Communal Atonement – Weekly Words of Torah, Yom Kippur 5774

Insights into Yom Kippur by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.

The Mishnah in Masechet Yoma (85b) states that crimes against fellow Jews (Bein Adam Le’Chavero) are not forgiven until the wronged party is appeased. Rabi Elazar ben Azarya derives this halacha from the verse “From all of your sins in front of Hashem you will be purified”- implying that for crimes Bein Adam LeChavero the wronged party must be appeased.

This generates a difficulty. Haven’t we previously derived this lesson from a different source? The Mishnah in Masechet Bava Kama (92a) derives from Avraham Avinu and Avimelech that a person who performs financial remuneration is not forgiven until he has requested forgiveness. What new concept is advanced from the Yom Kippur lesson of Rabi Elazar ben Azarya?

Rav Soloveitchik (recorded in Harerei Kedem I), of blessed memory, makes a distinction between the two cases. In Bava Kama we derive a general principle that in order to gain forgiveness for wronging a fellow Jew, in addition to performing restitution (in financial misdeeds), we must obtain his/her forgiveness as well. On Yom Kippur, however, it is insufficient to receive mere forgiveness for the wrongdoing. Rabi Elazar ben Azarya derives from the verse that one must appease the wronged party, to “make things right”, to attain the previous level of love and friendship that existed prior to the crime.

What is the source of this distinction? The atonement of Yom Kippur constitutes communal atonement. An individual only merits atonement via the community- tzibur. The goat sent out to the wilderness- Sair HaMishtaleach- is a communal sacrifice- karban tzibur. In order to unify the community, divisions and friction must be eliminated. This concept finds expression in the piyut (recited at the conclusion of the Seder Avodah in Tefilat Musaf) “A day of inculcating love and friendship”.