Yom Kippur 5784

Holiday #2 (333)

Yom Kippur 5784

September 17-18

From the Chasidic Masters From the Kabbalists From Ascent Quarterly Laws & Customs

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Yom Kippur (September 17-18)

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“We are before You [now, this day,] as a vessel filled with embarrassment and shame.” [Yom Kippur Confession - end]

We are comparable to filthy vessels that require hard scraping and cleansing, but so long as the vessel itself is whole, it is always possible to thoroughly clean it.

Rabbi Shlomo Rokeach of Belz


Atonement occurs by G-d’s grace; purification by dint of one's own efforts.  Although Yom Kippur brings with it atonement and forgiveness, its ultimate objective is that you “purify yourselves before G-d,”  inside and out, by your own efforts, even in those matters visible only to G-d Himself.

Rabbi Moshe Alshech

(based on Ascent Quarterly #16)

Yom Kippur has been on the Jewish calender for 3335 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 -



A distinctive feature of Yom Kippur is its designation in the Torah as both a 'Sabbath' and a fast day.   Fasting on Yom Kippur (from before sunset until after dark the following night), which the Torah expresses with the term ‘affliction,’ is a broader concept than a mere abstention from food and drink.  The Sages (see Yoma 76a-77b) derive from Biblical exegesis that affliction implies abstention from five activities: (a) eating and drinking; (b) washing one's body; (c) anointing oneself with oils; (d) wearing leather shoes; and (e) marital relations.  In addition, all labors that are forbidden on the Sabbath are forbidden on Yom Kippur as well.     (from Artscroll)


"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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