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Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

by Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort

  

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Ask any Jew. He/she will tell you that Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. It is the Day of Atonement. The day that we are forgiven for our misdeeds of the past year, and begin the New Year with a clean slate. But how did Yom Kippur get such an awesome designation?

The Torah1 itself states that on the 10th day of the seventh month (Tishrei) the day shall be known as Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement. The Torah further elaborates by conveying the commandment to fast from sunset on the 9th of Tishrei until nightfall of the 10th. The Torah states, "You shall afflict yourselves", on this day that is also described as a Shabbat of Shabbats.

What is so special about this day that we may be forgiven for our sins? There are several answers. Moses originally ascended Mt. Sinai on the 7th of the Hebrew month of Sivan and remained there for 40 days in communion with G-d, receiving His Law. When Moses descended he found some of the people engaged in serving the nefarious Golden Calf and therefore broke the Tablets that contained the 10 Commandments.

Moses was able to elicit a full and complete pardon for the sin of the Golden Calf on the 10th Day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur
Moses immediately went back up the mountain to plead with the Almighty to forgive the people. After 40 days Moses received a tentative pardon from G-d and returned to tell the people. He again immediately returned to Mt. Sinai on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul for his final 40-day stint atop the mountain. On the 40th day of this stay, Moses was able to elicit a full and complete pardon for his Jewish brothers and sisters. This wonderful event occurred on the 10th Day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur.

Although that gives us insight as to the historical characteristic of Yom Kippur it does not explain why Yom Kippur is a day that brings about forgiveness. We must turn to Jewish Mysticism to find that answer. We learn in Kabbalah that each of us has a soul with many attributes and levels. We have five distinct levels of the soul. We learn that typically, on any given mundane day, the lowest three levels of the soul are in evidence (and that is one of the reasons we pray three times on a regular day). On Shabbat an additional level of our soul becomes apparent (hence the extra Musaf prayers on Shabbat, making four times that we pray on that holy day). Finally on Yom Kippur the deepest level of our soul, its veritable essence, is manifested. This level of the soul is called Yechidah, which means 'one', because it is completely united with its Creator.

On Yom Kippur the deepest level of our soul, its veritable essence, is manifested. This level of the soul is called Yechidah, which means 'one', because it is completely united with its Creator
This connection is so profound that it is unbreakable. Sins do not apply to this level of the soul whatsoever. It is known in Yiddish as the "Pinteleh Yid," (point or essence of the Jew). Our holiness on Yom Kippur exceeds that of angels. Because this fifth level of the soul is in evidence we pray five times on Yom Kippur (the extra prayer being Ne'ilah). We are so angelic that we don white clothing - that represent purity - and we abstain from food and drink. Instead of physical food our sustenance is completely spiritual in nature. Our prayers sustain our souls. Our souls sustain our bodies. On Yom Kippur our souls are of primary importance and the comfort of our bodies is basically ignored.

May we all be blessed to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life and fully appreciate our closeness with G-d on this Yom Kippur Day. We have 25 hours to revel in our unity with G-d, may we be blessed with the wisdom to properly utilize this holy time!

Shanah Tovah!

Footnotes

  • 1. Leviticus 23:27

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Tishrei
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which arrives in early autumn, has more holidays than any other month: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Musaf
The additional prayer service added (after the morning prayers) on Sabbath, Biblically mandated holidays and the first day of the Jewish month.
Sivan
The third month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to May-June. This month features the holiday of Shavuot.
Elul
The 6th month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to August-September. This is the month which precedes Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, and is a month of introspection and repentance.
Yiddish
Language closely related to German commonly spoken by European Jews.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.