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Vayikra- Making the unholy Holy

The essence of a Jew’s life is about taking his daily activities and infusing them with Kedusha [Holiness]. Every act that a person does should be for the sake of Heaven.

As the Kotzker Rebbe explains “V’ANSHEI-Kodesh Te’heyu Li” – “Holy PEOPLE you shall be to Me”. I want you to be both ‘holy’ and ‘people’, not holy angels. That is why we believe that a person can sanctify the physical. One can take a meal and turn it into a Shabbos meal. One can take any act and elevate it to a higher form. That is our goal. “Through all your paths, know Him” [Mishlei- Proverbs 3:6]. By infusing all of our activities — our eating and sleeping and drinking and work — with holiness, we can become close to G-d.


In the familiar dictum of the Zohar, the Hebrew name for Yom Kippur Yom HaKipPURIM — alludes to the similarity between two seemingly dissimilar days. Yom HaKipPURIM [literally means] “a day that is like Purim.” The only difference in Hebrew spelling between the two names being an initial kaf in Kippurim

This is no doubt a strange association. To suggest that Yom Kippur is like Purim is a most unusual way of looking at this awesome day. What is the possible meaning behind this observation? It seems incongruous that a day of joyous abandon and a day of awesome introspection should be of more resemblance to each other than any of the other festivals to one another. What is it about Purim and Yom Kippur that create this relationship? The Vilna Gaon compared Purim to Yom HaKippurim as two halves of the same day!


Indeed, Yom HaKippurim can mean the “Day of Atonements”, or it can mean a “Day like Purim”. It would seem, then, that the two holidays are not only related but, in some way, Purim is even greater (Yom HaKippurim is “like” but not as an “equal”)!

There is a similarity between the names, “Yom HaKippurim” and “Purim.” There, however, seemingly the similarity ends.

On Yom HaKippurim we observe the day in fervent prayer and with fasting and atonement. On Purim, in contrast, we spend the day chanting the Megilla and drowning out the name of Haman, drinking to excess, masquerading and clowning, giving tzedakah to the poor and presents for friends and neighbors and partaking of the Purim S’udah banquet.


The Ba’ale Ha-Kabbalah however discovered mystical associations between Purim and Yom HaKippurim: both serve to reconnect us to the highest Source while on Purim we embrace the physical and make it holy.  However, on Yom HaKippurim we need to abandon the physical in order to achieve holiness.


The Midrash in this week’s Parsha [Torah portion] (Vayikra) relates to G-d’s calling (Vayikra) of Moshe and points out that “Rabbi Yochanan said, G-d only reveals himself to idolaters at night — a time when people separate from one another — as it is written ‘G-d came to Avimelech in a dream at night’ [Bereshis 20:3] or ‘G-d came to Bilaam at night’ [Bamidbar 22:20]. However, G-d reveals Himself to Jewish prophets during the day, as it is written’. And he sat at the opening of the tent in the heat of the day [Bereshis 18:1]’.”

This Midrash is highlighting a very significant difference between Judaism and other religions. Many religions believe in a basic dichotomy between the physical and spiritual. They believe that if a person really wants to reach the summit of spirituality, he must separate himself from physical things, be celibate, and become a monk. The more separate a person becomes the more holy he can become.  This is precisely the meaning of the Midrash. G-d must come to Bilaam the idolater at night, at a time when people are separated from one another and when physical activity is on the wane. Only then can Bilaam deal with spirituality. Otherwise he is not able to deal with the incompatibility between the spiritual and the physical. But G-d can come to a Jewish prophet, l’havdil, even during the day, when the prophet is occupied with daily activities. Even in the midst of all that, there can be spirituality.

This is a powerful ethical teaching. The essence of a Jew’s life is about taking his daily activities and infusing them with a Kedusha [Holiness]. Every act that a person does should be for the sake of Heaven and it is this very lesson that we are taught by the comparison of Purim and Yom Kippurim.


We learn from the suggestion that Yom Kippur is like Purim that we have multiple means to serve HaShem—by fervent prayer, abstaining from food and drink, and atonement for our sins, and also by making merry, exchanging presents with one and all, and joining in a festive family dinner.

In the Talmud, Tractate Nidda 61b, we read that in the future life, all commandments will be nullified (mitzvot b’teilot l’atid lavo). Similarly, the Midrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni, Proverbs 944) that, in the days to come, all the Jewish observances will cease save one: Purim! In other words, the joyful side of religion endures. “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before the Lord with singing” (Psalms 100:2).

The challenge of Judaism is that not only in the darkness of night but at high noon in the heat of the day the midst of our daily activities we achieve holiness by sanctifying the mundane and physical.




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