Sunday, September 27, 2020

Show Me your Face

Yom Kippur is the day we take off the mask, so to speak.

The charade of living our lives independently from G-d is over. We take off the veil and show our true colors.

During the Inquisition, Jews who had been forcibly baptized in Spain and Portugal used to live a lie, pretending to be Catholics outwardly but surreptitiously practicing Jewish observances in the secrecy of their homes. Even after they left to freer lands, many of their descendants still maintained the guise of crytpo-Jewish life, all year at least. Once a year, they'd come to shul... on Yom Kippur, and rejoin the Jewish community.

This posed a dilemma to the community. How should they regard these "once-a-year" Jews who live as Catholics year-round, who had publicly abandoned their faith, a shameful and heretical act in the Jewish religion?

Wise and saintly rabbis understood that these lost errant sheep were also Jews, and must be welcomed back into the fold, even if for one day.

It was instituted that before the Kol Nidrei prayer, when we absolve all vows, the cantor would proclaim:

"By the authority of Omnipresent One and by the authority of this congregation, by consent of both the Heavenly Court and earthly we permit praying together with those who sinned."

Kol Nidrei was then recited by all. Everyone disavowed all oaths, both by choice or under coercion. The liturgy concludes:

"And may the entire congregation of the children of Israel be forgiven, as well as the stranger who dwells among them, for all the people went astray.

"And G-d said to Moses: 'I have forgiven them as you requested!'"

These wayward Jews were now forgiven. All fake identities were forgotten, and all masks removed. They were now Jews like all others, if at least for one day, one awesome day that defined their true quintessential selves.

My dear friends, on this awesome day of Yom Kippur, please remove the masks, the artificial façade that obscures your Divine essence.

Your face is not meant to be covered. [1]

You are created in the image of the Divine, the tselem Elokim. This is your face. Your eyes, nose and mouth. Do not obscure it.

Do not allow society to reduce you to a faceless member of the herd.

If Heaven-forfend, you have bought into this polytheistic cult of facelessness, I beg you , I implore you... do NOT stand before G-d on this awesome day with a mask on your face. Do not symbolically place a masach (mask, but also a partition or curtain that separates, מסך המבדיל, as in מסך ברזל -- the accursed 'Iron Curtain') separating between you and G-d, and between you and your fellow human being, who is also created in the image of the Divine.

It must also be pointed out that wearing a mask outdoors (where there is no eruv) is a grave violation of the sanctity of Yom Kippur, since Judaic law does NOT consider a mask an article of clothing, but a load that one carries, an act that is Biblically prohibited on this holiest day. [2]

At the very least, do not pray while wearing a mask. It is a desecration of prayer, a desecration of your tselem Elokim.[3]

"Turn your face to me," G-d pleads, "and I shall turn My face to you."

Please heed G-d's impassioned plea on this awesome day.

That's the motto of this year, 5781.

Show the world your beautiful face. Let your light shine. [4]

Don't fall for the specious arguments of those who wish to obscure your Divine essence with a piece of cloth. [5]

No more facades. Shine the light of your face. And let the light of G-d's face illuminate the world.

Shana tova.


[1] See Likutei Torah by the Arizal. Nose, mouth, and ears must always be uncovered, without any obstruction. That is how our Creator intended it.

[2] It is the halachic opinion of this author, and in consultation with numerous worldwide authorities on Judaic law, that it is strictly forbidden to wear a mask outdoors on Sabbath or Yom Kippur, unless perhaps an N-95 mask, but even that is rather dubious.

It does NOT make it okay to wear a mask just because the government requires it. Just as it was forbidden to wear a yellow star outdoors on Shabbos, even if the German government required it.

[3] Wearing masks has pagan origins. It was NOT done in Biblical time, and is NOT regarded as a normal garment in Judaic tradition. Instead, it was a rite of polytheistic worship. This ritualistic mask-wearing still exists today in various pagan cults that are still extant. In a societal sense, Jews don't wear masks. Except on Purim when it's an obvious joke, and perhaps has kabbalistic significance to nullify all masachim barriers. And even on Purim, it is strictly forbidden to pray while wearing the mask. One must remove it before reciting words of prayer or blessings, as Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch ruled definitively in a responsum.

[4] In the Jewish calendar, this year is numerically תשפ"א, Tav-Shin-Pay-Aleph.

In Hebrew, that is acrostic for: "השנה תהא שנת אור פניך" -- May it be the year (that we go by the) light of Your face.

The small number 81 is פא is a reversal of אף af, which means nose, but can also be associated with anger. Why? Because when one is angry, his breathing is short and he feels his nostrils getting heated up. Hence "חרון אף -- burning of nostrils" means wrath. When you wear a mask over your nose, you feel the hot air in your nostrils. This is charon af, quite literally. Let's stop this wrathful madness now, at least on this holy day.

Parenthetically, תשפ"א is also a metathesis of "תשאף" -- "You should inhale (freely, without obstruction)."

As a pictogram, the letter פ"א pay means mouth. As an ideogram, it denotes openings and apertures. Paleographically speaking, the mouth is meant to be open, without obstruction or hindrance of any kind.

[5] Statistical arguments have no bearing in Judaic law. In order to make the case to cover one's breathing, i.e. nose and mouth, there must be actual scientific evidence that your not wearing a mask poses actual medical risk to any person. There is no such empirical evidence. Moreover, breathing without obstruction is an essential freedom. In order to infringe, the government must exercise strict scrutiny. This would require actual scientific evidence that asymptomatic transmission occurs in a numerically significant number of cases, and that masks indeed stop the spread of the pathogen. Statistical speculation is insufficient. Today's PCR test is not even diagnostic, so there is no actual proof that someone without symptoms is necessarily a carrier of any virus, let alone contagious.

Some argue that Moses wore a veil (see Exodus 34:29). Rashi points out that this was out of respect to the G-dly light that emanated from his face, so that it shouldn't be on display for all to see and feast their eyes on. It was an act of honoring G-d, not out of deference to any human beings or human-ordained regulations. Furthermore, he removed his mask when communicating with G-d (in prayer) AND when teaching Torah to the children of Israel.

See here my previous blog post on this topic.