The essential message of Yom Kippur is that everything depends on our spiritual condition. To the extent that we follow Hashem's will, our life will be good. The economy is not the determining factor. Politics is not the determining factor. Social issues are not the determining factor. The only thing that counts is our relationship with G-d. That's it.
In the Garden of Eden, 5775 years ago, the problems began with one rebellious act. Our ancient parents thought that they knew better than G-d how to run the world, and it has been downhill ever since, with only one exception: when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai. This medicine will heal the world. As the Gemora says, "I created the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) and I created Torah as its antidote." (Kiddushin 30b) All we need to do is take the medicine!
If we are tempted to blame Hashem for creating the Yetzer Hara, we would be making a big mistake, because our battle against the Yetzer Hara is what enables us to achieve greatness. We would not want to be puppets, after all. So we have free will, and that free will enables us to choose either good or, G-d forbid, evil. "Hakol bydai Shomayim. .... Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven." (Brachos 33b)
So Hashem created the Yetzer Hara, which enables us to rise to greatness by resisting it. Joseph became the savior of his People as well as Egypt, all because he had the strength to overcome a huge temptation. And on Yom Kippur, we spend the holiest day of the year completely engrossed in our determination to liberate ourselves from subjugation to the Yetzer Hara.
We are happy with our free will. We would not want it any other way, although it causes us endless problems. We keep getting ourselves into trouble, and we can blame our free will. I, for one, often do things which I later regret, even though I have made the same mistake endless times. If we would do only things which we would never regret, our lives would be so much better. But we often fail to make the calculation before we act. That is the work of the Yetzer Hara.
There is such a thing as a perfect being. It is called an angel. Angels visit us every Friday night, or at least that is when we welcome them. In fact, one would assume that they are around all the time; we are simply not aware of them. Our Father Abraham was able to see and converse with them. Our Father Jacob "sent angels" ahead of him to Esau (Genesis 32:4) Holy people are apparently very familiar with angels.
G-d creates angels to do His will; they do not have free will. That is why they have one leg. (See Berachos 10b) Two feet indicates that a person could go either way. Since we like our free will, we would not want to be angels. But the interesting thing is that, on Yom Kippur, we act like angels for twenty-four hours. Why do we do that?
It seems that ideally we should be like angels. We should behave with perfect obedience to Hashem and do His will perfectly. In that case, we would have the power of angels and their extreme closeness to the King of the Universe. They serve Hashem with perfect devotion, having not even the thought of rebellion. That's why we say the "Shemoneh Esreh" prayer with our feet together, because we are demonstrating at that point our wholehearted devotion toHashem and our determination to conquer our rebellious nature. We are imitating the angels.
On Yom Kippur we devote the entire day to imitating the angels. Angels don't eat or drink. They don't wear shoes. They "wear white" in the sense that they are pure of heart and deed. They do not have marital relations nor do they anoint themselves, since they are spiritual creatures.
On Yom Kippur we emulate them, but we could not sustain this behavior for more than a day, because we're not really angels; we're just trying to emulate their level of service to Hashem.
What's the point of acting like angels for one day?
I think one answer is that we should know that we are in fact able to attain the level of angels. It may be difficult but we can do it. We should know how to do it and then try to incorporate that level of service to Hashem and His Torah into our life. With our free will we try to imitate the angels, and actually, when we do that, we have achieved an even higher level than the angels, because they have no impediment; they have no Yetzer Hara. If we, with our Yetzer Hara, can emulate the angels then this is something incredibly impressive and important.
Angels live above the events of this world. They are not subject to the vicissitudes of our insane planet, although Hashem sends them here to accomplish what He wants done. We live in the world. We try to elevate it and fill it with sanctity, to bring spirituality into a material world. That is why we are trying to imitate the angels. They come from the World of Truth. We want to elevate ourselves so that our lives are influenced by the World of Truth and not the world of lies.
This has vital consequences for our lives here and now.
It is becoming clear that this world is operating in an increasingly insane manner and that our lives are becoming increasingly affected by insane events and people. If we don't behave like angels and have our heads in Heaven, so to speak, close to Hashem, we are going to have a very difficult time in this world. We are in danger of being eaten up, G-d forbid, by the forces that surround us in this world. As we say during this season, "When evildoers approach me, to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes against me ..." (Psalm 27)
In the recent Gaza War and its aftermath, we have seen a totally illogical reaction building in the world. It is very clear what happened. Israel was bombarded by thousands of potentially deadly missiles and we tried to protect ourselves by eliminating the source of the threat to our existence. The reaction, however, on the part of basically the entire world, was to cast us into the role of the ugly, evil, cruel aggressor. Of course, what we did, any normal person or nation would do: we defended ourselves. And, of course, in typical Jewish style, we fought with such compassion against our enemies that we often weakened our own fighting ability.
What's going on is illogical. There is no reason for one sane, normal person in the world to hate us. However, it is clear that basically the entire world does hate us. Why is this happening and what are we to do about it?
My friends, Yom Kippur is coming to tell us that, if we want to survive in this world, we have to imitate angels and stay close to Hashem. We have to use our free will to climb the spiritual ladder, to live the Torah, because if we base our hope for survival on living according to the standards of the material world around us, we don't stand a chance. We are completely outnumbered and overpowered by insane people! We need to elevate ourselves above the events of this world, because otherwise we are going to drown in it. We need to exist on the plane of angels and we need their power, their ability to soar above the world, their closeness to Hashem, and their imperviousness to the dangers of this world. That is why, at this season, we continually recite the words of King David, "One thing ... I shall seek: that I dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life." (Psalm 27)
The Torah tells us that we have two archetypal enemies, the descendants of Ishmael, today referred to as the Moslem nations, and the descendants of Esau, the Western nations. As we read recently in the Torah, "Hashem will scatter you among all the peoples, from the end of the earth to the end of the earth and there you will work for gods of others whom you did not know, you or your forefathers, of wood and of stone, and among those nations you will not be tranquil; there will be no rest for the sole of your foot...." (Deuteronomy 28:64-5) The words "gods ... of wood and stone" refer to the two spiritual systems of our enemies: "stone" to Islam (Mecca) and "wood" to the Western nations (the cross). (Vilna Gaon, Aderes Eliahu on Deuteronomy 29:16)
It is amazing, my friends, to contemplate what is really going on this world. In our first exile, Egypt, we were forced to build the cities of Pisom and Ramses (Exodus 1:11), two meaningless cities which would rise up and then sink into the swamp. We would keep building them and they would keep disappearing.
Most of us live today surrounded by the culture called "Edom," the so-called Western World, which has its roots in Ancient Rome and the descendants of Esau. They are the builders. Ancient Rome was famous for its great buildings, roads and viaducts. Today that culture builds great cities and skyscrapers, huge ships and giant planes and roads that stretch for thousands of miles across the landscape. There are also electronic highways, as well as worlds observed under the microscope and through the telescope. All these worlds Edom is trying to bring under his control. One of his crowning achievements was the World Trade Center.
On September 11, 2001 it was destroyed.
How was it destroyed? There is another culture, called Ishmael. Just as Edom's specialty is building, Ishmael's specialty is destruction. The nation descends from "pe're adam," the "wild ass of a man" (Genesis 16:12) who was its progenitor. This is the culture of destruction, and we see that today, all over Europe and other countries it is doing precisely that. In Israel, I don't have to tell you that its culture of destruction is hard at work trying to carry out the animalistic way of life which its progenitor bequeathed to his children. (See Redemption Unfolding, Chapter 15 for a treatment of the basic personalities of Ishmael and Esau and their descendants)
Throughout history, this dramatic clash of cultures has escalated. The ideology behind the deadly attack which shocked us on 9/11 is now spreading throughout the world. The two giant cultures, Ishmael and Esau are facing off, one building, one trying to destroy what the other has built, just as our prophets predicted thousands of years ago.
"In the end of days, the king of the south (Ishmael) will clash with the king of the north (Edom)... (Daniel 11:40) This is explained to mean "that the war of Gog and Magog will begin with strife between the nation of Edom (Esau) and the descendants of Ishmael." (Redemption Unfolding, Page 98-9)
"In the End of Days, after the Children of Israel have returned to their land, the children of Ishmael and the children of Esau will unite to attack Jerusalem. They will form a world coalition against the tiny nation of Israel. But something will go wrong with their plan. The religious beliefs of the children of Ishmael and the children of Esau will clash, and the two nations will collide and destroy each other. This is what is referred to as the War of Gog and Magog. Following this cataclysmic conflict, the Final Redemption of the Jewish People will occur with the coming of Messiah the Son of King David." (Malbim on Ezekiel the Prophet 32:17)
This, my friends, is the world we live in, and unless we can rise above it and assume our role as the "Holy Nation," the Priests of the World, the Children of the Almighty G-d, we are faced with the threat of being swallowed up in the cataclysmic conflict which is developing today.
That is why we must elevate ourselves to the level of the angels. Yom Kippur is not a one-day exercise, but rather, our survival course, so that we will be there to see the day when the GreatShofar blows and Moshiach ben Dovid arrives. This, it seems quite clear, will not be long in coming. I heard recently that a non-Jewish businessman said to his Jewish friend, "the problems of today's world are so serious and complex that the only solution is the Jewish Messiah." (Source: Rabbi Yaakov Zev Smith Shlita"h).
Yom Kippur is preparing us for the Final Redemption.
We are beginning a Year of Shmittah, in which we will leave the material world to fend for itself, in which we renounce ownership of the land and proclaim a Shabbos for the Land of Israel. It is a spiritual year, because it forces us to separate from the earth upon which we tread and which we think we "own." Shmittah teaches us that our sustenance, instead of arising from the earth, really descends from Heaven! Thus, in fact, we are like angels. Material things are controlled by the force of gravity and their natural direction is down. But to the extent that we are Torah People, we rise like angels on spiritual wings toward the Ruler of the Universe. Yom Kippur teaches us how to return to our essential nature, which is to ascend toward G-d. To that extent we will rise above the insane behavior which dominates the world. "Futility of futilities, said Koheles ... all is futile. What profit does man have for all his labor which he toils beneath the sun?"
What conclusion does Koheles draw? "The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Fear G-d and keep His commandments, for that is man's whole duty. For G-d will judge every deed - even everything hidden - whether good or evil."
May we all be sealed in the Book of Life!