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בס"ד

יום כפורים
The Day of Atonement

A Sermon Delivered in the Synagogue Shearith Yisrael, Montreal by the Rev. Abraham De Sola.

והיתה לכם לחקת עולם בחדש השביעי בעשר לחדש תענו את נפשתיכם וכל מלאכה לא תעשה האזרח והגר בתוככם׃ כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם לפני ה׳ תטהרו׃ ויקרא ט״ז כ״ט ל׳׃

“An everlasting statute shall this be unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, also no work at all shall ye do, neither the denizen nor the stranger that sojourneth among you. For on this day ye shall be atoned for, to purify you; even from all your sins before the Eternal shall you be purified.”—Leviticus 16:29, 30.

Brethren!

The Day of Atonement with all its solemn associations is now before us. Throughout all the dispersions of Israel, men, women and children, alike assemble on this sacred occasion, in humble and devout spirit to confess their sins before the Eternal their God, and to entreat his mercy. Few, very few are they, who on the יום הדין absent themselves from the minor sanctuary. The confirmedly pious,* feel more than ordinarily affected with sentiments of religious dread, respect, and devotion, when crossing on this day the threshold of God’s house. The worldly and profane, also, subdued by its influence, instead of directing their steps their usual course, instead of occupying themselves with a thirsty and endless pursuit after gain, or with debasing and senseless, debauchery, they, ay, even they, “turn from their evil way” to seek the presence of their God, and the welfare of their soul. And the indifferent, the mechanical, they also are not exempt <<323>>from its mighty influence; the languor, the coldness, which have hitherto accompanied their every act of devotion, now give way to an animated and solemn sense of their duty and responsibility,—they too, pour forth the fervent and heartfelt prayer. And now see these, whose interests and pursuits have been so dissimilar during the past year, see them now all uniting to worship with one heart, and to call with one accord on their common Father! See the parent fold in the embrace of forgiveness and love, the erring child; see the friends, by worldly matters estranged, now reconciled, and reciprocating sentiments of esteem; see the man who in the name of religion withheld from his brother the smile of friendship, now holding forth, in good-will his hand, and admitting that it is God who is to judge. See the impious now devout, the irreverent now respectful. See the injured forgive the injurer, the enemy embrace the enemy, and you see the influence of the Day of Atonement.

* I allude here to the three classes of religionists mentioned by the Talmudist,—(Tract. Rosh Hashana,) as being judged and receiving their doom on the Day of Atonement.

גרסינן בפ״ק דראש השנה א״ר ברוספדאי א״ל יוחנן ג׳ ספרים נפתחים בראש השנה אחד של צדיקים גמורים ואחד של רשעים גמורים ואחד של בינונים. צדיקים גמורים נכתבים ונחתמין לאלתר לחיים רשעים גמורים נכתבין לאלתר למיתה בינונים תלוים ועומדים מראש השנה יעד יום הכיפורים זכו נכתבין לחיים לא זכו נכתבין למיתה׃

Why is this, dear brethren? Why should this day address itself more successfully to our better feelings, or to our fears than does the voice of nature, or the teachings of nature’s God? Why should it claim and obtain from us greater veneration, why a stricter observance than do other of the divine institutions? Why should it, trumpet-like, make its voice to be heard so distinctly to our slumbering consciences? Why should its very name act as it were a spell to invite us to pious thoughts and deeds? Is it more authoritative in its origin, more important in its influence, or more beneficial in its effects, than are our other days of solemn assembly? These are questions, my hearers, now claiming our most serious attention, and their examination will afford us an employment well becoming the character of this יום נורא. For if you consider to what end this day was instituted, you are reminded in the words of our text, כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם לפני ה׳ תטהרו that it was that ye shall be atoned for, and purified from all your sins before the Eternal. It needs not much reflection, it need not the assurances of the preacher to convince you that this is the time for meditation and inquiry, and that to permit such a season to pass in heedlessness of thought and conduct, or in the cold utterance of unfelt prayer, can comport but little with its sanctity and importance. Let us then, beloved brethren, show that we <<324>>properly appreciate the nature and claims of this important and sacred season, by attentively considering, as we should, the question’s which have just now presented themselves to us, and let us for their proper elucidation, examine

First. What the Day of Atonement teaches us?

Secondly. What it bestows on us? and

Thirdly. What it claims of us?

God, the Source of wisdom and enlightenment, do we now invoke, to be with us in our inquiry, to assist us, and to permit the words which we shall utter to tend to the glory and sanctification of his great name, which be blessed for now and ever more. Amen.

I.

1. The Day of Atonement teaches us that as members of the human family we are liable to err, and inclined to sin. That we are disposed to “rend the yoke of heaven’s dominion from off our necks,” and to “clothe ourselves with sin as with a garment;” that “our hearts devise wicked imaginations,” and that “our feet are swift in running to mischief,” are truths, brethren, however mortifying, however melancholy, still undeniable truths. That with life and death, with the blessing and the curse, before us, “we have chosen death rather than life,” experience has shown to be no less certain. And not experience only. In the very first pages of the world’s annals we find the Eternal himself attesting כי יצר לב האדם רע מנעריו “that the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”* And centuries after this declaration of a commiserating God was made, and when his revelation, and the long experience of manifold blessings, should have made his chosen, a wise and understanding people, we hear the Eternal again complaining, “My people have done two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”†

* Gen. 8:21. † Jer. 2:13.

But though to err be human, though the desire to choose the bad and reject the good, be sometimes our disposition, it is not wholly characteristic of our species. Our Almighty and Benevolent Creator has imbued us with a principle which is efficacious, if not sufficient, to show us the way which a man should <<325>>choose unto himself. There is within us a constant panting for the beautiful and benevolent, an ardent desire for the bright and harmonious, which continually impel us to acts of charity and love. But then again, although this may result from our moral capacity, it results as well from our passions and desires, from our material constitution, that we should occasionally, and alas! indeed often, pervert this principle, which is the חלק אלוה ממעל that we should willfully and designedly forfeit the eminence assigned us, and lower ourselves beneath the lowest in creation’s scale.

The page of history, detailing scenes of corruption, violence, and bloodshed; showing how long and potent has been the reign of anarchy and confusion; and teeming with recitals of the persecutions and sufferings of those sacrificed on the altars of superstition, idolatry and debasing ignorance, bear but too ample and frightful testimony to this melancholy truth. Our Almighty Creator and Parent, who is infinitely just, could surely not abandon us, then, to the guidance of such a principle; one upon which we could so little depend for the attainment of present happiness and future salvation. No! brethren, He called us to Him at Sinai, and there audibly directed us the way which, as responsible agents, we should pursue. It is not necessary for our present inquiry, nor for your satisfaction, my hearers, that I should now adduce those proofs which incontestably establish the authenticity of this revelation.

The children of the covenant, which was made not only with their fathers then present, but with those who were not then present, those who yet observe the Day of Atonement to keep it holy, never did, and never can, dispute its truth. For more than three thousand years have they proved it; for more than three thousand years have they discovered and experienced the value, the preciousness of this divine law—inasmuch as when they have observed to perform its dictates, they have in all peace and holiness blessed their God who chose them from all nations, and gave them his law; and that when they have neglected to walk in its ways, the day of sorrow, of confession, and of contrition has arrived, even such a day as is the Yom Hackippurim. And who shall see the congregation of Jacob assembled together on this day—who shall hear the heartfelt confession of gray and tottering old a age, re-echoed by the supplicating and repentant prayer of proud and healthful youth, and not learn, and not admit that few <<326>>indeed are those who in addressing their Maker on this Day of Atonement can say, “Lord! I have done all Thou hast commanded me,”* “I am innocent, nor is there any iniquity in me.”† Would to God, brethren, oh would to God, this were not so; but when we find that it is not two or three, but that it is all of us who pray חטאנו צורנו סלח לנו יוצרנו, we can no longer blind ourselves to the truth of the first teaching of the Day of Atonement, but with our pious sages, are constrained to admit‡ כל זמן שהצדיקים חיים נלחמים עם יצרן, that with the very best of us life is spent in a continual struggle with temptation, and in the endeavour to avoid the crooked  paths of sin.

* Ezek. 7:7. † Job 23:9. ‡ Bereshith Rabbah, § 9.

But we have said that “the Eternal hath showed us light,”§ by blessing us with the gift of His law; if this be so, then

2. The Day of Atonement teaches us, that although we be frail and erring, we are nevertheless conscious and accountable beings. “Not hidden or far off, not in the heavens, or beyond the sea, but very nigh unto us, is this word that we may perform it.”|| Not obscure, not difficult, is the path which our all-wise Parent advises his children to walk. The way of life recommends itself to our approval and acceptance as much by its extreme straightness and clearness, as by its extreme smoothness and pleasantness. The divine law, in laying down rules for our conduct, in making us acquainted with our vocation, and in conveying to us in God’s own words what He expects from us, appeals more to our inherent sense of benevolence and justice, than to that of dependence and obligation; more to our reason than to our fears. It teaches you, O house of Israel, that in return for your lives and all their enjoyments, “the Eternal requires nought of you but to reverence Him, to love Him, and to serve Him with all your heart, and with all your soul.”¶ And it farther teaches you, that the blessing or the curse shall be yours accordingly as ye shall observe or disobey His injunctions. With your duties thus clearly defined, ye cannot say, “the Eternal hath abandoned us.”** “He hideth himself, and we cannot see Him.”††

§ Ps. 118:27. || Deut 30:12. ¶ Ibid. 10:12.
** Jud. 6:13. †† Job 23:9.  

No! brethren, God hath surely spoken, and the confession which in all conviction ye make at this season, that He is the sole Source of your existence,<<327>> כי עמך מקור חיים, enforces upon you the performance of all that He hath commanded you. It is true, that even with a full perception of your responsibility, and with a general desire to act in accordance with the revealed will of God, you are liable to slip unwittingly into the wide and luring chasm of sin; but even with this admitted, you shall find that the Guardian of Israel, who is just, and who neither sleepeth nor slumbereth,” hath not been; even here, unmindful of your frail and erring natures; even here, hath He bestowed on you the means of obtaining complete restoration to His favour. He instituted the Yom Kippur, whereon ye might, by withdrawing yourselves from all mundane occupations and pleasures, by afflicting your souls and by seeking His presence, be atoned for, and purified from all your sills before Him. And thus, by making confession of our sins and so admitting our accountability, do we establish the truth of what we have said to be the second teaching of the Day of Atonement.

Yes! brethren, such is the will of our merciful and benevolent Father; such the means He has afforded us to obtain reconciliation. And hath He not also said unto us through the mouth of His prophet:*

“Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return unto the Eternal, for He will receive him with compassion;
And unto our God, for He aboundeth in forgiveness.”

With this gracious announcement before us, partly foretelling as it does, the blessed results of those religious exercises and sentiments prescribed by this solemn season, we may now proceed to examine our second subject of inquiry, which was to discover what the Day of Atonement bestows on us.

* Isaiah 55:7, Lowth’s version.

II.

1. The Day of Atonement bestows on us the means for reconciliation with the Eternal:—

“Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return unto the Eternal, for He will receive him with compassion;
And unto our God, for tie aboundeth in forgiveness.”

<<328>>Brethren, in these sublime words, he who has been justly styled the angel-tongued prophet, displays to us in the most forcible and beautiful manner, the surpassing mercy and loving kindness of our Almighty Father. Notwithstanding that “we have trespassed and dealt treacherously,” notwithstanding that we have returned ingratitude for mercy, disobedience for kindness, and evil for good, still does our infinite gracious Parent suffer his attribute of mercy to prevail over his attribute of strict justice; still is He willing to restore again to his favour his rebellious and ungrateful children. And the same blissful assurance, my hearers, does our text now convey to you. It tells you, that although the Eternal is a just and jealous God, and although from the very commencement of your vocation as his chosen, “from the days of atonement which have passed, until this same Day of Atonement which now cometh upon us for peace,” ye have in very stiff-neckedness and perversion vexed your benevolent Parent, and sinned against your gracious God: still has He supplied the means which, while they militate not against his perfect justice, will enable you once more to reach the Source of living waters, once more to approach the Fountain of salvation. If, teaches our text, you shall afflict your souls on this sacred day; if ye shall attentively consider the crooked paths you have chosen unto yourselves, and will compare them with the ways of pleasantness which your God has vouchsafed to direct you; if ye shall hereby become conscious of your backslidings; if ye shall confess them before your offended God, seek his forgiveness, and in true repentance determine for the rest of your days to walk with your Maker, “with a perfect heart and desiring soul:” then shall they be atoned for, and then shall ye be purified from all your sins before the Eternal. And only thus, my brethren, with these sentiments alone are you to regard the ordinance of Kippur; by such a course of conduct alone, is this day observed to hallow it. For

“Behold, saith the Eternal, ye fast for strife and contention;
And to smite with the fist the poor.
Wherefore fast ye unto me in this manner;
To make your voice to be heard on high?
Is such then the fast which I choose;
That a man should afflict his soul for a day?
Is it, that he should bow down his head like a bulrush;
<<329>>And spread sackcloth and ashes for his couch?
Shall this be called a fast,
And a day acceptable to the Eternal?
Is not this the fast which I choose
To dissolve the bands of wickedness * * *
* * * Then shalt thou call, and the Eternal shall answer;
Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Lo, I am here!”*

* Isaiah 58: 4,6,9.

Moreover, brethren, it has been universally received by the house of Israel, that “he who shall wilflully transgress against God’s law, premeditating repentance, shall again premeditate sin and repentance, and so continue, is not permitted from on high to become penitent, and that he who sins and says Yom Kippur shall atone, for such an one, Yom Kippur does not atone.”†

האומר אחטא ואשוב אחטא ואשוב אין מספיקין בידו לעשות תשובה אחטא ויום הכפורים מכפר אין וים הכפורים מכפר

And who shall deny the reasonableness and justice of this doctrine? Recollect, brethren, that God trieth the reins, to give unto every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doing.”§ Shall we then meditate evil, and shall not God search it out, when “He knoweth the secrets of all hearts?”|| We cannot insult our fellow-creature without exciting his ire, and shall we then offend our Maker and not cause Him to anger? surely no, friends. Far then, far be it from us to do so foolish and evil a thing now. With gratitude alone for our guide we will seek the throne of grace, will find it, and prostrating ourselves before it, will ask our God for forgiveness; and as surely as we ask, so surely will He answer, for let us listen to the blissful theme there celestially chorussed:

“Come on now, my people, and let us plead together, saith the Eternal,
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
Though they be red as crimson, they shall be like wool.Ӧ

† Yoma, ch. 8. § 9.

אין מספיקין פיר׳ שכיון שעבר עבירה ישנה בה נעשה לו כהיתר. דלא יעזרוהו השם שיעשה ביום הכפורים שראוי לעשות לו כדי שיכפרו לו עונותיו באותו היום׃ (ועיין פירוש מלא כף נחת לחברת אוהבי תורה בברלין דף עה ב׳)

§ Jer. 17:10. || Ps. 44:21. ¶ Isaiah 1:18.

2. The Day of Atonement bestows on us the means for reconciliation with our fellow-man. How powerfully does the prophet, <<330>>in the words which I have just read to you, depict the mercy and kindness of the Creator, and how forcibly may they be made to contrast with the rigour and cruelty of the created. Let us receive, or even fancy we receive, an injury or insult, and we generally persecute the offender with the most violent hatred, and punish him with the greatest severity; indeed, it is often that our enmity ceases with our existence only. We forget how slow to anger and abundant in power is our God. We do not recollect how long and how graciously He hath borne with our stiffneckedness,  and that “He hath not acted with us according to our sins, nor hath He requited us according to our iniquities.” No! all desire to imitate the Crown of Supreme Excellence is forgotten, and we uniformly abandon ourselves to our worst propensities and passions: to these we sacrifice every duty, every consideration. And yet for the proper use of these means which the Day of Atonement bestows on us, for our own sakes, if not for our brother’s, for our own peace and happiness if not for his, shall we now be solicitous to remove from our midst all feelings of jealousy, enmity, or revenge. We should seek alike our offended and offending brother, and in the embrace of love, should mutually acknowledge that “we have been verily guilty concerning him, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not listen.”

And it is only so that we can obtain forgiveness for ourselves. For we cannot supplicate the Most High for mercy, while we refuse it to our fellow-creature; we cannot pray our Father to forgive us, while we will not forgive our brother; nor can we seek or expect reconciliation with the Eternal, while we refuse to be reconciled with those who are liable to err, even as are we ourselves. No! my hearers, the Day of Atonement speaks to us in language than which none can be plainer. It bestows on us the means of universal happiness and brotherhood, leaving it for us to improve these means, and to secure the great end to which they subserve. And now, if our minds be impressed with the extreme value and greatness of the boon this day confers, we shall be qualified for the consideration of the third question proposed,—What the Day of Atonement claims for us? <<331>>

III.

1. The Day of Atonement claims from us not only a strict and respectful  observance for itself, but for all the revealed ordinances of the Eternal. And in making this claim, the Day of Atonement requires of us only that which we must freely and spontaneously accord to the demands of reason. For if, as it has already taught us, we are, though frail, yet accountable beings; if by seeking reconciliation with God, we acknowledge that we have provoked Him to anger; and if, dreading his just wrath, we hasten to appease it by a strict observance of this most sacred and important institution:—reason dictates that it is not by this alone that we can hope to succeed; that it is not by considering this precept important, that one unimportant, not by selecting and performing one of the Eternal enactments, that we shall have observed to do all that He has required of us for the attainment of our salvation.

To promote our worldly ease and advantage, we establish degrees of disobedience and sin; but these do not at all exist. No, my brethren, the crime of disobedience is ever of the same black hue, whether it appear in a small or a great matter. Therefore, if God has required of us לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת the performance of all that He hath commanded us in his law, it surely does not become us to respect such of his dictates as may seem good to us, and disregard those which shall appear light in our eyes. True it is, that if we search the sacred page, we shall there find what in our presumptuous and conceited eye may appear trifling and unimportant, when compared with other of the Divine enactments; but we shall also there find that the Eternal commands us to diminish naught in the observance of his word, lest He break his covenant with us, and bring upon us. the curse. Shall we then set up our judgment in opposition to the will of the Omniscient, or shall we oppose our inclinations to the commands of Almighty God? Can the created array themselves against the Creator? Oh! let us be careful that we act not so foolishly. Let us rather direct our most serious attention to those important truths which by an examination of the questions called forth by this day’s observance, we have just elicited. Let us duly weigh and attentively consider them,.and let us determine strictly to follow that course of obedience and amended conduct which they have pointed out to us. Then, dear brethren, will <<332>>our heavenly Father regard favourably and complacently our prayers and supplications. Thus will our Yom Kippur prove efficacious, and then indeed will it become a season of expiation and forgiveness—למחילה ולסליחה ולכפרה ולמחול בו את כל עונותינו. And then shall every blessing and happiness be everlastingly ours, since we shall then “be atoned for, and purified from all our sins before the Eternal.”

To Him who is exalted above all praises, let us now address our supplications:

Most gracious God! Infinite in mercy and pardon! Not with joy, not with confidence, do we now approach Thee, but with fear and trembling, lest Thou shouldst not be willing to accept those adorations which our mouths have indeed uttered, but which our hearts and souls have dictated. O Thou, who art all Benevolent, we implore Thee to be merciful, as Thou hast ever proved unto us, and unto our fathers before us, although we have sinned, although we have transgressed, and although we have been stiff-necked. We beseech Thee, O gracious Father, to remember not in thy wrath, the backslidings of thy children, but in thine infinite kindness do Thou purify us from all our transgressions, so that we may then be worthy of thy continued favour.

Bless, we beseech Thee, the Remnant of Israel, who now stand before Thee in heartfelt contrition and adoration. Bless them, their children, and all who belong unto them, and O Lord, grant unto them, and unto all thy people Israel, that the year which hath now come upon us, may be unto us a year of happiness, a year of love, and a year of obedience to thy law. Father! grant that it be unto us a year of prosperity and of healthfulness. Let not disease enter into our houses, and suffer not death to take from us those we do most fondly cherish. And yet, Most High God, if it shall seem good unto Thee to recall those with whom we do daily and affectionately commune; if it shall seem good unto Thee to exchange their temporal felicity for everlasting bliss:—then do we entreat Thee to bestow on us such a spirit as shall lead us not to question the wisdom of thy dispensations, but to bow resignedly to thy will. We pray unto Thee, O God of mercy! that when Thou dost judge us after death, Thou wilt not visit on us the sins of our earthly life, but wilt permit our spirits <<333>>to mingle with those who bless and praise thy holy name in blissful chorus. O grant that such be our future portion, and that, whilst on earth, our lives may be passed in the performance of all Thou hast commanded us, so that we may thus be happy and thus be blest. Grant this, O Lord, for the sake of the cries and supplications wherewith we this day do seek Thee. Grant it for the sake of thine attributes of benevolence and compassion,—Eternal! Grant it for the sake of thy great Name, and with all our heart, and with all our soul, will we say, Amen.