Ra’anana Community Kollel
You’re an Angel, I’m an Angel
Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
When Yaakov was on his deathbed, he questioned his sons on their faith. They replied in unison, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad”. Yaakov responded, “Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto Le’olam Va’ed.” The Talmud describes how the sages wanted to include Yaakov’s response in the mitzvah of Shema, however, since it is not written in the Torah of Moshe, they were hesitant to include it. The Talmud concludes that we should recite it but silently.
There is a beautiful Midrash that says that another reason why we do not recite “Baruch Shem” aloud is because it is the praise that the angels offer to G-d and it is not appropriate for us to proclaim these words aloud as if we were angels. On Yom Kippur the custom is to say this verse out loud to symbolize that on this day we become elevated in status to the very levels of the angels themselves.
The Pirkei D’Rabbi Elazar writes that the Satan has power over the Jewish people 364 days a year. On Yom Kippur he is silenced. How do we achieve such a phenomenal accomplishment? The Midrash explains that the Satan comes before G-d ready to speak harshly of Israel but an amazing sight silences him. In place of seeing a group of Jews, he sees a group of angels! The Satan has no say against angels.
How is it that we transform ourselves into angels? The answer lies in the midrash itself. The Satan says to himself, “Just as an angel neither eats nor drinks, so too the Jewish people refrain from eating and drinking. Just as the angels are barefoot, so are the Jewish people barefoot. Just as the angels don’t involve themselves in marital relations, so do the Jewish people refrain from marital relations. Just as the angels stand at attention, so do the Jewish people stand in their prayers.”
It is amazing what five afflictions can achieve. The afflictions to not eat, drink, bathe, wear shoes, anoint, and engage in marital relations are not really afflictions at all. They release us from the limited confines of human being and elevate us to the freedom of angels. Our very lives depend on achieving this transformation. For as human beings, who could truly stand up to G-d’s judgment? As human beings, we have done wrong. There needs to be Divine retribution. But as angels, G-d judges differently. Once we become angels, the person that we left behind no longer exists. Although we return once more to the level of human being when Yom Kippur is over, we are not the same as we were before. Our slates have been wiped clean by our twenty-five hour-long angelic metamorphoses.
Let us not fool ourselves, however, into thinking that repentance is as easy as going on a crash diet for a day. The five afflictions only work their magic if they are accompanied by thoughts of sincere repentance, regret for one’s misdeeds and a firm resolution to become better. Without true repentance, the five afflictions remain just that - limiting, uncomfortable afflictions. Coupled with true repentance however, the afflictions are not limitations, but five wonderful opportunities to suppress the body and release one’s soul to soar like the angels themselves.
So when you begin to feel hunger pangs and dry throat on Yom Kippur afternoon and you look at the clock and you see that there is another three hours left, don’t sigh and say, “Oy, three hours to go until I can eat! I wish it were over already.” Rather sigh and say, “Oy, only three hours left before I have to turn from an angel back into a human being. Let me make the most of it while I can still fly. Let me use this time to leave my misdeeds behind and become a new and better person.”
Is it hard to change? Yes! But remember: you’re an angel, I’m an angel.
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