Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur


by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Jews and jewelry on Yom Kippur
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A few years ago there was a new fad in jewelry. It was to take the finest gold, white or yellow, according to your taste, fashioned into a necklace or a bracelet, (this time according to your budget!) combined with diamonds. Doesn't sound very "fad-like"? Sounds like it's lacking a little inspiration? Ah, but these were not your average diamonds.

These were unpolished diamonds.

Have you ever seen an unpolished diamond before? I have. If you want to have an idea of what they look like just go outside and pick up any old stone from the ground. Dust it off and hold it up to the light and admire its, well, stony appearance. I really can't think of a more apt description. They are an insurance agent's nightmare, because if one were to inadvertently drop an unpolished diamond outside it would be nigh on impossible to distinguish it from the thousands of plain old stones.

So what's so special about them? Why would someone voluntarily choose to part with a small (sometimes large) fortune to buy them? Because, as we all know, appearances can be deceptive. No one buys an unpolished diamond because it's identical to a regular stone. The only reason to buy an unpolished diamond is for what's underneath the surface: Hidden from the human eye, but present nevertheless, is potentially one of the most beautiful sights of the natural world! But there is a certain built-in paradox about all this. In order to really appreciate the diamond in its unpolished state, one has to be aware of what lies underneath that surface. Otherwise you're going to get some pretty funny looks from people when they see that new piece of jewelry!

On the face of it Yom Kippur may not seem to be the best time to discuss the pros and cons of unpolished diamonds versus the polished variety. But I'm not so sure. You see, most of us actually bear a startling resemblance to unpolished diamonds! At birth each of us was given the most exquisite gift from G-d. Its brilliance and beauty are unparalleled - even by the cleanest, brightest diamond. This gift is called the neshama (soul) and its potential is simply breathtaking! It is comprised, in part, of luminosity, sparkle and luster, and it is just waiting to be revealed to the world.

If it weren't for a small "technical problem," each uniquely fashioned neshama (individually designed by the Creator Himself - just for you!) would release its dazzling light and color into the environment this very minute. But it can't because right now it's covered with the drab grayness of this physical world that we live in. In fact, it is so overcome, the vast majority of people cannot even identify it!

There is a famous Chasidic story told about Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk. Many years ago, he finally fulfilled his dream to settle in the Land of Israel. Forty days after his arrival he invited all of his family and students to a special festive meal. His students were a little unsure as to why their Rabbi was making the meal but they attended anyway. During the meal, Rabbi Menachem Mendel recounted that before embarking on his trip he had gone to a pious and holy rabbi for a blessing. The Rabbi had informed him that on his arrival in the Land of Israel every stone will be a diamond! He related to his spellbound audience that on arriving he had looked and looked and all he had seen was…stones! Not a single diamond on the ground (in those days there probably weren't even diamonds to be seen on any fingers either!). Imagine his disappointment! What had happened to the guarantee that he had been given? So fiercely did Rabbi Menachem Mendel believe in the promise that he would see diamonds that he fasted for forty days straight, eating only at night! On the fortieth day he opened his eyes, looked out of the window and saw…diamonds!

Don't think that Rabbi Menachem Mendel made a special meal because now he was rich. Don't think that he went to the grocery store and bought all the requirements for the meal with a stone he picked up off the ground! Quite the opposite! For the store owner and everyone else, all the "diamonds" were still stones.

No, Rabbi Menachem Mendel was celebrating the moment that he was able to recognize the diamonds that were all around him, but that he had never been privy to see before. He was celebrating his new-found blessing to be able to cut away, just like a master jewelsmith, the unimpressive, the unprepossessing, exterior to reveal the magnificent opulence that lies underneath.

You know, Yom Kippur is the culmination of our own forty day period. Starting on the first day of the month of Elul there is a special period of time for intensive introspection. It is time that is specifically dedicated to identifying that priceless gem buried deep inside of us and to beginning the process that will bring it to the surface and turn it in to a pure source of light. Just like a rough diamond, our neshamot must be polished and shaped; turned into something that refracts G-d's light. This will only happen when our neshamot have become cleansed of the dirt that has accumulated around them. For forty days we polish our neshamot - it's a painstaking business. Hair's breadth by hair's breadth, we slowly begin to remove the grime. Day by day, every second must be dedicated until the last day of the process when we can unveil our pure, polished, radiant neshamot to the world.

Yom Kippur is that day. The last day, the fortieth day is the final test. The last exam to see whether we are worthy of being put on show by the "Master Jewelsmith." In effect, Yom Kippur is the ultimate jewelry exhibition - and we are the exhibits!

Let us hope and pray that by the end of this Yom Kippur we succeed in our goal; that every place we go, we will be exhibiting the cleanest, purest, most exquisite diamond in the world. One that people will immediately recognize who the "Artisan" was and point at it and say "I, too, want such a neshama"!

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