Shabbat Blog: Stay Curious

Friday, April 29, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

I got a message (as part of a WhatsApp group) this week from a Rabbinic colleague asking for leads for a High Holiday Soloist! Yes, you heard right…the Rabbis are already planning for the High Holidays! This is how Rabbis live…always living six months ahead of time. 

In that spirit, I am happy to share this Torah thought that relates to Yom Kippur…but that also provides a really nice message for any time of the year. 

This week’s Torah portion opens with a depiction of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) entering into the Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies) to perform the Yom Kippur service. 

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk asks why there is no mention of Yom Kippur in the writings of the Neviim (the Prophets), while other holidays do appear in those writings? It’s a really good question, considering how much detail there is in the Torah about Yom Kippur.  

His answer is surprising. He notes that during biblical times Yom Kippur was not such a big deal in that it was observed by people in the privacy of their homes. As he notes, “a one day fast is not a major observance.” He goes on to say that the “heavy lifting” of the offerings was done by the Kohen Gadol. Passover (and the other pilgrimage festivals) on the other hand, required that people come to Jerusalem where thousands and thousands of offerings were brought. Hence, Yom Kippur is not mentioned in the prophets - it simply was not a major focus. 

Things changed, however, during the period of the second temple once prophecy ceased. No longer able to access God via the prophets, people began to flock to Jerusalem to get a glimpse of the Kohen Gadol after he completed the Yom Kippur service - as he encountered God (in a different way) while on the Holy of Holies. 

Rabbi Meir SImcha’s words are beautiful as he notes that the people “were hungry for the word of God.”. This is how Yom Kippur was transformed from a private observance to a national holiday. I wonder if Yom Kippur’s popularity today is a vestige of this historical change. 

Even as I learned a lot from this explanation, what really struck me was the notion of being hungry for the word of God. So powerful was the pull that it changed the very nature of the day! 

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik contends that human curiosity is a function of the desire to encounter the Divine. He writes, “There is no hidden corner of the natural or spiritual world which man’s consciousness, pining for its Divine beloved, does not peer into and scrutinize…Flesh and blood man longs to escape from the limited, bounded and contingent world and go into the limitless, independent wide-open spaces. The search is an act of self-transcendence, which is truly the essence of man’s cultural ascent.” 

Are you a curious person? Have you ever wondered why we are curious? Perhaps, as Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested, curiosity is really our desire to understand God.  

I invite you to cultivate your curiosity as a function of longing for God.  

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Gelman 

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of

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