Yom Kippur 5783

Holiday #2 (316)

Yom Kippur 5783

October 4-5

From the Chassidic Masters From the Kabbalists From Ascent Quarterly Some Laws and Customs
Come to ASCENT for Erev Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur

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From the Chassidic Masters

A short prayer

"And he would offer a short prayer there in the Sanctuary, after he left the Holy of Holies in order not to worry the people that perhaps he died in the Sanctuary" [Yom Kippur prayers]

There is however another reason for the brevity of the High Priest's prayer:

The service of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies represented the pinnacle of cleaving and elevation, in all of the three categories of "world," "year' and "soul": the place was the most holy, the time was the most holy, and so was the person. On such a high level of attachment to the Divine there was no need for a prolonged prayer, and a short one sufficed.

From Likutei Sichot (quoted in Days of Awe, Days of Joy)

From the Kabbalists

"This shall be an eternal statute (chok) for you...on the tenth day of the seventh month you must afflict yourselves and not do any work...on this you shall have all your sins atoned so that you shall be purified before G-d...A Sabbath of Sabbaths..." [Levit. 16:29-31]

The Torah wishes to teach that G-d neither wants man to afflict himself-fast, etc.-but merely wants complete repentance. Self-castigation is of no intrinsic value, cannot take the place of repentance, and is only a means to an end, the end being character rehabilitation.

G-d, having described a variety of animal sacrifices, points out that man himself must also afflict himself in some way. G-d does not want man to think however, that His interest is served by man afflicting himself, such as denying himself food and drink. He wishes that man would restrain himself "as an eternal statute," i.e., on an ongoing basis, all year round, lifelong. In that event, special rituals leading to repentance would not ever be needed!

If such were man's lifestyle, then these rituals would become a chok, i.e. irrational, since they would be unnecessary in practice, man not having any need to induce repentance by means of self affliction. Man would then be assured of complete atonement for any errors he had committed, without the need for such legislation. The occurrence of the very day of Yom Kippur would suffice for him to purify himself of his own accord in public, but also in his heart, "before G-d," i.e. something visible only to G-d Himself. In such a scenario, Yom Kippur will become merely a shabbbat shabaton, a heightened Sabbath experience, due to the forgiveness this particular Sabbath brings in its wake. On the other hand, "afflicting yourselves," will become merely a formality, a chukat olam, an ongoing statute, devoid of significance for you.

There is a distinction between atonement and purification. The former occurs by the grace of G-d, the latter by dint of one's own efforts. Although Yom Kippur brings with it atonement, forgiveness, its ultimate objective is that you "purify yourselves before G-d," inside and out, by your own efforts.

In order to achieve this purification, the average person requires the afflictions, a part of the Torah legislation. It is true that by its very nature, Yom Kippur is shabbat shabbaton, a heightened Sabbath experience, a day of rest and rejoicing for the forgiveness attained, nonetheless the legislation to submit to afflictions is an ongoing one, chukkat olam, "an eternal statute." Although G-d could have insisted on a variety of acts of affliction, He requires this only achat bashanah (verse 34), once a year.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)


From Ascent Quarterly #16


Yom Kippur has been on the Jewish calender for 3334 years, starting with 10 Tishrei 2449 (1312 BCE), when Moses descended from Mt. Sinai bearing the second set of the Tablets of Law and bringing word of G-d's forgiveness of the Golden Calf incident.  Ever since, G-d's mercy and forgiveness has been an integral part of this day.  Sensitivity to this theme of Yom Kippur yields an unshakeable feeling of confidence in G-d's mercy, providing an upbeat counterpoint to the seriousness of the day.  The Talmud declares that the inherent holiness of Yom Kippur in itself effects atonement, but in order to benefit from this, a certain level of participation on our part is required. The three principle modes for our efforts are: TESHUVAH, TEFILLAH AND TZEDAKAH, which will be explained below.

The basic meaning of the term teshuvah is to return to G-d with all of one's heart and soul, and to serve Him and keep all His commandments.  Yet teshuvah can take place on varying levels, from actual remorse for severe transgressions to subtle self-refinement that leads to lofty spiritual growth.

"Lower teshuvah"  is a return to one's true essence, which for a Jew means living in accordance with G-d's will as revealed in the Torah.  Fulfillment of the mitzvah of repentance requires simply the confessing of one's transgressions, accompanied by a sincere resolve never to repeat them.  This cleansing experience is exhilarating for some, alienating or depressing for others; but, in any case, this is not what Yom Kippur is supposed to be all about. Therefore, it should be initiated well in advance (ideally in Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah) and completed before Yom Kippur.

"Higher teshuvah" goes much further.  It requires a primary identification with one's soul rather than one's body and moving (returning!) towards increasing closeness with G-d.  Needless to say, no time is more suitable for this than the holiest of holy days, Yom Kippur.

Oral confession, in the form of the Al Cheit prayer, is both the initial stage of teshuvah and the focal point of the Yom Kippur prayer services.  It is recited at ten different times during the course of the holiday.  One reason is that as Yom Kippur progresses and we become more refined and wish to be closer to G-d, we are better able to perceive our flaws and more sincerely seek to improve the relationship.

The five levels of the soul nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah, and yechidah correspond to the five prayer services prescribed for the day: Ma'ariv, Shacharit, Musaf, Minchah, and Ne'ilah.  They also relate to the five forms of abstinences obligatory on Yom Kippur (see below).  These physical restrictions enable innate spiritual powers to gain expression.

Yechidah, the fifth and and most exalted level of the soul, constitutes the essential bond between the soul and G-d, transcending all limitations and boundaries. On Yom Kippur, the innate level of yechidah is accessible to every Jew; through concentrated effort in the prayers, and in the purification of thought, speech, and deed, a person may reach this highest of levels.

Since money may not be handled on Yom Kippur, tzedakah is given liberally on the days before and especially on the day preceding Yom Kippur.  The merit of charity is a shield against evil decrees. It is said that the jingling of the coins of charity given on the day preceding Yom Kippur creates such a great clamor in Heaven that all of the forces of impurity together cannot stand in their way.

Some Laws and Customs


Traditionally, on Erev Yom Kippur before Mincha people set out trays for charity in the synagogue. The Ba'al Shem Tov commented on this: the sound of the coins clinking in the trays on Erev Yom Kippur nullifies all the klipot.

From Luach Kollel Chabad


'REPENTANCE, PRAYER and CHARITY avert the severity of the decree."
(From the repetition of the Yom Kippur Musaf Amidah)

"Out with the old year and its curses!

In with the new year and its blessings!"

L'shana Tova tikateiv v'tihateim




The ASCENT staff

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