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Day of Mercy

Even Jews who don't consider themselves particularly religious or traditional nevertheless respect the sanctity of Yom Kippur. People who don't go to synagogue all year show up on this day. Not only do they go to synagogue, they also fast, pray and refrain from work.

How did the tradition of Yom Kippur begin? In the desert, after the Jews sinned by making a golden calf, G-d became angry at them. Moses pleaded on their behalf, praying for eighty days continuously. On the tenth of Tishrei, G-d assented to Moses' prayer and forgave the Jews.

The Jews received word of their forgiveness with great joy. And G-d established for generations that every year, the Jews would fast on Yom Kippur and dedicate this day to prayer and atonement.

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It is important to bear in mind that the day dedicated to forgiveness is not the same day that the Jews sinned, but the day they received forgiveness. This teaches us that G-d is, in essence, kind and forgiving. His love for us is unlimited, and as long as we display a sincere readiness for teshuvah, G-d will accept our request. As our sages say, "Love covers over all faults." Despite our sins, G-d loves us and wants us to return to Him.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, compares G-d's love to the love that parents have for an only child born to them at an advanced age. This child will hold a special place in his parents' heart, even when he misbehaves. No parent will deny a child who knocks on the door and asks for forgiveness.

This is the relationship that we have with G-d. It is based on love, uninterrupted and unshakeable. G-d awaits our teshuvah on Yom Kippur, teshuvah with love. Just the fact that the Day of Atonement was set for the same day that G-d accepted our repentance in the desert reminds us to rejoice and be secure in G-d's forgiveness.

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The Jews in the desert immediately applied their joy to action. They eagerly threw themselves into the task of building a Mishkan, a tabernacle for G-d, a place where G-d assured them that He would "dwell in their midst."

The dwelling of the shechinah, G-d's presence, in the Mishkan expressed G-d's closeness to the Jewish people, and proved that G-d had fully forgiven the people for the sin of the Golden Calf. It demonstrated that despite everything, we are G-d's beloved children.

In the same way, we must also turn our joy into action. It's not enough to receive the news that G-d has accepted our prayers and then go on with life. We must use that relief as an impetus for action. We, too, need to erect a tabernacle for G-d--not a temporary structure in the desert, but the third and final Holy Temple.

As long as the Redemption has not yet come, we are unable to build it in actuality. But the Torah and mitzvot that we fulfill in exile cause the Temple to be rebuilt spiritually, and hasten the time when it will be built spiritually as well.

During these days of preparation for Yom Kippur, the feelings of awe and gratitude to G-d take on a special meaning, especially in light of the Rebbe's promise that our generation is the final one of exile and the first of Redemption. Now is the time to redouble our efforts and beseech G-d to reveal his love for us, with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, in actuality.
 

 


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