There is a famous story about one of the Belzer Rebbes who would walk around the shul on Yom Kippur encouraging and strengthening his Chassidim. Many thought that this was an odd practice for Yom Kippur. One Yom Kippur, as he was walking through the aisles, he saw someone who looked faint. The Rebbe quickly took a piece of cake out of his pocket and stuffed it into the man’s mouth. The Rebbe explained that he saw on his face that his man was on the verge of collapse and that is what the halacha mandated for the Rebbe to do.
As a bochur in yeshiva, my friends who learned in the Yeshiva of Staten Island told me that Rav Moshe Feinstein would also pace the aisles during Ne’ilah, sending students out weak-looking to break their fast before the official time posted on the yeshiva calendar. I understood that Reb Moshe was acting as a responsible leader of the congregation, and as such he had to ensure that no one would be fasting when their health was such that halacha mandated that they should not.
This year, upon reflecting on these stories about these two great men, I was struck with a possible different interpretation of their actions. Yom Kippur is not only a time for one to be absorbed in connecting to Hashem, it is also a special time to work on one’s “bein adam lechaveiro”. Precisely at the time when one is supposed to be – or thinks that he should be – focusing on his relationship with Hashem, is the time that one should be concerned with one’s neighbor. Seeing their Tzelem Elokim, will also further our connection to Hashem.
Unfortunately, I know up close a story which shows the exact opposite, and possibly the lessons learned from it will be an atonement for the perpetrator. There were two people—let’s call them Reuven and Shimon. Reuven understood that Shimon had bad feelings towards him, but felt that if he would bring up the issue directly to Shimon, he probably would not get anywhere. Reuven therefore decided to wait for an opportunity to try to make up with Shimon. Reuven knew that Shimon would be going to the mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur, so he waited for him outside the entrance so that he could ask for forgiveness from him. When Shimon finally arrived, Reuven approached him before he entered the mikveh and gently asked, “Could I please speak to you for a few minutes?” To which Shimon (who understood what Reuven wanted) responded gruffly, “I don’t have time for you, I have to go to the mikveh!”
Sometimes people in the passion of trying to serve Hashem may lose sight of what is really important. Yes, we must ask Hashem for forgiveness for our misconduct to him, but the merit of “bein adam lechaveiro” can actually improve our chances. Not only that, the Shlah Hakadosh says that offenses between fellow men can impede forgiveness from Hashem Himself.
In addition, sometimes we may think that we have no need to forgive others. However, if we do forgive, this causes a response from Hashem in which he will forgive us, too.
May we all merit to selicha, mechila and kapara, in the yeshiva shel maala and yeshiva shel mata.