We are greeted by this week’s Parshah (Perek 16) with of a momentous occasion: Bnei Yisroel celebrates their first Yom Kippur.
But before this, the Jews need to get into character.
Towards this end, the second pasuk proceeds to launch into the details of what Aharon should do when approaching the Kodesh Hakedoshim, the Holy of Holies, a visit that took place consistently only once a year, on Yom Kippur.
We read of the animals needed for sacrifice, where to sprinkle blood, when the Kohen Gadol is required to wash, and even descriptions of the incense cloud. However, what we don’t find is any of the major themes that comprise our modern-day Yom Kippur. Repentance, Prayer, and Charity are non-existent. There is no mention of any sort of mental state or kavanah. Moreover, at this point, fasting isn’t even referenced.
Instead, we read of task after task after task.
Likewise, when the list is finished and the Torah embarks on a description of the actual day, the Torah summarizes this ground-breaking enactment of the Holiday only with these words (16:34), “And Moshe did as was commanded by Hashem.”
Where is the passion? Where is the sense of relief?
The Kohen Gadol just finished absolving the entire nation of its sins (in a manner of speaking), culminating in throwing a ram off of a cliff, and the only thing that the Torah finds important enough to mention is that Moshe acted in accordance with Hashem’s wishes. Not only that, Moshes wasn’t even the Kohen Gadol, so why is it that he acted correctly; should it not be Aharon?
This is not the Yom Kippur we were taught. Why is the Torah’s description of the preparations totally focused on actions devoid of the excitement and connection that we Jews look for today?
I believe that the question itself, is the answer: Actions speak louder than words.
If we want to repent, we need to show our remorse. If we want to show our commitment to G-d, then we need to do Hashem’s mitzvot. Thoughts are good, actions are better.
This is one of the messages behind the opening pasuk of the Torah. The Parshah opens with (16:1) “And G-d spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons when they got close to G-d and died.”
Firstly, chronologically speaking, the death of Aharon’s sons happened three weeks earlier in Parshat Shemini. Secondly, the Torah can reference the event without needing to describe the circumstances surrounding their death – the last phrase is seemingly superfluous.
The Torah is rehashing the story of Aharon’s sons to teach a lesson.
Many commentators write that while the act of bringing their sacrifice was wrong, Aharon’s children had good intentions. Again, thoughts are good, actions are better.
This why the Torah mentions that “And Moshe did as was commanded by Hashem.” This Yom Kippur was more about setting a precedent and teaching a basic tenant of Jewish practice than of telling the story of our nation’s first Yom Kippur. Thus, it was Moshe the leader who is mentioned here and not the Kohen Gadol.
In a more positive light, the gemara writes that it is important to learn Torah and to do Mitzvot even when these actions lack the supporting belief because “Mitokh sheloh lishmah, ba lishmah” – even things done not for the right reasons, will eventually be done for the right reasons. Said another way, being forced to do acts of kindness will lead someone to want to do acts of kindness without being forced.
To internalize and to pass it on to the next generation, our faith needs to be grounded in deeds.
When we read for the first time about possibly THE most important day in the Jewish calendar, yes, the Torah will focus solely on action without mentioning the kavanah behind it. There’s almost no need, as the intent won’t be far behind.
As we commemorate Yom Hazikaron and celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, the message is obvious. It is through the actions of our brave and strong soldiers, as well as the people, that Israel was established and continues to exist.