THE HIGH HOLY DAYS

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Moshe Glikson

The few distinguished days of the year, the days of remembrance and the great holidays,
are of high importance. During these days, an ordinary Jewish person experiences,
depending on his spiritual ability, the nation’s tradition, and joins through specific actions
and symbols, mitzvoth aseh and mitzvoth lo-taaseh, to the chain of acceptance of the
generations. However, symbols and mitzvoth are not enough. Most of their spiritual and
essential value is granted through the acknowledgment of their essence and soul, by the
self-criticism that one does. Mitzvoth require intention.

The first ten days of the beginning of the year, their symbols and mitzvoth constitute one
unit in terms of the moral and religious content they bear. The day of remembrance finds
its conclusion and completion on Yom Kippur and focuses on three religious and moral
principles proclaimed by Judaism. These are the three main sections of the Jewish
religious recognition that is beautifully expressed in the Rosh Hashanah Musaf service:
Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot. The principle of Malchuyot (God’s sovereignty) is the
foundation and the source of the moral world order. The principle of zikaron
(remembrance) is related to the lives of the public and the individual, which is also the
principle of justice and responsibility: “He appointed it in Joseph for a testimony…”, “You
bring back memories engraved in awareness, conceiving each spirit, each breath, each
soul.” And the principal of personal, national and global redemption, whose symbol is the
sound of the Shofar of both the Giving of the Ten Commandments and the arrival of the
messiah: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning…”, “The
great trumpet will be blown; they will come, who are about to perish in the land of
Assyria, and they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt….”, “All you people of the world
and dwellers of the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it; when
a trumpet sounds, you will hear it”. And these three principles1
, find their essence, the
guarantee of their existence in human life, on the Day of Atonement.

The religious sanctity of Yom Kippur stems mainly from a great moral and human
principle, which distinguishes the Torah in the world and which guarantees moral world
order and the human being’s moral responsibility, ascension and progress. The main focus
of Yom Kippur is the Teshuva, the human ability to make amends through self-awakening
and self-criticism and their product: morality. The principle of Teshuva is an adjusted
concept and makes a previous assumption of freedom and moral responsibility. A person’s
moral ability is in his hands, and even if he fails and falls, he is able to regain remedy and
resurrection. The Torah does not know an irreparable sin, a sin which is fermented in the
human blood with no cure, a sin from which there is no escape but the mercy of God. The
soul we are given is pure by nature, and if a person sins and impurity clings to him, he
does not get salvation and kindness from above randomly and by chance, for the path of
salvation is the path of Teshuva. For a man shall shake off his sins and create himself a
new heart and spirit. Ezekiel, who fiercely fought against the inherited sin (“The fathers
have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”) was the one who granted
the principle of Teshuva its sublime expression.

And the symbol of this principle is Yom Kippur. The religious idea behind Yom Kippur is
the moral idea of Teshuva, moral freedom and responsibility, of one’s ability to redeem his
soul. God does not purify the human being as a gift from above, but instead, it is the
human being who purifies himself before God: “… before the LORD, you will be clean
from all your sins.” This is the great Jewish renewal. “Rabbi Akiva said, ’Fortunate are
you, Israel! Before whom do you become purified? And who is it that makes you pure?
Your Father who is in heaven.’” This is the moral relation between man and his God.
When the human being purifies himself, his father who is in heaven helps him. As is said,
“Consecrate yourselves and be holy”. Some interpretations claim that the human being
cannot be purified by any entity, not even by a person close to God. The human being
shall not purify himself before any mediator, for purity is solely before God since God’s
sole purpose is the purifying of the human being.

A Jew who keeps Yom Kippur and its mitzvoth joins not only to the chain of generations
and the religious sanctity, which on this day encompasses his fellow brothers and sisters
across the world, but also symbolizes the great human and moral principle, the principle
of moral freedom and responsibility


1According to Rabbi Joseph Albo, author of Sefer HaIkarim (Book of Principles), there are three principles to Judaism: the existence of God, the revelation of God (the reward and punishment) and Torah from heaven. Rabbi Joseph Albo finds similarities between the three sections of the Musaf service (Malchuyout, Zichronot and Shofarot) and the three principles of the divine law.
The section of Malchuyot relates to the existence of God: “We therefore put our hope in You, Adonai, our God, that we may soon see the splendor of Your might…. You perfect the world under Your Almighty sovereignty. Then shall all humanity call upon Your name and turn all the wicked of the earth to You. All inhabitants of the earth shall know and understand that to You alone every knee must bend and every tongue must swear allegiance.”
The section of Zichronot relates to the revelation of God and His reward and punishment: “You remember things forgotten from the very beginning of time. There is no forgetfulness before the seat of Your honor.”
The section of Shofarot relates to the third principle which is Torah from Heaven: “You revealed Yourself to Your holy people in a cloud of glory, speaking to them.”

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