October 2020 -- Tishrei- Cheshvan 5781,  Volume 26, Issue 10

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Chabad of Bronxville Acknowledges Holiest Yom Kippur

By Howard Goldstein

 

During this last half year of the covid pandemic, it’s easy to feel like we’ve done nothing important as life became all about quarantining and social distancing. But these acts may have been the most important mitzvot of our times.

 

The Talmud tells us that saving a single life is equivalent to saving an entire world. A story is told of the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who, during the Yom Kippur services, suddenly exited the synagogue and walked to a cabin in which a young woman had given birth. The Rabbi proceeded to cut wood, make a fire, and cook soup for the recovering woman (all acts prohibited on Yom Kippur). When later asked how he could do such things on the holiest day of the year, Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied; “I am not lax on the laws of Yom Kippur; I am very stringent on the laws of pikuah nefesh (preserving life)”.

 

For many of us, the past six months may have appeared as confinement and stagnation. Jewish life is closely tied with community life, and the last half-year has consisted of closed synagogues, lonely holidays, and life events that many could not attend. Certainly, attending services and houses of study, praying with a minyan, and bringing the extended family together for a holiday are great mitzvoth that help define Jewish life, but there is a still greater mitzvah that supersedes all of them: pikuah nefesh.

 

G-d has not put stumbling blocks before our spiritual growth; He has allowed an unprecedented number of people to perform a mitzvah of such profound holiness that even Yom Kippur, the Day of Judgment on which even the angels quake in awe, must be violated: pikuah nefesh. We have all now performed this mitzvah before which even the most sacred rituals cannot stand. We have done it through wearing masks, and by remaining in our homes for holidays and declining to attend events. Covid-19 has claimed many lives, but it would have taken exponentially more if not for all of these acts. All of these precautions have been acts of immeasurable kindness. By not engaging in our usual and desired communal Jewish lives we have actually obtained immeasurable spiritual growth. We have all helped to save countless lives; countless worlds.

 

This year was a Yom Kippur unlike any other. This was not a year of compromised Day of Atonement, but of extraordinary, once in a lifetime power and holiness.  Whether we remained at home or joined responsible, socially distanced services wearing masks, this year, the awesome spirituality of Yom Kippur was joined by the unparalleled mitzvah of pikuah nefesh. It was also a Yom Kippur of great hope for the future. We have spent the past six months in frequent if not continuous states of discomfort, inconvenience, isolation and uncertainty out of mercy and compassion for our fellow human beings; the King of the Universe will surely respond in mercy and compassion to us.