.

5. I hope, LORD;

my soul hopes; I await His word.

6. My soul – for

the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, watchmen for the morning.

7. O Israel, wait

for the LORD, for with the LORD is loving kindness and with Him, great

redemption,

8. And He will

redeem Israel

from all its sins.

 

Words and Phrases

Later

interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, have discovered in Psalm 130 reflections of their belief and theological

systems, often seeing it as a didactic psalm. None of these approaches, however,

captures the essence of the psalm. To appreciate the psalm, one must note its

various structures, but even before proceeding to them, I note a number of basic

and revealing terms.

"Depths"

– in the Bible, this term can be a reference to a psychological state, to the

seas or to death. All three inform the present usage, where there is danger, helplessness

and apprehension. In addition, there may be a degree of irony here, for the

speaker does set these "depths" against the title of the psalm, "Song

of the Ascents."

Verse

6 is magnificently multivalent. Here the metaphor "(more than) watchmen

for the morning" could refer to a very wide (and mutually exclusive) range

of nighttime situations: terror, quiet, peacefulness, anxiety, cold, fear, weariness,

and/or impatience. Similarly, it is unclear whether "morning" simply

implies an end to whatever it is that "night" implies or is another

specific reference (assured change, light as happiness, relief at the end of a

work shift, the ability to rest, etc.). In any case the focus of the verse is

on the nighttime, which seems to weigh very heavily on the guards.

"Great

redemption," marks (like the use of "forgiveness" as a noun) a

new stage in Jewish thought. This is the first and only time in the Bible that "redemption"

is the extraction from sin. (It is usually extraction from a much more concrete

difficulty such as debt, slavery, childlessness, etc.) By implication, then, "sin"

is seen as an entrapment, and this usage reinforces other biblical uses of the "sin"

which imply "guilt" and befits such verses as "indeed, I was

born with iniquity," (Psalm 51:7),

implying a condition more than an act. The speaker is caught.

 

The Primary Structure

Psalm

130 presents itself in two sections.

Verses 1 and 2

repeat "voice," a reflection of the text's desperation. The

second section, verses 3 and on, is enclosed by "sins," and presents

a fascinating reflection on man facing God from within sin, while seeking

forgiveness. In both sections, particularly in verses 2 and 5, there is no

small degree of irony, for the emphasis seems to be on uncertainty, and the

degree of desperation. (On the effect of the last two verses, see below.) As to

the division into these two parts, one could see the second section as the very

content of the plea for mercy mentioned at the beginning. (This is slightly

difficult, however, in that the second section really includes no request!) Concerning

the second section, literarily it is fascinating in that both "forgiveness"

and "hope" seem trapped within the opening and closing mentions of "sins,"

adding to the sense of desperation.

When

the speaker addresses the people in the last two verses, the import is less

than clear. As he asks them to wait and reassures them, one wonders whether he

seeks to teach them or to reassure himself. Further, did he share with his

audience the uncertainty inherent in verses 5 and 6? If so, why would he assume

that they would accept his reassurance, and if not, why did he hide his

internal rumblings?

 

Concomitant Structures

At

the same time, there are other structures built into Psalm 130 which allow for parallel readings and insights, these

no less valid than those noted above. Literarily, these are based on

repetitions in verses 1-2, 5-6, and 7-8,

allowing one to read the psalm as four sets of two verses. In that regard, there

are no less than four possible readings.

a.             

On one hand, these could be alternating pairs, as the speaker

concentrates on himself (verses 1, 2,

5, 6) and on God (verses 3, 4, 7, 8). This is a most effective reflection of

desired dialogue, set against the ominous background

that here only man speaks to God, not the opposite.

b.             

The poem can be read, however, as two equal halves, desperation

followed by expectation. (This requires, however, a very positive understanding

of the verbs and implications of verses 5 and 6.) Such a positive reading is

almost a counter assertion to the entrapped feeling noted earlier.

c.             

Those divisions lead, in turn, the two different overviews, both of

which are found among commentators. Some see this poem as progressing toward

ever greater levels of assurance, culminating in the last line, similar to the

effect of the previous paragraph.

d.             

There is, however, an exactly opposite suggestion, based on the

interplay among characters. The psalm begins as a dialogue between the speaker

and God, but subsequent references to God appear in the third person, not the

second person, and after that, the speaker as "I" disappears. The

final verses are a reflection from afar, on a national rather than a personal

level. This would suggest a poem which progresses from intimacy to distance.

All

of these, of course, stand as opposed to the primary division, which is static,

a desperate call for forgiveness from within the inner, trapped world of sin.

 

Sin and Forgiveness, Poetry

and Theology

The

most egregious mistake made by commentators of Psalms is the comparison of

interpretations, and the insistence that the poet implies only one level of

meaning (which, of course, the commentator understands!). The opposite is the

case. The poetry of Psalms allows and demands concomitant readings, words

expressing much more than they could ever do as prose. Feeling

trapped by sin and feeling sure we can be forgiven are not

contradictions, but two accurate reflections of how we feel.

It is

most appropriate, then, that Psalm 130

has been inserted in the High Holiday liturgy. The Psalm addresses the heart, not

the mind. We as human beings, facing guilt and seeking forgiveness, are

confused, doubtful, hopeful, certain and uncertain all at the same time, or at

least in alternating moments. Later theologies would provide instruction and

reassurance. The beginning of the process, however, is to confront one's point

of departure, as reflected in this psalm. One needs no redemption if one is not

caught in the depths of sin.

Rabbi Benjamin Segal is the author of a

new commentary on Psalms, A New Psalm: The Psalms

as Literature, published this month by Gefen

Publishing and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. His The Song of Songs, A Woman in Love was

published in 2009 (Gefen).

 

 

Our father, our king, be gracious to us and answer us, though we have

no merits, deal charitably with us and kindly with us and save us.

Then the Lord said: "You

cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which

appeared over night and perished overnight. And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city, in

which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know

their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well. (Yonah 4:10-11)

God has mercy on man and beast, that

is to say, on man as on the beast, and this reminds us of the

parallel verse, You save man and beast, Lord (Tehillim 36:7). That is to say, God's mercy and kindness are

completely independent of man and his deeds, as the prophet said, for

my plans are not your plans nor are My ways

your ways… But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high

above your ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God's relationship to man and to the world

are none other than what is termed "the Divine matter" which is above

all human actions and behavior, even above man's acts of repentance.

(Y. LeibowitzSihot al Hagei Yisrael Ve'Moadav, pg. 193)

 

Conciliation

Is A Complex Process and Does Not Take into Consideration "Who

Is Right"

Yom

Kippur does not atone for social transgression until one placates his fellow – this

is how Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya expounded "Of all your sins before

God shall you be cleansed" – Sins between man

and God are atoned for by Yom Kippur; sins between man and his fellow, Yom

Kippur does not affect atonement until he placates his fellow.

(Mishnah Yoma 8:9)

 

Rav once had an altercation with a slaughterer of

livestock. The latter did not come before him [for reconciliation]. On Yom Kippur Eve, Rav said: "I will go to him myself to

appease him."

[On

the way] Rav Huna met him and asked: "Where is the

master going?" He replied: "To reconcile with so and so". He

said: "Abba is going to commit murder." He went anyway. The

slaughterer was seated, hammering an ox head. He raised his eyes and saw him. He

said to him: "Abba, you? Go away. I have nothing in common with you!"

At that moment, a bone broke loose, lodged itself in his throat, and killed him.

(Yoma 87a)

 

"Rav once had an altercation with a

slaughterer of livestock". The text does not tell us who was right or who

was wrong. The commentators unanimously agree that Rav was in the right. But the butcher did

not come on Yom Kippur eve to ask forgiveness of Rav. Rav therefore felt it was his duty to

bring forth this demand for forgiveness, for the sake of the offender: he

decided to appear before the person who insulted him. Here we have a reversal

of obligation. It is the offended party who worries about the forgiveness that

the offender does not concern himself with. Rav goes out of his way to provoke a

crisis of conscience in the slaughterer of livestock. The task is not easy!

Rav's disciple, whom he meets on the way, is aware

of this. This disciple, Rav Huna,

asks: "Where is the master going?" "To reconcile with so and so." To which Rav Huna replies, without illusions: "Abba

(familiar name of Rav) is going to commit a murder." Rav Huna is convinced that the slaughterer will

not be moved by Rav's gesture; fault of the slaughterer will

only be aggravated. Excessive moral sensitivity will become the cause of death. The game of

offense and forgiveness is a dangerous one. But Rav ignores the advice of his pupil. He

finds the slaughterer at his professional occupation. He is seated and

hammering an ox head. He nevertheless raises his eyes to insult once again the

person coming humbly toward him. "Go away, Abba. I have nothing in common with

you."

The

expression is marvelously precise and underlines one of the essential aspects

of the situation. Mankind is spread out different levels. It is made up of

multiple worlds that are closed to one another because of their unequal heights.

Men do not yet form a single humanity. As the slaughterer keeps strictly to his

level, he keeps on hammering the head; suddenly a bone breaks loose from it and

kills him. It is certainly not of a miracle that the story wants to tell us, but

of this death within the systems in which humanity closes itself off. It also

wants to speak to us of the purity which can kill, in a mankind as yet

unequally evolved, and of the enormity of the responsibility which Rav took upon himself in his premature

confidence in the humanity of the

Other.

(From E.

Levinas: Nine

Talmudic Readings, translated

by Annette Aronowicz, pp. 22-23)

 

Between man and his fellow man

 On the eve of Yom Kippur, one should devote

his attention towards placating all those against whom he has sinned, since Yom

Kippur atones for sins between man and God, but Yom Kippur cannot atone for

sins between man and his fellow, until he assuages him. Even if he merely

teased him with words, he must appease him, going to him. If he is not appeased

the first time, he must return again and a third time. Every time he should

take three people with him to assuage him, in order that he forgive him, And if,

after three attempts, he will not be appeased, there is no reason to continue

cajoling him. These words are true of his fellow, but in the case of his rabbi,

he must bring many friends (to intercede) until he is assuages. If he dies, he

shall bring ten people and stand them by his grave and say, "I have sinned

to the God of Israel and to so-and-so whom I have offended. This is done so

that the heart of each person of Israel will be content with

his fellow, so that there will be no room for Satan to speak against them.

(Tur

Ohr Haim, 606)

 

 

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