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Yom Kippur and Rehab

The Hida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806), in one of his discourses for Shabbat Shuba, recorded in his work Debarim Ahadim (#20), shows that the Aseret Yemeh Teshuba – the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur – correspond to the Ten Commandments. This special period, when G-d’s hand is outstretched, lovingly inviting us to return to Him and perform Teshuba, were given to us in the merit of our acceptance of the Ten Commandments, which encapsulate all 613 Misvot.

According to this correspondence, the Hida observes, the final day of the Aseret Yemeh Teshuba – Yom Kippur – corresponds to the final of the Ten Commandments – the prohibition of "Lo Tahmod" ("You shall not covet"). Yom Kippur, the most special day of the year, the day of unparalleled sanctity and closeness to Hashem, is associated specifically with "Lo Tahmod," the prohibition against jealousy and competitiveness.

How do we explain this connection? Why is Yom Kippur linked to "Lo Tahmod," as opposed to any of the other Misvot in the Torah?

To understand this connection, we need to understand the difference between bad habits, and addictions. Bad habits can be broken with relative ease. We all have bad habits, and we all occasionally make wrong decisions, and these can be corrected. It is not always easy, but it is not exceedingly difficult, either. We can introduce changes to our lifestyle, or just live with a greater awareness, in order to break these tendencies. Addictions, however, are so destructive precisely because they are so difficult to break. A conscious decision to change does not suffice to break an addiction. An addict needs rehab in order to break the addiction.

A similar distinction exists in the realm of spiritual ills. All sins are, of course, bad. But some destroy a person’s spiritual life altogether, because they consume a person and become like addictions. This is taught to us by the Mishna in Pirkeh Abot (4:21), which warns, "Ha’kin’a Ve’hata’ava Ve’ha’kabod Mosi’in Et Ha’adam Min Ha’olam" – "Jealousy, desire and honor bring a person out of this world." These characteristics are not only wrong, but terribly addictive and destructive. They consume a person like an addiction, leading him to act irrationally to his own detriment in his quest to compete with others, or in his pursuit of pleasure or prestige.

The Hida explains that a preoccupation with materialism is particularly injurious. When a person feels he needs to "keep up," to buy more and more, he ends up forgetting Hashem. We might consider an analogy to a person trying to listen to two different voices. If one is amplified, he cannot hear the other. Similarly, if a person "amplifies" his pursuit of material delights, then he cannot pay attention to spirituality.

And this, the Hida writes, is the purpose of Yom Kippur. We might say that Yom Kippur serves as our "rehab," as the time to "detox" our beings from our pursuit of luxury and physical comforts. This occasion is linked to "Lo Tahmod" because it is the time when we reverse this destructive tendency to excessively desire, crave, consume and indulge. We go to the opposite extreme, withdrawing entirely from physical enjoyment, and devoting ourselves exclusively on spirituality. This is our "rehab" session to recalibrate our beings, to restore our balance, to ensure that we moderate our indulgence in physical and material delights so we can devote ourselves to Hashem.

Parashat Behaalotecha- Rectification is Always Possible
Parashat Naso- Emuna First
Shavuot- Celebrating the Eternal Torah
Shavuot- The Challenge – and Rewards – of Torah Commitment
Parashat Behar- Experiencing the Sweetness and Delight of Torah
Parashat Emor- Keter Shem Tob 'The Crown of Good Reputation'
Parashat Ahare Mot- Planting Our Spiritual Trees
Parashat Shemini- Respect and Reverence in the Synagogue
Pesah: Redemption Then and Now
Pesah- Its A Mirage
Parashat Vayikra- The Triple Sin of Dishonesty
Parashat Pekudeh- Counting the Things That Matter
Parashat Ki Tisa- The Sanctity of Every Jew
Purim and the Sale of Yosef
Parashat Terumah- The Torah’s “Footsteps”
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