Talmidav Shel Aharon
03-5767 Mitzvah 31
October 30, 2006
Mitzvah 31 – It is a positive commandment to rest from work on Yom Kippur.
Hafetz Hayyim: As the Torah says: “it shall be for you a day of solemn rest” (Lev. 23:32). Whoever does work on Yom Kippur disobeys a positive commandment and violates a negative one. If it is done willfully, the punishment is Karet; if unintentially, a sin offering must be brought. Whaever labor is forbidden on the Sabbath is likewise forbidden on Yom Kippur. It is in effect at all times and it every place for both males and for females.
We will deal with the special restrictions on Yom Kippur at a future date, but this matter of “rest” on Yom Kippur is, in reality, a big part of what Yom Kippur is all about. Shabbat is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur, however, is called in the Torah “Shabbat Shabbaton” the Sabbath of Sabbaths. This means that the holiday must be at least as important as Shabbat, possibly more important. The more important part of the day involves the fasting that we will take up another day, but the rest from work can not be overlooked. Whatever is forbidden on Shabbat is not permitted on Yom Kippur and the punishment is exactly the same.
If the violation is done willfully, that is, it is done with the full knowledge that the action in question is forbidden and the person performs the action anyway, then the punishment is “karet” which means that “the soul is cut off”. What does this mean? Maimonides defines this punishment as the extinction of the soul, in both this world and the next. In other words, what would be the point of attaining eternal life in the world to come if one can not observe the most important commandments in this world? It should, however, be noted that this punishment is reserved for G-d. Human Beings do not enforce a punishment of karet.
On the other hand, violations done by mistake, without premeditation, can be corrected through bringing a sin offering to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hafetz Hayyim knew, even in his day, that this is now impossible. Since the year 70 CE, the Temple of Jerusalem has been destroyed and the sacrifices have been discontinued. The Hafetz Hayyim may be thinking that when the Messiah comes and the Temple is rebuilt, a violator of Yom Kippur would be liable to bring a sin offering. This is part of a debate that has been going on for a long time. There are some who insist that sacrifices are the only way one can really feel close to G-d. This is why they are called, in Hebrew, “Korbanot” because the make one feel near to the Holy One. There are others, however, who follow Maimonides and many other important scholars who teach that the sacrifices were once a part of our worship because that was the form of worship in vogue so long ago. The sacrifices have ended and they will not be restarted because we have grown in our spirituality and no longer need such a physical ritual to feel closer to G-d.
Since the destruction of the Temple, Prayer, especially the Amida, the personal prayer that is recited individually, has taken the place of animal sacrifices. I myself believe in this approach and do not, in any way, advocate a return to the sacrificing of animals as a Jewish ritual. According to this approach, anyone who violates the rules of rest on Yom Kippur by mistake, should pray that day that his or her sin should be forgiven. The prayer itself is the sacrifice. In other words, we should resolve to try harder to rest the next Yom Kippur. The only warning is that one can not rely on Yom Kippur to atone for sins that are performed with premeditation and foreknowledge. You can’t sin and think that, “Oh well, G-d will forgive me on Yom Kippur” We are specifically taught that such sins will not be forgiven and the punishment is karet.