Yom Kippur 5772
Yom Kippur (Leviticus ch. 16 )
Yom Kippur is considered by all Jews as the solemnest day of the year. It is the day we stand before God all day long in prayer; we appeal for forgiveness for our errors and plan to improve ourselves in the coming year.
A key Torah verse is the following.
"But on the tenth day of this seventh month it is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict you souls; you shall sacrifice a fire-offering to Hashem."
But - RASHI: All "buts" and "onlys" (Hebrew "achim" and "rackim" ) in the Torah are restrictive terms. [Here the restriction means] the day atones only for those who repent but not for those who do not repent.
To get a better sense of what Rashi has said let us compare his comment to the Rashbam's comment on this verse.
But on the tenth day - Rashbam: On the other holidays work for food [preparation] is permitted, while other work was forbidden, but on Yom Kippur which is a day of affliction, all work is forbidden as on the Sabbath.
[NOTE: The Torah, before discussing Yom Kippur, discussed other holidays where food preparation was permitted.]
A Question: How do Rashi and the Rasbam differ in their understanding of the word "but"?
DIFFERENCES IN UNDERSTANDING THE WORD "BUT"
An Answer: Did you notice that Rashi used the word "but" to exclude what was mentioned after it ("it is a day of atonement" only for those who repent), and the Rashbam used the word "but" to exclude what was mentioned before it, the previous holidays?
The word 'BUT' can be used to exclude and be in opposition to what was said before it or it can be in opposition to what is said after it. The normal, ordinary (p'shat) use of "but" is to be in opposition to what was said before it. As a teacher might say: "We will go on trip next week but not those who misbehave." That is the usual use of "but." The Rashbam chose this meaning for the word "ach." On all the holidays cooking is permitted but not Yom Kippur.
P'SHAT AND DRASH IN INTERPRETATION
Rashi, on the other hand, diverges from the ordinary use of this word. He says it restricts what comes after it. This is more on the level of drash. It is considered drash because when we do this, it is not clear precisely what we are to exclude. Rashi says atonement is excluded from those who do not repent. But conceivably it could exclude any number of ideas. For example it could exclude someone who is seriously ill ("pikuach nefesh") from fasting. This, in fact, is how the Talmud interprets the same word "but" ("ach") in Exodus 31:13 in relation to observing the Sabbath. So only with the tradition passed down by the Rabbis can we know exactly what the drash excludes. For drash we need the Rabbis' help; not so for p'shat interpretation. We can figure out p'shat on our own.
Seeing that Rashi chose drash and not p'shat interpretation as did his grandson, the Rashbam, what would you ask?
A Question: Why did Rashi abandon p'shat and opt for drash here? Can you explain Rashi's choice?
An Answer: There may be several reasons Rashi made his choice.
First of all, on Yom Kippur it says no "melacha" can be done, whereas on the other holidays it says no "meleches avoda" can be done. (See for example above verse 23:7.) We understand "melacha" to mean "any work" while "meleches avoda" has been translated as "laborious work." So "melacha" means any work even if not laborious – for example, cooking. So Rashi may have thought that the Torah's wording alone teaches that no cooking may be done on Yom Kippur. Thus there was no need to interpret the "but" as excluding that.
THE MORAL MESSAGE
Another reason may be suggested for Rashi's choice of interpretation here. It is the educational, moral, message that Rashi wanted to convey. We are not to think, Rashi says, that the mere occurrence of Yom Kippur guarantees our atonement. No! We must also repent. Without repentance Yom Kippur is a sham. It is as if one immerses in a Mikva to become spiritually pure while at the same time holding an impure rodent in his hand, as the Rabbis put it. Hypocrisy, in a word. Repentance is central, basic and essential to all the religious events we perform on Yom Kippur.
May we all be worthy of a complete atonement on this Yom Kippur.
Best wishes for a Healthy, Peaceful New Year for all Israel.
Shabbat Shalom and a G'mar Chasimah Tovah,