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The Day After Yom Kippur

Tuesday, 26 September, 2017 - 4:50 pm

One of the most misplaced Torah readings of the year seems to be the section we read on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. In this portion G‑d enumerates a long list of sexual activities from which a human being should abstain, including intimate relations with one's parent or sibling, bestiality, homosexuality, adultery, incest, etc.

And the question is strikingly dramatic: You are standing in synagogue during the holiest day of the year. You haven't enjoyed a morsel of food or a drink for close to twenty-four hours. This is the day on which we are compared to angels and the one time during the year in which we attempt to transcend our bodies and become, for 24 hours, all soul. And what must your ears pay heed to during these most spiritually charged moments of the year? Not to cheat on your wife, not to violate your mother, and not to be intimate with your cow!

The answer to this question may be discovered in the very name of the Torah portion: "Acharei," which means "after." In Judaism, the name of each Torah portion embodies the soul and the inner message of the entire portion. What then, is the meaning of “after? And how does this relate to Yom Kippur?

Yet it is here where we come to observe one of the most meaningful lessons in the Jewish approach to morality and spirituality. You may be flying high in heaven; your heart may be melting away in celestial ecstasy; your soul may be ablaze with a sacred fire and your heart may be swelling with inspiration. Yet you must remember that in one day from now or in one month from now as circumstances alter, you may find yourself in the muck, tempted toward profane and immoral behavior. Thus, at this critical moment of an inner spiritual explosion, you must stock up the resolve and commitment to retain your integrity during your lowliest moments that may lay ahead.

The Torah is teaching us that no matter how sublime you may feel at a particular moment in your life, you must remember the moment "after," the brute and beastly temptations that might emerge at a later point, under different circumstances. Never believe that what you have now will be yours forever. The tremendous holiness of Yom Kippur is only real if it will effect the "after" (as the name of the Torah portion), if it will leave its mark on the days and months that follow that may bring with them abominable urges and cravings that you could have not dreamt of during your high moments.

So as we solidify our New Year’s resolutions and prepare for Yom Kippur, let us take the message of “after” and perpetuate and internalize the holiness of the High Holidays throughout the rest of the year.

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