October 1, 2014
Boruch Merkur in #383, Arizal, Editorial, Yom Kippur

The ark was opened and the Torah scrolls were brought out before the hushed crowd. The solemn tune of “Kol Nidrei” welled forth from the silence. Yom Kippur had finally begun…

When the evening services came to a close and the congregants began to file out of shul, a distraught-looking young man, a student at the rabbinical college nearby, spotted his teacher in the crowd and approached him. “Rabbi,” he said, “am I ever glad to see you. Remember you taught us – in the name of the great mystic, the Arizal – that ‘all those who do not cry in the Ten Days of Repentance (the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, inclusively) have defective souls?’“

“I suppose you haven’t cried yet?” his teacher inquired humoring him.

“Not a drop.”

“Don’t worry,” the rabbi said, “Yom Kippur has just begun. You still have time.”

The following morning, after hearing the cantor’s stirring rendition of the Yom Kippur morning prayers, and after reading in the Torah of the death of the righteous children of Aharon HaKohen, the student turned to his teacher a second time: “Still nothing doing, Rabbi. My heart must be made of stone.”

But again his teacher tried to reassure him, “You still have the entire afternoon. Mark my words, before Yom Kippur is over, your heart will open up. For sure you don’t have a defective soul.”

But the Afternoon Services went by without a tear and the student began to become anxious, thinking, “Maybe the rabbi was wrong. Maybe I do have a defective soul!”

And then it was time for the N’ila Service, the last prayers of Yom Kippur, the time when the entire year’s fate is sealed, the time when the gates of Heaven are about to be “locked” (naul, as in N’ila) – those souls that have found merit are “locked in,” their fate sealed for the good; and those souls who have not found merit are “locked out.”

The student prayed and prayed, but to no avail. Despite his efforts he felt far from being moved to tears. He sought to console himself thinking that his efforts alone must be very precious in the eyes of the Alm-ghty; yet the thought of having a defective soul was overwhelming.

Even throughout the last few moments of Yom Kippur, when he joined the congregation in the cry, “HEAR O ISRAEL THE L-RD OUR G-D, THE L-RD IS ONE!” and “BLESSED IS THE NAME OF HIS GLORIOUS KINGSHIP FOREVER AND EVER!” and, “THE L-RD IS G-D!” and he heard the final blast of the shofar – even through all of this his eyes remained dry and his heart remained closed.

With only a few seconds to go, he turned to his Rabbi in despair.

The rabbi paused for a moment to think, and then he gave the diagnosis, “I’m sorry, I must have been wrong. It appears that you do have a defective soul…”

Finally, the student broke down in tears and cried like a baby, and his heart opened up to Hashem.

* * *

How is it fair that every Jew is expected to cry in the Ten Days of Repentance? Despite the fact that these days begin with Rosh HaShana – when we hear the cry of the shofar and crown the Alm-ghty as King of the Universe – and they continue through Yom Kippur – when we embitter ourselves through fasting, confession, and repentance to atone for our sins – we might feel that, nevertheless, we are still not so holy, we are still not so in tune with these matters to be affected by them to the point of tears. Only a tzaddik, only one who is completely righteous, could be guaranteed to be sincere enough in his repentance to be moved to tears. So how is this expected of the average Jew?

Would you believe that the Rebbe asks the exact same question – only in reverse! How is it fair that a tzaddik is expected to cry in the Ten Days of Repentance? It makes sense to say that a person who has transgressed at some point in the year has something to cry about – that is, if only he would take a moment to think about how his sin severs his connection to G-d, his true source of life, and how this creates the perception of distance from the Omnipresent – but someone who is completely righteous has no sins to repent. Therefore, how is he expected to cry in the Ten Days of Repentance?

At first glance, we might want to answer that the tzaddik is only moved to tears in the Ten Days of Repentance on account of the great joy he experiences in this holy time, when G-d is said to be especially accessible, as it says, “seek G-d when He is to be found, call out to Him when He is close.”

But this answer alone is not enough, because it does not fit in with the saying of the Arizal that “all those who do not cry…have defective souls.” This saying groups all those who do not cry throughout the Ten Days of Repentance in a single category, implying that every single Jew, regardless of his righteousness, is expected to cry in a like manner during this time. It is not enough to say that one group cries out of ecstatic bliss in their union with G-d, while the other group grieves over their sins and their distance from G-d.

Perhaps the tzaddik mourns during the Ten Days of Repentance over the fact that he was once in Heaven delighting in his Creator in the most sublime way imaginable, and now that he has “descended from his lofty place and became corporeal,” he is forced to serve Hashem in a much more mundane way than before. The emotional rapture with which he once served Hashem was far more pronounced when he was in Heaven, for a physical body simply cannot endure such intense delight. So the tzaddik grieves over his distance from Hashem on account of his descent from Heaven, just as the simple Jew grieves over his distance from Hashem on account of his sins.

But this explanation also falls short, because the tzaddik knows that it is G-d’s will that he should temporarily leave his Heavenly abode to serve Him in the physical world. And despite the fact that the experience of G-d is less pronounced in the physical realm, he is, nevertheless, following the will of G-d, and he, therefore, maintains his bond with G-d in spite of the descent. Hence, this is no reason to bring the tzaddik to tears.

The Rebbe elaborates that while the soul is sojourning in the corporeal world, although it is serving Hashem according to His will by doing so, it still undergoes a descent, and the descent is for the sake of a subsequent ascent. The tzaddik is bitter that he has not yet completed his task, the ascent. For as he exists in the physical world, he appears to be separate and distant from Hashem (even if it is only in the most subtle way). Therefore, during the Ten Days of Repentance, when G-d is said to be “close,” the tzaddik is confronted with his present distance from G-d, a descent, which causes him to cry bitterly.

And specifically then, when he grieves over his condition, his temporary distance from G-d, the ultimate elevation is achieved. For this is the greatest possible expression of the unity of G-d – that even when he is steeped in his mission in the physical world the tzaddik “seeks” and “calls out” to G-d.

And this experience is not limited just to tzaddikim, for even the simple Jew experiences this kind of grief, crying over his distance from G-d.

But ultimately, with the coming of Moshiach, G-d will “wipe away the tears from every face,” and we will experience the greatest unity with G-d – specifically here in the physical world – the pure and boundless joy of the true and complete Redemption.

[Adapted from Likkutei Sichos vol. 9, pp. 206-11.]

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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