As we approach Yom Kippur, we recognize that it is unquestionably one of the most important days of the year. And yet, in many ways, it is a mystery. While one might assumedly categorize it as a day of suffering and sadness, Chazal refer to Yom Kippur as a spiritually uplifting day of atonement and rebirth (Taanis 4:8). There is even an element of the day that is associated with the happiness of Purim (Yom K’-Purim, a day like Purim). At the same time, though, it is a fast day. We normally characterize fast days as times of mourning and sadness, such as Shiv’ah Asar B’Tamuz and Tish’ah B’Av. How is Yom Kippur different, and what is the nature of this day?

Time is infused with infinite spiritual richness, and each point in time is a wave that carries with it layers of depth. The cycle of holidays is a course of spiritual progression that we can tap into as we advance towards our ultimate personal and collective destination. The cycle of Torah reading provides this same opportunity. Each parshah has unique ideas and concepts that are particularly relevant to the time of year when it is read. As we go through this cycle, year after year, we propel our kabalas haTorah forward one level higher every year. Every time we restart the Torah cycle, we begin the same Torah, but on a more elevated level, turning the circular Torah cycle into an elevating spiral in time.

Before Adam sinned, he looked nothing like you or I do today. When we look at one another, all we see is flesh and bone, but if you looked at Adam before he sinned, his appearance was angelic, transcendent, luminescent. The Midrash says that he wore kosnos or, skin of light. When you looked at Adam, you didn’t see his body, you saw Adam himself – his neshamah, his soul. When you look at a light bulb, all you see is radiant luminescence; only if you look very closely can you just make out the surface of the bulb. The same was true regarding Adam; only if you looked very closely could you just make out his physical body. His body was transparent, with the outside loyally and fully reflecting his inner self. This is true beauty, where the inner and outer melt into a oneness, where the physical perfectly reflects the inner spirituality, where the physical projects something much deeper than itself. Beauty is the harmony and synthesis of different components, resulting in something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

The birth of a new year is a time of reflection and resolution, when hope and inspiration fill the air. We dream about what this upcoming year holds in store for us, how we can make the rest of our lives the best of our lives. We all have ideas, ambitions, and aspirations that we yearn to bring to fruition, and the new year gives us “permission” to revisit these goals and breathe new life into them. For a brief moment, everything is crystal clear; we see our purpose and our path with vivid clarity. However, there is an underlying frustration that accompanies this time period, as well. If we reflect honestly, we often realize that our new year’s resolutions are awfully similar to those of last year, and the year before, and the year before…

The topic of leadership is both fascinating and fundamental to human society. In Parshas Shoftim, the Torah discusses the three categories of Jewish leadership: The Melech (king), the Sanhedrin (courts), and the Kohanim (priests). What is the Jewish approach to leadership, and how does it compare to other perspectives on leadership?

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