by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – April 23, 2015
In the Torah portion of Acharei, we read (Vayikra 16:30), “For on this day [Yom Kippur] he shall provide atonement for you to purify you from all your sins; before G-d shall you be purified.”
As regards the concept of G-d’s purifying us from our sins and past wrongdoing, the famous Tanna R. Akiva is quoted as saying (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b), “Happy are you [people of] Israel! Before Whom are you purified? Who purifies you? Your Father in heaven!”
The significance of this exclamation of R. Akiva is elaborated upon in a comment of Ohel Yaakov on the aforementioned verse, cited by Ma’ayana shel Torah: When a doctor treats a patient, he generally does not pay an inordinate amount of attention to the pain that the treatment itself causes the patient. He will basically provide the treatment necessary with, perhaps, a polite apology for whatever inconvenience it will cause the patient. This scenario, however, changes drastically in the event that the patient is the doctor’s own son or daughter. If a doctor needs to treat his own “flesh and blood,” the doctor will generally look for every possible means to reduce the suffering entailed in the treatment of whatever ails the child. G-d, too, as our Father in heaven, like the father who treats his or her own child, does not only look to purify us and “let the chips fall as they may.” G-d, as our Father in heaven, seeks to provide us the means to purify ourselves from our sins in as least painful manner as possible. Towards this goal, G-d has provided a day each year, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) for us to sincerely beseech Him and resolve to alter our actions.
In a similar fashion, our Sages comment concerning the verse earlier in the Torah portion of Acharei (Vayikra 16:16) that reads, “And he shall bring atonement upon the Sanctuary for the impurities of the children of Israel and for their willful sins among all their sins, and so shall he do for the Tent of Meeting that dwells with them amid their impurity.” Our Sages reassure us (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 57a), “Even when they are impure, the Divine Presence rests among them.” G-d, as our Father in heaven, not a distance autocrat, rests among us and involves Himself in our lives.
When reciting the Hallel on Rosh Chodesh (the first of the Hebrew month) and on Jewish holidays, we are reminded, in the words of the great ruler of Israel King David (Tehillim 113:5-6), “Who is like the L-rd our G-d enthroned on high. Who descends to gaze upon that which is in the heavens and on the earth?”
G-d, while He is most exalted, is not distant. As our Father in heaven, G-d, so to speak, lowers Himself to care for us, His children, and seek the means to help us reach the greatest heights that He wishes us to achieve. He cares for us like a devoted Father. Let us care like His devoted children.