The delightful smell of improvement
…עולה אשה ריח ניחוח
…an elevated fire offering, a pleasant smell
As we begin the book of Leviticus, it’s worthwhile to investigate the deeper meaning behind Temple offerings. Throughout the Chumash, offerings are referred to as a ריח ניחוח, a pleasant smell. These verses suggest that offerings are something positive, something to be encouraged. However, we find verses in the later prophets that discourage offerings. Hashem tells the people: “For what purpose do I need your abundant offerings?”. Hashem sounds like He isn’t interested in us bringing offerings. What changed?
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The most powerful day
כי-ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם לפני יקוק תטהרו
For on this day [of Yom Kippur] it shall be atoned for you, to purify you, from all of your sins; purify yourselves before Hashem!
Yom Kippur is one of the most intense days of the year. We spend the entire day involved in prayers and supplications. We fast, and refrain from physical pleasures. We (hopefully) perform teshuvah, repentance with sincerity and a broken heart. With this, we hope to repair the damage we inflicted to our relationship with our Creator. After all of this, a person may wonder: How can I know that my repentance was accepted?
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Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email email@example.com.
The power of tzedakah
ותשובה ותפלה וצדקה מעבירין את רע הגזרה
Repentance, prayer, and tzedakah can remove the evil of the decree
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur share the famous Unesaneh Tokef prayer. It is one of the most moving and powerful prayers in the High Holiday liturgy. What makes it so memorable is not only the chilling tune, but the intense words themselves. It reminds us that during these days we are like sheep being assessed by their shepherd. On Rosh Hashanah, it is written who will live and who will perish, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. What gives the Unesaneh Tokef prayer the power it has undoubtedly comes from its origins. It was written by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz about 1,000 years ago. The Church insisted that he convert to Christianity, and after refusing, they brutally amputated his body. Before he died, he requested to be carried to the Ark during the Rosh Hashanah prayers. He recited the words of Unesaneh Tokef, and died.
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Breaking free from inertia
אף מי שאינו נזהר מפת של עכו”ם, בעשרת ימי תשובה צריך לזהר
Even someone who normally eats [kosher] bread baked by a non-Jewish [baker], during the ten days of repentance one must be stringent [to only eat bread baked by a Jew]
The seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, including the holidays themselves, are known as the aseres yemei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance. They are days reserved for introspection and correcting past faults, with the hopes to better one’s behavior for the upcoming year. There is a halacha, Jewish law, that one should try to take on extra chumros, stringencies, during this time. It’s not meant to be a lifetime commitment; just for these ten days. The paradigm example that is given is that for these ten days one should be careful to only eat bread baked by a Jew.
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