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Home » Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur: A Midrashic Account

Submitted by on November 2, 2005 – 2:22 amNo Comment | 3,200 views

A Stolen Gem

 The Midrash relates that “when Moshe ascended to the supernal abode he heard the angels singing the words 'Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuso Leolam Vaed' and upon his descent he taught it to the Jewish people. Why does Israel not proclaim these words in public? Says, Rabbi Asi, this is comparable to a man who stole a gem from the Royal palace and gave it to his wife. I implore you, he said to her, never wear this gem in public only in the privacy of your home. However, on Yom Kippur when they are pure as angels they proclaim these words in public.” (Midrash Rabba 2, 36)

On the surface this Midrash raises more questions then it answers. If this prayer belongs to the angels why did Moshe steal it? If we announce the theft on Yom Kippur what is the purpose of further stealth after  Yom Kippur? How does Yom Kippur enhance our purity?

The Jew and G-d

Immediately following the above account, the Midrash goes on to explain that there are five levels to the Jewish soul, of which the fifth and highest is named Yechidah. The Midrash tells of the intimate connection between Hashem and the Neshama, the Jewish soul, especially on the fifth and highest level. “Just as Hashem is alone… so too is the Neshama alone” (with Hashem.)

High Priest and the Angels

The Jerusalem Talmud, (Yoma 1, 5) teaches that when the High Priest entered the holy of holies, on Yom Kippur, he was alone with G-d, even the angels were not permitted entry. This is to say that the connection between Hashem and the Jewish soul at that moment was so intense that it was even beyond the spiritual capacity of angels. “Just as Hashem is alone… so too is the Neshama alone” (with Hashem.)

The Modern Day Connection

We don’t have our Bet Hamikdash today but in its place we have the prayers. We pray thrice daily. On Shabbat and holidays we add a fourth prayer. Yom Kippur is the only day in the year in which we add a fifth prayer. The fifth prayer represents Yechidah, the fifth level of the soul. The level revealed by the high priest in the holy of holies. The level, which the Talmud teaches, is beyond even the angels. The level, which the Midrash teaches, is intimately connected with G-d.

The Honest Thief

We now understand the secret behind the apparent theft. This holy prayer should only be recited by the most spiritually exalted beings. On its highest level, that of Yechidah, the Jewish soul is holier even than the angels, but this level is not evident throughout the year. We read the prayer to demonstrate that we are holy, only we read it in a soft voice to indicate that our holiness is not evident. On Yom Kippur when this level is revealed we proclaim our right to that prayer in a loud voice.

May we be inspired to appreciate the gift of this day and carry it with us through the rest of the year.

Gmar Chatimah Tova