At our best, we have been intensely preparing for Yom Kippur for the past forty days, since Rosh Chodesh Elul. Reviewing this past year, we may justifiably take pride in our religious and spiritual achievements, our moral courage of conscience and conviction, and our social and political activism on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Considering the past year, we may also have identified our shortcomings and transgressions, begetting deep remorse for our failings, and sparking firm resolve to do better in the year to come. But, if you’re like me, chances are you have awoken to the New Year finding yourself less prepared than you would have liked for the transformations and atonements that Yom Kippur promises. We are therefore hoping that Yom Kippur will provide for us a kefitzat haderekh – a spatial-temporal jump to our own penitential sincerity, to Hashem’s kindness and forgiveness, and to the blessings of a Shana Tova, a good, new year.
The rabbinic notion of kefitzat haderekh – spiritual teleportation, if you will, originates in the journey of Yaakov Avinu on his way toward becoming Yisrael. After the Torah (Bereishit 28:10) tells us,
ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה
that our forefather Yaakov left his father’s house in Beersheva and went to his mother’s birthplace in Charan, the Torah then details,
ויפגע במקום וילן שם כי בא השמש
“and he encountered the place, and lodged there, for the sun had set.”
The rabbis of the Talmud (TB Chulin 91b) are perplexed. The location of Yaakov Avinu’s epiphanous dream of angels ascending and descending took place at Beit El, in the rocky hills of the Shomron. It was there that Hashem promised Yaakov a future of descendants numerous like the loam of the land, spreading out in all directions, bringing blessing to the family of nations. It was there Yaakov himself experienced his own kefitzat haderekh, awakening to the Divine presence, recognizing the awesomeness of the place just as he was heading into exile. The gates of heaven opened, and were now closing, but not before Yaakov readied himself for his journey of transformation, praying for God’s providential protection, and proclaiming his own faithful allegiance. How then did Yaakov Avinu arrive at Beit El, when the previous verse said that he went to Charan?
The Talmud therefore teaches that once Yaakov arrived in Charan, he asked himself: “How could I have passed the place where my fathers prayed without having prayed there myself?” As soon as he resolved to return, קפצא ליה ארעא – the land jumped him, and immediately, ויפגע במקום – he encountered the place. The Talmud understands that Yaakov is reversing his grandfather Avraham’s footsteps, leaving Canaan for Charan, going into exile. All Jewish journeys, teaches the Talmud, must commence with revisiting the peggiyot – the prayers of our forefathers and foremothers. All Jewish dreams start in the Land of Israel, our place of Divine promise. All Jewish blessings begin with a commitment to practice the precepts and live the values of Torah uMitzvot no matter where our wanderings lead.
The Talmud (TB Berakhot 27a) asserts that tefillah – Jewish prayer not only correlates to the avodah, the daily offerings in the Beit HaMikdash, but also parallels the prayerful model of our Avot, our patriarchs, including the kefitzat haderekh of Yaakov Avinu’s encounter with the place, referring at once to both God and the land. On Yom Kippur, our tefillot indeed parallel and even reenact the avodah – the special Yom Kippur sacrificial service that achieves atonement for the people of Israel. However, this Yom Kippur, before the gates of heaven begin to close, let us also emulate Yaakov Avinu’s kefitzat haderekh. Let our tefillot teleport us to transcend our own personal concerns and envelop those regarding our people. Let our hearts and minds jump to Israel, and pray for the Land of our divine promise, and the State of our people’s future. Let our teshuvah and sincerity of commitment and conviction vault to match that our father Yaakov when he began his journey, a journey that would ultimately change him into Yisrael, a journey that would ultimately bring him and his family back to the land that would come to bear his name, and whose soil grows Jewish dreams and blessings.