Yom Kippur

SEPTEMBER 18th, 2010
10 TISHREI, 5771

A Day of Atonement

By Rabbi Raphael Leban

In the big fat Webster’s dictionary that I got for my bar mitzvah (and have shlepped around the planet for the last few decades) it defines atonement as, “satisfaction or reparation given for an offense, injury, etc.” Basically, it means getting back a little of what you deserve. Most of us get a good healthy ‘atonement’ just by fasting, sitting in shul and being forced to listen to the Rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon. I’d say that’s about enough reparation for a year’s worth of wickedness.

Since Yom Kippur is called the Day of Atonement in English, that must be how it works.

Let’s take a look at the original sources a moment. Why does Yom Kippur happen on that day?  The Torah tells us that after we left Egypt and received the Torah at Mount Sinai, we made one of our greatest national blunders (even worse than inventing gefilte fish).  When Moshe seemed not to be returning from the mountain at the appointed time, we made the Golden Calf to replace him. For that grave error, the G-d-given tablets of the Ten Commandments were smashed. Eighty days later, after Moshe pleaded with G-d to forgive us, G-d finally forgave us (as much as He was going to) and gave us the second set of tablets. That day of Divine forgiveness was the tenth of the month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur.

In Hebrew, kippur is a form of the work kapara. Kapara means forgiveness—a powerful type of forgiveness that renders the soul of the offender clean as if the offense had never been made. Yom Kippur is a day of spiritual dry-cleaning. On that day, G-d forgives every little regrettable act we’ve done during the past year, and returns our souls to a state of bright, shiny cleanliness.

My daughter once asked me if she could get into the bathtub with her clothes on. She argued that they needed to be washed also. Maybe she had a point. Could have saved some time doing laundry. The only reason I didn’t agree was my doubt that the little girl inside the clothes would get the good scrubbing that the bath was intended for.

The day of Yom Kippur is itself detergent for the soul. But you have to make the soul accessible. If it’s all covered up with bad habits, negativity, arrogance and mistreatment of our fellow human beings, the cleanser just doesn’t work. Your soul doesn’t have to be clean before the cleaning, it just has to be exposed.

You have to do teshuva.

Very simply, you have to regret what you did wrong (if you haven’t completely blocked it out of your memory), admit it (quietly in prayer will do, you don’t have to take out an ad in the paper), and make up never to do it again (hopefully with a little strategy how that will work.). And if the offense was committed against someone, you have to obtain their forgiveness first. That’s what enables the day of Yom Kippur to work.

I don’t know if that’s what ole Webster had in mind, but it doesn’t have to be so painful. Your soul is certainly happy to be rinsed off for another year, and everybody likes to be forgiven. Just make sure that you take your clothes off before you get into the tub, and enjoy your sparkling clean new soul.

Eternal Love, Part 2

By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

According to some opinions, there is a special mitzvah to repent on Yom Kippur. Others maintain that the obligation to repent is incumbent upon us the entire year; just that on Yom Kippur, due to its special sanctity, the imperative is greater. In the final analysis, Yom Kippur is certainly an important time to meditate on the events of the previous year and their meaning.

The mitzvah to repent must be well understood. It would seem that repentance is simply a mechanism to repair the damage that we have wreaked upon our souls. The entire year we are busy with our daily routine and we don’t stop to think about the real raison d’etre for our being in this world. Therefore, Hashem created a day when we can focus on our true selves and attempt to reset our compass. We consider repairing the devastation that sin has wreaked upon our soul.

There is an aspect to Yom Kippur that we may be unfamiliar with. In his famous treatise on repentance Rabbeinu Yonah writes a very important phrase. He writes that although achieving real repentance may be beyond our ability, Hashem in His infinite mercy extends a hand and gently pulls us toward Him. He doesn’t stop there. He continues to say that the true purpose of repentance is to attain a level of purity from which one can come to love Hashem. In other words, repentance is not simply a system to repair one’s misdeeds. Rather, it is a mechanism which enables an individual to reach new vistas in his relationship with Hashem.

In his book the Path of the Just, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto clearly details what it means to love Hashem. He writes that just as one who has a love for a certain thing will actively work to acquire that thing, so too we must develop an interest in Torah and mitzvos so that we will desire to pursue the study of Torah and performance of mitzvos with passion and delight. This is the level that we seek to accomplish on Yom Kippur when we fast. We must reflect whether or not we feel enthusiasm and excitement in our adherence to Judaism.

This entire process was preceded by the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah. We heard the shofar blasts and in particular the broken sounds between the long blasts. The Talmud explains that these resemble and inculcate within us a sense of crying. We deplore our appalling record of disregard for and even rebellion against Hashem’s will. It is with that backdrop that we approach the Heavenly Court on Yom Kippur. May Hashem grant us another year so that we can continue to attempt to better ourselves and the world around us.

Byte for Yom Kippur

The numerical equivalent of the letters of the Hebrew word, “HaSatan”, meaning the accusing angel, is 364. The solar year has 365 days. There is one day of the year when the powers of evil are ineffective. That is the day of Yom Kippur. Through our observance of the prohibitions on this day such as eating and drinking, we purify and elevate ourselves to the level of angels. At that lofty level, we can escape the clutches of the Evil Inclination and truly focus on the themes of Yom Kippur.


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