It is Erev Yom Kippur, and I am looking at today’s daf (Beitzah 15b) which informs us that what we learn from the words זכור את יום השבת – ‘remember the Shabbat day’ (Shemot 20:8) is that we should be sure to remember Shabbat מאחר שבא להשכיחו – ‘when a risk exists that we may forget it’.
I am then thinking about the other things that the Torah lists that we are expected to remember – but that we also often forget. The redemption of Am Yisrael by God from Egypt – and the need to provide support for those in need of physical, spiritual and emotional redemption (Devarim 16:3). The dangers of assimilation and destruction from physical and spiritual threats – and the need to protect ourselves and our people from both (Devarim 25:17). The receiving of the Torah and its function as a spiritual and moral compass for our life (Devarim 4:9). The intellectual and spiritual threat of idolatry in all its forms (Devarim 9:7). And the harm that harsh words can have on others including those closest to us (Devarim 24:9).
Significantly, this list of six things – otherwise known as the שש זכירות (the six remembrances) – is accompanied by a series of actions (i.e. mitzvot) that we are required to fulfil to ensure that we don’t forget these crucial lessons. In terms of Shabbat, this includes the actions we are required to do throughout the week so we don’t come to shabbat unprepared. In terms of the Egypt experience, this includes the Seder. In terms of the need to protect ourselves from physical and spiritual harm, this includes the annual reading of the Amalek portion. In terms of Torah, this includes our daily recitation of the Birkot HaTorah (the Blessings on the Torah) and daily study of Torah. And in terms of idolatry, this includes the prohibitions against making certain sculptures and images.
Yet while many books exist about the negative impact of harsh words and lashon hara, and notwithstanding the fact that the Torah contains the story of Miriam and other stories relating to lashon hara, we seemingly have few – if any – formalized rituals to remind ourselves of the harm that harsh words can have on others including those closest to us. Unfortunately, what this means is that we live with a constant risk that we may forget this important fact.
But then we come to Yom Kippur which is the culmination of the 40-day period when Moshe used his words to God in order to protect and defend Am Yisrael, and the culmination of a stretch of time during which we have recited selichot. And what do we say, repeatedly, both in the selichot and during Yom Kippur?
We review those traits that God told Moshe to speak out and reflect upon – those 13 Attributes of Mercy – where we refer to God as being compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness. And by using our mouths to speak out and reflect upon these attributes of mercy, our intention is to give ourselves both chizuk (encouragement) and mussar (ethical instruction) to direct our words and our deeds to live a life overflowing with kindness, consideration, compassion, graciousness, slowness to anger and abundance in lovingkindness.
Ultimately, Yom Kippur is the day when we remind ourselves of the important things that we often forget, and in particular, how our words can impact others – for the good and the bad. It is the day we need so we don’t forget, which sadly too many of us do. So let’s use it well! Wishing you all a meaningful Yom Kippur.