The High Holiday period is one (we hope!) filled with introspection, reflection and a commitment to try to become a better person. Our religious antennae are at their highest point as we spend the day in prayer and fasting. For many, it is the only time of the year that any significant amount of time is spent in communal prayer. It is a day in which we focus on the fragility of life, remembering those who are no longer and pleading that we be spared from their fate.
It is a time that makes many a rabbi nervous as he works to deliver a sermon that will be thoughtful and inspirational; not an easy task when dealing with a very demanding “clientele”. Topics such as Israel, family, assimilation, Shabbat, tzedakah, social activism and community involvement are the order of the day. Our Yom Kippur experience is meant to inspire us, even—or, shall we say, especially—when the day is long gone.
As important and central as Yom Kippur is, the day after is much more crucial. Fasting and prayer, in of themselves, are of little value. However, if our hunger motivates us to help alleviate the misfortune of others, then one has had a meaningful fast—a fulfillment of the Talmudic dictum that the “reward for a fast is charity”.
A little Biblical history may shed some light on what should be an additional area in which to focus in the aftermath of Yom Kippur.
"It was on the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood by Moses from the morning until the evening” (Exodus 18:13). Moshe Rabbeinu, as many great leaders are wont to do, tried to do everything himself, without delegating tasks to others. He was the sole judge adjudicating all (financial) disputes—a task that literally took up his entire day. His father-in-law Yitro warned him that he was bound to fail if he continued in his ways.
The Torah goes out of its way to note that this happened on the “next day”, a strange expression; especially considering the Torah makes no mention of the previous day. Our Sages note that the previous day was none other than the very first Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur must inspire us to resolve our outstanding monetary disputes with others.
Yet this is not the only thing that was happening on the day after Yom Kippur. According to our Sages, the command to build a Tabernacle took place on the day after Yom Kippur.
The Torah links these two seemingly unrelated events, placing them both on the day after Yom Kippur. A Tabernacle can only be built if our monetary disputes are settled. One can pray, fast and repent all day and night, but unless one reconciles with his fellow man, Yom Kippur cannot atone for our sins. G-d will not—and actually cannot—forgive sins committed against another human being. While it is perhaps unfortunate that people must be involved in monetary disputes to begin with, it is the way of the world. What is crucial is that a mechanism exist—and is taken advantage of—to resolve these inevitable disputes. Yitro advised Moshe to select judges who, among their other qualities, would “hate money”. Money can be a wonderful tool in life and it is natural and appropriate to love some of what money can buy. However, if we are in love with money itself, we are bound to love other, more important aspects of life less. It is not by chance that Jewish law prohibits the handling of, and even talking about, money on Shabbat and holidays, days devoted to increasing our love towards G-d and our fellow man.