Haftarah of Yom-Kippur- The ultimate mussar shiur!

The message of this Haftorah is  in my opinion, one of the best Mussar talks ever given- from the נבואה of Yeshayahu himself.

It consists of the end of פרק נז  and פרק נח

ישעיהו פרק נז

(יד) וְאָמַ֥ר סֹֽלּוּ־סֹ֖לּוּ פַּנּוּ־דָ֑רֶךְ הָרִ֥ימוּ מִכְשׁ֖וֹל מִדֶּ֥רֶךְ עַמִּֽי: ס

Hashem gives instructions to prepare the way for people to repent by removing   things that cause people to stumble.

The metaphor of a road that needs to be paved and cleared is used.

Think of the slave laborers who used to clear jungles to make and pave roads for people to travel safely on.

Similarly,  Hashem instructs us to make well-paved, obstacle free  roads through the jungles of temptations to help people do Teshuva.

This is not just about getting people on the right “Derech”- its about paving and clearing the Derech!

We have seen the word מכשול  used in the Chumash in the context of the Mitzva of “ולפני עור לא תתן “מכשול – “do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind.”   (Vayikra 19/14)

In that context, this is understood by Chazal to refer to giving people bad advice in businesss (ספרא קדושים פרשה ב) , and also to causing people to sin. (עבודה זרה 6:)

The second  interpretation fits in particularly well in our context- Here we are told not only to avoid doing things that will cause people to sin, but to actively try and remove things from the “derech” that could cause people to do so.

Obviously this must be done wisely, peacefully, and non-coercively in a way that will truly help people do the right thing, and not get their backs up and ultimately throw them “off the derech” or make them hate Torah, chas vesholom – We are not the Taliban!

However, warning one’s kids, friends, or students, of the need to avoid immodest, violent, or other harmful movies, venues, websites, beaches, etc, in the correct way, could certainly qualify as a fulfillment of this possuk!.

(טו) כִּי֩ כֹ֨ה אָמַ֜ר רָ֣ם וְנִשָּׂ֗א שֹׁכֵ֥ן עַד֙ וְקָד֣וֹשׁ שְׁמ֔וֹ מָר֥וֹם וְקָד֖וֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּ֑וֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא֙ וּשְׁפַל־ר֔וּחַ לְהַחֲיוֹת֙ ר֣וּחַ שְׁפָלִ֔ים וּֽלְהַחֲי֖וֹת לֵ֥ב נִדְכָּאִֽים:

Hashem stressed that although he dwells in the highest of places, he also dwells with the most poor and “lowly” of people. This sets the scene for much of what could well be  the central theme of the Haftorah and the next perek.

(טז) כִּ֣י לֹ֤א לְעוֹלָם֙ אָרִ֔יב וְלֹ֥א לָנֶ֖צַח אֶקְּצ֑וֹף כִּי־ר֙וּחַ֙ מִלְּפָנַ֣י יַֽעֲט֔וֹף וּנְשָׁמ֖וֹת אֲנִ֥י עָשִֽׂיתִי: (יז) בַּעֲוֹ֥ן בִּצְע֪וֹ קָצַ֥פְתִּי וְאַכֵּ֖הוּ הַסְתֵּ֣ר וְאֶקְצֹ֑ף וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ שׁוֹבָ֖ב בְּדֶ֥רֶךְ לִבּֽוֹ: (יח) דְּרָכָ֥יו רָאִ֖יתִי וְאֶרְפָּאֵ֑הוּ וְאַנְחֵ֕הוּ וַאֲשַׁלֵּ֧ם נִֽחֻמִ֪ים ל֖וֹ וְלַאֲבֵלָֽיו:

Hashem points out that at the end of the day, we are all his creatures- HIS children, and that despite our failings, he will not remain angry with us forever.

 In these Pessukim,the Novi returns again to the theme of Teshuva in general , the focus of this perek and the first section of the Haftorah.

(יט) בּוֹרֵ֖א נוב נִ֣יב שְׂפָתָ֑יִם שָׁל֨וֹם׀ שָׁל֜וֹם לָרָח֧וֹק וְלַקָּר֪וֹב אָמַ֥ר יְקֹוָ֖ק וּרְפָאתִֽיו:

Hashem in the present tense is constantly recreating the “speach of people’s lips” – those that used to speak of war, will now speak of peace.

Hashem speaks of peace “to the far and to the near”- This can be interpreted both literally and figuratively.

On a literal level, it is a description of the ends of days, the war of Gog and Magog against Yerushalayim-  Hashem will bring an era of peace for those who are near and far to Yerushalayim, the centre of the conflict.

On a figurative level,  near is taken to mean those who are near to Hashem, ie. Those who have been on the right path, and far are those who have been far from Hashem, ie. On the wrong path, and are now repenting, ie. בעלי תשובה.

You can see both interpretations in the various Rishonim on this perek, and the Talmud (ברכות לד:)  in fact debates  who is greater: someone who has always been righteous, or a בעל תשובה ; based on this very possuk!

(כ) וְהָרְשָׁעִ֖ים כַּיָּ֣ם נִגְרָ֑שׁ כִּ֤י הַשְׁקֵט֙ לֹ֣א יוּכָ֔ל וַיִּגְרְשׁ֥וּ מֵימָ֖יו רֶ֥פֶשׁ וָטִֽיט:

In this incredible metaphor, the wicked are compared to the wave motion of the sea.

In the Rishonim, a number of explanations are found: The sea is always restless, moving up and down, never really at peace-So too, are the wicked!

Rashi goes further and explains that when a wave is about to break, it is at its height and peak

 It then breaks and is pulled backward, dragging dirt and sand with it. The next wave sees what happens to its friends, but learns nothing, and rises again arrogantly to conquer the shore.

So too, the wicked, are at their most arrogant at the peak of their power- yet that is often the sign that they are about to break.

They break, and are pulled back full of discomfort.

Their friends see what happens to them, but fail to learn from them and repent- rather, the next tyrant comes along and does the same thing-Think פרעה, נבוחדנצר, המן, אנתיוחס, טיטוס, היטלר    …

It occurred to me to add that when a large wave comes,it seems that it will cover everything and remain on shore forever.

Yet despite the terrible damage it does, even the greatest tsunami retreats eventually, and dry land is once again exposed.

So too, at the height of the wicked’s power, as they swallow everything around them, they might seem immortal and invincible. Yet, they too are mere mortals, and their time too will come, after which the righteous will be left once again in peace!

(כא) אֵ֣ין שָׁל֔וֹם אָמַ֥ר אֱלֹהַ֖י לָרְשָׁעִֽים: ס

The promise of eternal peace extends to the righteous and those who repent, but not to those who remain wicked despite all the opportunities thrown at them to change their ways.

(א) קְרָ֤א בְגָרוֹן֙ אַל־תַּחְשֹׂ֔ךְ כַּשּׁוֹפָ֖ר הָרֵ֣ם קוֹלֶ֑ךָ וְהַגֵּ֤ד לְעַמִּי֙ פִּשְׁעָ֔ם וּלְבֵ֥ית יַעֲקֹ֖ב חַטֹּאתָֽם:

A leader cannot be silent about the wrongs committed in his community.

He is directed by Hashem to inform them of their failings in order to enable them to do Teshuva.

(ב) וְאוֹתִ֗י י֥וֹם יוֹם֙ יִדְרֹשׁ֔וּן וְדַ֥עַת דְּרָכַ֖י יֶחְפָּצ֑וּן כְּג֫וֹי אֲשֶׁר־צְדָקָ֣ה עָשָׂ֗ה וּמִשְׁפַּ֤ט אֱלֹהָיו֙ לֹ֣א עָזָ֔ב יִשְׁאָל֙וּנִי֙ מִשְׁפְּטֵי־צֶ֔דֶק קִרְבַ֥ת אֱלֹהִ֖ים יֶחְפָּצֽוּן:

Hashem complains about people who pretend to want to be close to him and to want to know what he wants from them, when they really don’t care.

One gets people who give the impression that they are so frum and are always asking sheilos about every little thing, yet they don’t really want to hear the correct answer, and are just doing it so that the Rabbi or other people will think they are SO amazing.

Hashem has major issues with such people.

(ג) לָ֤מָּה צַּ֙מְנוּ֙ וְלֹ֣א רָאִ֔יתָ עִנִּ֥ינוּ נַפְשֵׁ֖נוּ וְלֹ֣א תֵדָ֑ע הֵ֣ן בְּי֤וֹם צֹֽמְכֶם֙ תִּמְצְאוּ־חֵ֔פֶץ וְכָל־עַצְּבֵיכֶ֖ם תִּנְגֹּֽשׂוּ:

People want to know why they fast but Hashem doesn’t accept their fast-

(ד) הֵ֣ן לְרִ֤יב וּמַצָּה֙ תָּצ֔וּמוּ וּלְהַכּ֖וֹת בְּאֶגְרֹ֣ף רֶ֑שַׁע לֹא־תָצ֣וּמוּ כַיּ֔וֹם לְהַשְׁמִ֥יעַ בַּמָּר֖וֹם קוֹלְכֶֽם:

Hashem replies that its because people fast in order to create arguments and to hurt each other, not for sincere purposes.

Many people go through the motions of fasting and other Mitzvos, but don’t allow them to penetrate into their being and make them into better people the way they are supposed to.

Chazal taught us that Mitzvos were given only in order to refine people- to make us into better, purer people.

they explain that Hashem doesn’t really care from his point of view where we slaughter an animal from (whether we eat kosher or not kosher), but gave us the laws of kashrus in order to make US better.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת לך לך פרשה מד )

רב אמר לא נתנו המצות אלא לצרף בהן את הבריות, וכי מה איכפת ליה להקב”ה למי ששוחט מן הצואר, או מי ששוחט מן העורף, הוי לא נתנו המצות אלא לצרף בהם את הבריות


This doesn’t mean Chas vesholom that Mitzvos are voluntary and that we can choose other ways to “refine ourselves.”

Hashem knows the precise formula needed for us to attain the level of refinement we need, and we have to follow his formula, not our own!

HOWEVER, we have to always bare the end result in mind and not get sidetracked by our ego along the way, otherwise the Yetzer horoh can actually use frumkeit as a means of making us arrogant and even hurt others who we perceive as less frum.

The Gemoro tells a frightening story about how two Kohanim were so eager to perform the Avoda that in the rush to ascend the מזבח first; one of them landed up stabbing the other, and the people were more concerned about whether the knife was still pure than about whether he was still alive. (Yoma 23a)

Its possible to become so involved in the fight to become or to be seen to be frumer than everyone else, than one turns Torah into a “Jihadist style” warship, rather than what its meant to be,namely  the “ways of pleasantness.”

(ה) הֲכָזֶ֗ה יִֽהְיֶה֙ צ֣וֹם אֶבְחָרֵ֔הוּ י֪וֹם עַנּ֥וֹת אָדָ֖ם נַפְשׁ֑וֹ הֲלָכֹ֨ף כְּאַגְמֹ֜ן רֹאשׁ֗וֹ וְשַׂ֤ק וָאֵ֙פֶר֙ יַצִּ֔יעַ הֲלָזֶה֙ תִּקְרָא־צ֔וֹם וְי֥וֹם רָצ֖וֹן לַיקֹוָֽק:

Do people really think that this is the kind of fast that Hashem wants?

People going through the motions of fasting but fighting each other and not getting the message of the day?

“bowing their heads like a bulrush” and “ putting on sackcloth and ashes”- even if someone shokkels tills his neck hurts, if he doesn’t internalize the message of the fast and undergo internal change, its all a waste of time.

(ו) הֲל֣וֹא זֶה֘ צ֣וֹם אֶבְחָרֵהוּ֒ פַּתֵּ֙חַ֙ חַרְצֻבּ֣וֹת רֶ֔שַׁע הַתֵּ֖ר אֲגֻדּ֣וֹת מוֹטָ֑ה וְשַׁלַּ֤ח רְצוּצִים֙ חָפְשִׁ֔ים וְכָל־מוֹטָ֖ה תְּנַתֵּֽקוּ:

This is kind of fast Hashem wants: One that makes people reconsider their selfish and corrupt lifestyles and start thinking about justice and charity  (its fascinating to note that the Hebrew words for justice (צדק)  and charity (צדקה)  have the same root!)

Corruption needs to be stamped out and the poor have to become one’s priority.

(ז) הֲל֨וֹא פָרֹ֤ס לָֽרָעֵב֙ לַחְמֶ֔ךָ וַעֲנִיִּ֥ים מְרוּדִ֖ים תָּ֣בִיא בָ֑יִת כִּֽי־תִרְאֶ֤ה עָרֹם֙ וְכִסִּית֔וֹ וּמִבְּשָׂרְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִתְעַלָּֽם:

Much of the Sugyos on צדקה are based on these Pessukim. (בבא בתרא ט)

We learn from here that when it comes to a poor person who asks for food, one should first feed him and then check to see if he is genuinely needy.

With clothing, one should first check to see if he is really needy and then clothe him.

(Although there is an opposite opinion in the Talmud, the halocho follows this view, and both views are based on how we interpret these Pessukim- you will need to learn the sugya to see how! )

On a fast day, one needs to realize that Hashem has given some people surplus food and clothing and expects them to share it with those who don’t have.

“Divide your bread with the hungry and bring the rejected poor into your house. When you see a naked person, cover him, and do not neglect your own flesh and blood.”

It is not good enough to give a nice donation to the Chevra Kadisha and be snobby when it comes to one’s social arrangements. One is required to bring the poor “into one’s own house.”

Chazal strengthen this message in Pirkei Avos when Yosi ben Yochanan Ish Yerushalayim tells us  (Avos 1/5] that the poor should be like members of our family.

Sometimes people are so consumed with the poor that they neglect their own family’s needs.

The possuk ends with the dramatic warning: ומבשרך לא תתעלם – don’t ever neglect your own family!

(ח) אָ֣ז יִבָּקַ֤ע כַּשַּׁ֙חַר֙ אוֹרֶ֔ךָ וַאֲרֻכָתְךָ֖ מְהֵרָ֣ה תִצְמָ֑ח וְהָלַ֤ךְ לְפָנֶ֙יךָ֙ צִדְקֶ֔ךָ כְּב֥וֹד יְקֹוָ֖ק יַאַסְפֶֽךָ:

(ט) אָ֤ז תִּקְרָא֙ וַיקֹוָ֣ק יַעֲנֶ֔ה תְּשַׁוַּ֖ע וְיֹאמַ֣ר הִנֵּ֑נִי אִם־תָּסִ֤יר מִתּֽוֹכְךָ֙ מוֹטָ֔ה שְׁלַ֥ח אֶצְבַּ֖ע וְדַבֶּר־אָֽוֶן:

(י) וְתָפֵ֤ק לָֽרָעֵב֙ נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ וְנֶ֥פֶשׁ נַעֲנָ֖ה תַּשְׂבִּ֑יעַ וְזָרַ֤ח בַּחֹ֙שֶׁךְ֙ אוֹרֶ֔ךָ וַאֲפֵלָתְךָ֖ כַּֽצָּהֳרָֽיִם:

(יא) וְנָחֲךָ֣ יְקֹוָק֘ תָּמִיד֒ וְהִשְׂבִּ֤יעַ בְּצַחְצָחוֹת֙ נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ וְעַצְמֹתֶ֖יךָ יַחֲלִ֑יץ וְהָיִ֙יתָ֙ כְּגַ֣ן רָוֶ֔ה וּכְמוֹצָ֣א מַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־יְכַזְּב֖וּ מֵימָֽיו:

(יב) וּבָנ֤וּ מִמְּךָ֙ חָרְב֣וֹת עוֹלָ֔ם מוֹסְדֵ֥י דוֹר־וָד֖וֹר תְּקוֹמֵ֑ם וְקֹרָ֤א לְךָ֙ גֹּדֵ֣ר פֶּ֔רֶץ מְשֹׁבֵ֥ב נְתִיב֖וֹת לָשָֽׁבֶת:

These Pessukim describe the incredible Brocho that comes from the fast if it indeed has the refining effect intended: inspiring one to forsake corruption and focus on those less fortunate.

(יג) אִם־תָּשִׁ֤יב מִשַּׁבָּת֙ רַגְלֶ֔ךָ עֲשׂ֥וֹת חֲפָצֶ֖יךָ בְּי֣וֹם קָדְשִׁ֑י וְקָרָ֨אתָ לַשַּׁבָּ֜ת עֹ֗נֶג לִקְד֤וֹשׁ יְקֹוָק֙ מְכֻבָּ֔ד וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ֙ מֵעֲשׂ֣וֹת דְּרָכֶ֔יךָ מִמְּצ֥וֹא חֶפְצְךָ֖ וְדַבֵּ֥ר דָּבָֽר:

(יד) אָ֗ז תִּתְעַנַּג֙ עַל־יְקֹוָ֔ק וְהִרְכַּבְתִּ֖יךָ עַל־במותי בָּ֣מֳתֵי אָ֑רֶץ וְהַאֲכַלְתִּ֗יךָ נַחֲלַת֙ יַעֲקֹ֣ב אָבִ֔יךָ כִּ֪י פִּ֥י יְקֹוָ֖ק דִּבֵּֽר: ס

At face value, the previous Pessukim might  seem to imply that the main Avoda of Yom Kippur is focusing on issues of social justice, not on Mitzvos between man and Hashem.

In fact, many non traditional movements have used this as a “proof text” that being frum is not so important, chas vesholom, so long as one is an ethical and good person who cares about other people.

However, the Novi ends off this dramatic prophecy by putting the  nail in the coffin of any such theories.

The grand finale of the perek focusses on Shabbos, the Mitzva that perhaps more than anything symbolizes our faith in and relationship with Hashem, and shows that keeping the Mitzvos between man and Hashem are an equally important prerequisite to the great inheritance promised again to us in the closing פסוק.

Many laws of Shabbos are derived from these Pesukim.

“IF you hold back your feet because of Shabbos”- is the source for the prohibition of walking outside the techum of Shabbos.

The source for the Mitzva of Oneg Shabbos and Kovod Shabbos is here in these pesukkim, including the prohibitions to avoid weekday activities and even discussions ׁ(.שבת קיג)

There are some  otherwise religious kids who are so addicted to their phone and the internet that some people have been trying to come up with “creative” ways to justify their sending text messages on their phones on Shabbos, ר”ל .

Even if ways could be found to get around the melocho problems, which itself is dodgy, allowing such things on Shabbos could mean the very end of the spiritual day of rest as we know it. The one day when no matter who bothers you constantly on the phone, one’s only focus is on the Kavod and Oneg of Shabbos, would be destroyed chas vesholom.  If I were on a Sanhedrin , even if it wasn’t ossur, it might be one of the first things I would ban!

From these words of Yeshayahu. Just like the true spirit of fasting is detailed, treating Shabbos appropriately becomes not just a   chumra for those who wish to act “in the spirit of Shabbos” , but an actual commandment to act in that spirit.

We have come full circle and the closing message of the chapter is clear: Ethics and ritual, our relationship with man and Hashem, the two sides of the tablets are inseperable

Yoma 22-23 Religious zeal and preventing disaster

(Written with pain, tears, and trepidation and davening for a refuah shleima for all the injured and nechama for all those who lost relatives, teachers, students, and friends)

The second chapter of Yoma opens with a discussion regarding the תרומות הדשן( removal of ashes from the altar), which was the first task given to the כהנים  (priests) before dawn in preparation for the morning service.

It tells us that initially, any kohain could choose to perform this service on a first come, first served basis.

If more than one kohain wished to perform it, they would literally race along the ramp to the altar and whoever got within 4 amos of it first would receive the honor.

It once happened that while two kohanim competed for the honor, one of them pushed his friend who fell and broke his leg.

Once the בית דין  (court) saw that this ”competition”  brought them to danger, they abolished this custom and replaced it with a lottery system.

On reading this shocking account, one is faced with some obvious questions, among them:

  1. Why did it take such a disaster for the בית דין  to abolish this custom- was it not clear from the beginning that it was disaster waiting to happen?
  2. How can one explain the behaviour of the one כהן  who in his zeal to perform the מצוה, would push his friend- was it not clear to him that a מצוה  which one can only perform by pushing his friend might not be a מצוה  at all, but rather a מצוה הבאה בעבירה  (a mitzva that comes from a sin?)

As if this episode is not shocking enough, on the next daf (Yoma 23b), a ברייתא  is brought which tells how another time, two kohanim were racing towards the altar, and one of them got within 4 amos first, thus becoming entitled to the honor.

The other then took out a knife and mortally stabbed his friend.

Rabbi Tzadok stood on the stairs of the entrance hall and referenced the obligation for the inhabitants of the closest town  to bring an עגלה ערופה  (special calf offering) to atone for  a murder that took place.

He questioned whether an atonement offering for this murder should come from the people of the city or from the Kohanim who were in the courtyard of the Temple at the time.

Meanwhile, while the victim was lying dying on the ground, his father came and announced that the victim himself would be the atonement.

If this were not astounding enough, he then told everyone to quickly remove the knife from the body of his dead son so that it would not become impure when  he died.

The Gemara notes that the purity of vessels was taken more seriously by that generation than murder, and points to the period of the wicked king Menashe where murder was so common that the streets of Yerushalayim were filled with blood.

Putting the historical discrepancy between the time of Rabbi Tzadok and King Menashe aside, the depths to which a generation of the Jewish people could sink to the point at which a father seemed more concerned about the purity of a knife than the murder of his son is thankfully unfathomable to us.

Yet unfortunately, the slippery slope towards such an abomination is less difficult to imagine.

We live in  a time where many presumably observant Jews certainly seem to prioritize certain mitzvot and  customs over human life, if not consciously , then at least at some level.

During the Corona period, we have seen how people have insisted on attending indoor minyanim in shul, as well as mass celebrations and funerals, often without masks, in completed disregard for medical advice and legislation, and how many people  have likely died as result.

We have just seen how an unthinkable, but unfortunately not unpredictable tragedy occurred because the need to allow unlimited numbers of people to attend a religious event  (the significance of which is clearly subject to debate, but which is clearly significant to most who innocently went to great pains to attend it) was allowed to override the most obvious concerns for human safety and the basics of crowd control.

Chalila to believe that anyone would literally stab their neighbor in order to get into a religious event instead of him- there is no indication that anyone at this event was even pushing anyone else consciously- but many people have clearly lost perspective to the point that they don’t even realize how their obsessive observance of certain customs is actually endangering other people physically.

We can spend years analyzing what went wrong on a metaphysical level and assigning blame, but the most obvious reaction is to follow in the footsteps of Chazal and take corrective practical  action to try ensuring that such a terrible event ever occurs again, – if that means limiting participation in mass  events or even redesigning or abolishing them, which hopefully will not be necessary, then so be it- saving lives takes priority .


The Gemara questions which of the two events took place first.

If the murder took place first, and despite  the severity of the event, the custom was not abolished, then why would it be abolished after a later less severe event were someone only broke his leg.

On the other hand,  if the event in the Mishna took place first, then once the race was replaced with the lottery, how did the second event occur as described?

It answers that the murder indeed took place first.

However, the court felt that this might have been a freak event unlikely to repeat itself and refrained from abolishing the race.

Once the second tragedy took place, even though it was not as severe, it became clear that this was in fact a dangerous custom, and it was abolished.

Some might claim based on this that limiting such a popular custom on the basis of one freak incident is going too far.

However, such a claim seems  both  disingenuous  and reckless.

It is not unfair to believe that a kohain intentionally stabbing a rival kohain in order to get his mitzva is a rather freak event which even  in such a murderous period was not expected to repeat itself.

However, the tragedy in Meron was neither a freak event nor one that was not predictable.

It is something that happens all around the world where crowds become too dense, and some trigger event causes that crowd to collapse like a wave of water.

It was also the second mass casualty event in recent history to take place at the site, after over-crowding caused a balcony to collapse and kill many people at the same sight just over 100 years ago.

It is damning enough that various other considerations stopped the responsible parties, of whom it appears there are many, from taking the correct action in advance to prevent this tragedy- a certain member of parliament reportedly even pushed aside safety concerns raised by professionals by saying that the merit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would protect everyone- it would be unforgivable if measures are not taken to at least attempt to prevent a similar or even worse tragedy happening there or anywhere else again.

הכל בידי שמיים חוץ מצינים ופחים – all is in the hands of heaven except for colds and fever.