|This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate the Passover. Now we are here; next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are enslaved. Next year we will be free. Hold on, isn’t this paragraph taken from the Passover Seder? What’s the relevance to Yom Kippur? A story involving Israel’s former Chief Rabbi suggests an answer. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau relates (in his Passover Haggadah commentary p. 19) that he was once leading a Passover seder for several thousand soldiers and their families, many of whom were not religious. When he reached Ha Lachma Anya (the paragraph above), a soldier got up and asked a question.I don’t understand, we say “Now we are here; next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are enslaved. Next year we will be free.” I have lived my whole life in Israel and I have never been a slave, so if this part of the Haggadah has no application, then maybe the rest also is ancient and irrelevant?”
Rabbi Lau thought for a moment and responded, “That is an excellent question; I had a similar question when I was younger. You see I merited to daven (pray) on Yom Kippur with three different great Rabbis of the previous generation, Rav Elazar Shach, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach and Rav Eliyahu Lopian. I would see them crying and banging on their chest during al cheit confession. These great, honorable, and virtuous men clearly had not done most of the sins mentioned in this list, and I wondered why they too were saying this? Then I realized, they were not only saying it for themselves, but on behalf of others, on behalf of all the Jewish people. (The confession is said in plural.)
The reason we read the Haggadah even though we are fortunate enough to live in freedom in Israel is because we are thinking about our brothers and sisters (at the time of the story) in the USSR behind the Iron Curtain or our fellow Jews who are in prison (like, at the time of the story, Jonathan Pollard), and those Jews who cannot or simply do not live in Israel.
Here’s the take home for Yom Kippur this year. For most of us, items on the al cheit list apply to us but even if a few don’t, we should have in mind the collective mistakes and sins of our Jewish brothers and sisters, even those who are deeply religious as well as those who are so detached that Yom Kippur and other holidays have no meaning for them or a place in their lives. The Talmud (Shavuot 39a) says that all of Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) are responsible for one another. One of the best ways to be successful on Yom Kippur is to think about all Jews, not just us or those in the narrow circle in which we live.
The closing words of the Yom Kippur service (said during the final Kaddish) are, Next Year in Jerusalem. Until we are all there, let’s think about the larger Jewish family and pray the they avoid many of the pitfalls and mistakes of last year.