By Rabbi Shlomy Levertov

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we celebrate our re-connection with G‑d, making it the holiest day of the year. For nearly 25 hours, we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear and abstain from marital relations. We set aside our physical needs and desires, the external trappings of what it means to be a human being, and we return to our essence and reconnect our soul to its source. This year, Yom Kippur begins the evening of Oct. 11.

Being the holiest time of year, many of the prayers that we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are focused on the greatness of G‑d and how powerful and awesome He is. By reciting and focusing on these prayers, we successfully create a deep yearning of our soul to connect to its Creator.

Another running theme in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers is our pleading with G‑d that He gives us a sweet year, a year of tranquility, a year of health and happiness.

It seems paradoxical that many prayers highlight our realization of G‑d’s greatness while still many others have a focal point of us and our physical needs. Is Yom Kippur about our spiritual well-being, setting aside our physical needs? Or is it about us guaranteeing ourselves a year of physical wellbeing? Even more so, on the holiest day of the year, during the holiest prayers, how can we turn our attention away from G‑d’s greatness to appeal for what we need to make life more comfortable?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, used the following story to answer the paradox: Chana made the trip to Shiloh, where the Sanctuary stood before King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, to pray for a child. She stood in the Sanctuary and poured out her heart and begged G‑d to listen. Trancelike, she prayed with many heartfelt words that G‑d bless her with a son, and vowed that she would dedicate his whole life to G‑d. Meanwhile, the High Priest Eli, watched as she swayed back and forth, and assumed she was drunk. He rebuked her for daring to enter the Sanctuary in such a state of drunkenness.

Chanah explained to him that she was not, in fact, drunk. “I have poured out my soul before G‑d,” she replied. Eli realized the deep piety and grief that had moved her, and blessed her that G‑d will hear her prayers. In due time, she had a son who later became Samuel the prophet.

How was it possible that the High Priest was able to confuse someone who was genuinely praying with deep concentration, with someone who is drunk?!

Eli believed that on the holiest day of the year, in the holy Sanctuary, the greatness of G‑d and the awesomeness of the day takes center stage and all requests and personal supplications need to be kept for a different time. He accused her of being drunk; of not being able to ascertain that in such circumstances, her behavior was inappropriate.  

Chana answered that she was not drunk. She was not unaware of the day or place, but rather, she knew exactly what had to be done. She was asking for a son that would be dedicated to G‑d his whole life. She was asking an extremely personal request that would enhance the world in an extremely spiritual way. Chana was teaching us that our requests and prayers for physical health and prosperity aren’t selfish – they are really requests from G‑d to give us the strength and means to fulfill our spiritual purpose in life. By utilizing the physical world to better serve G‑d and create a dwelling place for Him, we will usher in the times of Moshiach.

Rabbi Shlomy Levertov is the director of Chabad of Paradise Valley and jPhoenix – Young Jewish Professionals.

Posted in the Jewish News.