Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Yom Kippur's Magic Moment
Published: Thursday, September 22, 2016 06:21:02 PM
Number of views: 1670

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook draws our attention to a strange phrase at the end of the Al Chet confession, which is said on Yom Kippur. "My G-D, before I was formed I was of no worth, and now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed."

Rav Kook explains that the first part of this confession is easy to understand. Before I was formed I was obviously of no worth, since I did not yet exist! The world was not yet in need of me. But why should we say that once we are created, our existence is as if we had never been created? Is the fact that we now exist not proof that our life is of great significance? What then, is the meaning of this strange confession that our existence is meaningless?

Rav Kook goes on to explain these words in a profound way. When I was not yet formed, I was obviously of no worth, since the fact that I did not yet exist meant that there was no need for me to exist. But now that I have been formed, there must be a reason for my being, a mission that I must fulfill, something that only I am able to accomplish. Consequently, my existence is of crucial importance not just for myself, but for the entire world.

So what is it that I now confess on Yom Kippur? That I have not been living up to and fulfilling that mission. And if that is so, then my entire existence is called into question. Because I have returned to a situation in which my existence is of no value just as when I was a fetus. So, "now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed". This awesome idea is the focal point of Yom Kippur. Am I worthy to have a claim on life? Or, have I been born but lost my right to live? This is the most important question for us to ask ourselves on Yom Kippur. The trembling on Yom Kippur is that of great fear, not only of punishment or death, but of not rising to the challenge of fulfilling one's destiny.

Yom Kippur is a time of great spiritual embarrassment. What if I have not lived up to my mission, that only I can accomplish, and only now at this time in history? What if I fail? Then this unique mission will never be fulfilled, neither now or later. For what purpose then, have I been created? It is this sense of inadequacy and shame that is felt during Yom Kippur.

The great tragedy of our generation is that for many people, even on Yom Kippur, there is no longer a feeling of fear or trembling before G-D. Even when we fast and pray we are not bothered by the question of having been created VS not having been created.

In secular society, there is no longer a feeling of shame and guilt regarding what we do with our lives. Anything goes! We have been degraded by our desires and pleasures.

But with soul searching and introspection, we can realize how privileged we are to have one day in the year to renew and re-JEW-vinate ourselves. Then, we could actually turn our lives around and say, "Yes I was created, and I am worthy!"

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