Yom Kippur 5773 – Isaiah 58
Man has an amazing capacity for self-deception. People could sometimes define their efforts as reaching out to God when in fact they have done no such thing. They see their activities as the holiest and as the most high when they have not yet moved out of the mud.
God does not give up hope on the self-deceived; He talks to us through His prophets – and if He is talking – then we can be sure that He believes that we are capable of hearing.
Isaiah describes the confused question of the self-deceived. They challenge God: “Why do we fast but You have not seen, we afflict our souls and You don’t seem to know?” (Isaiah 58:3). These people are fasting and praying, seeking God and searching for righteousness, yet they have completely “missed the boat”.
Approaching God is all about recognizing God’s absolute sovereignty. The prime impediment that stands in our way of recognizing God’s sovereignty is the fact that we approach the world with the premise that we are sovereign. This self-centered world-view is a total and complete world-view. Everything is accounted for in this world-view that is built on the foundation that we are sovereign. There is a place for seeking God in this self-centered world; there is a place for charity and justice in our self-absorbed world and there is a place for praying fasting and even for humility – but it is all self-centered. In order to approach God we need to break the cycle of self-centeredness and greed.
The first step is to restructure the concept of justice in our society. As far as the society is self-centered then there will have to be injustice; there will be people who are hurting; people who are not well-connected, people who have no power or people who ran afoul of one or several “pillars of society”. The justice in society needs to be restructured according to the principle that my only claim and my only right is that I was created by God and that this claim is shared by all members of society in equal measure (Job 31:13-15). If people are hurting, that should be the first thing on our mind (Isaiah 58:6).
The next step in breaking the cycle of self-centeredness is feeling the physical pain of others. The prophet speaks of breaking our bread with the hungry and not ignoring our own flesh – this means that we need to feel the hunger of our fellow-man and recognize his or her troubles as our own.
One can empathize with the physical needs of another person while still maintaining a firm grip on self-centeredness in the realm of the emotions. The prophet has us break this wall of self-centeredness as well. We are encouraged to pour out our soul to the hungry and satiate the soul of the afflicted. In order to tear down the world in which we reign we need to feel the emotional needs of others; we cannot hold back and try to keep the strength of our souls for ourselves.
From here the prophet moves us to the Sabbath; the ultimate recognition of God’s sovereignty. Sabbath is a day in which we relinquish our control of the world, recognizing that it is not our world but rather the world of God who is the Father of all. Isaiah explains that the Sabbath is a day that all of our personal schemes are put to rest, not only in the realm of action but even in the realm of speech. Sabbath is a day for pleasure, not only for ourselves, but for all of the children of Israel, it is a day to be honored by putting our own mastery of the world completely aside.
How much does injustice and corruption in society bother me? How deeply do I feel my brother’s pain? How much does my fellow man’s hunger hurt me? How attuned am I to the emotional needs of my fellow man? How easily do I forget about my own schemes and put everything aside in honor of God’s Sabbath? Am I asking these questions for any self-centered reason or do I truly accept that God is my Master and that I am but a servant in His world? (Remember; man has an amazing capacity for self-deception.)
These are the questions we need to be thinking about on Yom Kippur, and on every day of the year.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal