Yom Kippur 5779 - Vision of Greatness

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 09/17/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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On Yom Kippur we magically transform into angels. We recite aloud that expression that is otherwise the exclusive domain of angels, ‘Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all of eternity.’

But aren’t we greater than angels? Wasn’t that Moshe’s response to the angels who questioned the wisdom of giving the Torah to mortals, when he convincingly asserted that humans who solely struggle against physical urges in making valiant free-willed choices, are clearly superior to angels, and well deserving of receiving the Torah that addresses issues of material challenge?  

So why are we striving to be angels?

The Zohar reveals that the Ish Iti, the designated man, who was charged with dispatching the he-goat off the cliff towards Azazel, casting with it our sins, was uniquely suited to this mission insofar that he was a ra ayin, possessed of an evil eye. The force we seek to eradicate in this service  is the  angel Samael, who is also identified as the Ish Ra Ayin, a evil eyed man. The Ish Iti had one eye grotesquely larger than the other, tinged with blue, overgrown eyebrows that obscured his vision and was incapable of seeing straight. ‘The master is accompanied by its servant’, is what is being played out here in the understanding of the Zohar. (Tzror HaMor)

Is the epitome of sin and evil symbolized simply by his ‘stingy eye’? Is that the starting point for all that is evil?

Bilaam who sought to curse the Jewish nation is confronted by an angel who situates himself לשטן, to  impede him. These three letters allude to the נפש שפלה, meek soul, עין טוב, good eye, and רוח נמוכה, humble spirit, the legacy of Avraham that conquers the greedy soul, evil eye and arrogant spirit of the disciples of Bilaam.

In every encounter in life there are two instinctive reactions. Firstly, what’s in it for me in promoting my standing and stature? Can I make an alliance that may be to my advantage? Secondly, is there any material or physical benefit in the situation at hand. Can I stand to gain some enjoyment or pleasure therein?

That attitude stems from a stingy view of the world where one perceives it merely from a viewpoint of selfish gain. It is rooted in a evil eye, that sees the world as being here to serve ‘me’ and ‘my’ needs only.

This is the poisonous seed that division, conflict and ultimately rejection and destruction all stems from.

An עין טובה, a good eye, is one that sees a world of opportunity; to inspire, elevate and devote to selflessly, in making it a better place that becomes a repository for the Honor of Heaven.

The word עין is often used to describe a natural fountain that flows outwardly, providing refreshing water.

One possessing a healthy eye sees a world where every engagement provides an opportunity to infuse it with meaning and purpose.

Ben Azzai who taught us not to be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of anything, for you have no person without his honor and anything without its place, wasn’t just instructing us to be cautious in how we face people and circumstances, but rather to embrace life and all its marvelous possibilities, for every moment and experience is laden with opportunity to make it a friendly and warm place. G-d has provided us with  a plethora of prospects to discover a beautiful world and promote its exquisite unity of purpose, to make it a ‘world of friendship’. (Rav Wolbe)

An angel is described as a being that ‘sees’ but is not ‘seen’. It’s not as much about his invisibility as much as is about his mission of flowing outward without any personal goal of ambition for stature nor for the pursuit of pleasure. It is solely the goal to promote G-d’s inspiring and benevolent presence.

We usually recite Baruch Shem silently for we are afraid perhaps due to our many sins we haven’t earned that supremacy over the angels. But on Yom Kippur where we refrain from work, putting aside our personal ambitions, and hold back from engaging in the pleasures and comforts we share with animals, asserting we are focused on our mission in celebrating the gift of our unique greatness in bearing the banner of G-d’s Torah and warmth to the world, as no other being can, we rightfully and loudly exclaim: Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuso L’Olam Va’ed, Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all of eternity. (RSRH)

The introductory words in that marvelous prayer Ata Konanta, that describes the detailed service of Yom Kippur in the Temple, begins with an overview of history, from Man’s creation, bemoaning his sin, and the subsequent follies of men until the appearance of the Patriarchs and their seed, culminating with a description of  Aharon, the holy one, suited to the task of representing the nation, atoning for their sins, dressed like the  angel Michoel who ministered above.

Aharon perceived the world through his ‘good eye’ utilizing his love for humanity to validate, encourage and uplift all who entered his space, pursuing and loving peace and promoting G-d’s loving Torah to a world of conflict and descent.

He ‘saw’ others; the world around him and what he could to to enthuse it with love and peace, but never was in it for any personal gain or fame. In that sense he was a true ‘angel of service’.  

Ben Azzai also asserted that greater than Rabbi Akiva’s rule that man should love his fellow man as himself, is the adage Zeh Sefer Toldos Adam, This is the account of the descendants of  Adam.

The Chosid Yaavetz explains that just as a physical Sefer Torah is only worthy if each of its intricate details are wholly intact, so too our lives which are the expression of a Living Torah, which is precisely planned and altered to allow each one of us to bring our unique contribution to the world, is incomplete unless we rise to each opportunity and every individual we encounter and infuse those moment with the precepts, values and enthusiasm of G-d’s word, creating a virtual Torah.

The Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies once a year. He encounters the two angelic figures, the Keruvim, the Cherubim that alight the Holy Ark. This represented the bond between man and G-d and that between man and man. Kruv, cherub, literally means a young child, representing the innocence and purity in the eyes of a child.

The word for a young boy is נער, each letter stands for: נפש, soul; עין, eye; רוח, spirit.

The key to becoming like an angel is if we return to our inherent innocence. As we ‘mature’ and traverse through life, we become enamored with self, encumbered by physical urge, and quickly forget the purity of our youth when we engaged with others absent of a spirit of jealousy, where we sated our appetites without need to discover new and forbidden pleasures to soothe our souls. When we were able eye and appreciate the experiences of life and the beauty of others, regaling in the beautiful bonds we made and the happiness we experienced, never tainted by fear of missing out of better or other pleasures.

We must no longer, bring into our circle only those we stand to gain from; engage only in activities that bring us some tangible pleasure; stingily hoard our greatness to promote ourselves.

We must discard our cynicism towards life and others and our obsessive absorption with self.

We must expand the universe.

We must return to our innate innocence, caring for others not merely out of pity but with the motive to discover and appreciate their strengths, creating a world of genuine care and true friendship; to ponder the simple pleasures of life without a need to grow our appetites; to see life as a divine opportunity to bring our unique persona in defining the world with the enthusiasm of serving G-d.

We will never be able to fly like an angel, but we can transcend their greatness in the manner which we live our daily lives expressing in each moment of our lives the exhilarating privilege of infusing the world with the greatest of joys, exclaiming ‘Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all of eternity!’


בברכת גמר חתימה טובה,

צבי יהודה טייכמאן