Yom Kippur: One question – five voices


Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

Blitz editor’s note: We are in the period of Yom Kippur. According to Judaism, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, when we are closest to G‑d and to the essence of our souls. Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement,” as the verse states, “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G‑d.”

Yom Kippur is on the 10th day of Tishrei (in 2018, from several minutes before sunset on Tuesday, Sept 18, until after nightfall on Wednesday, September 19), coming on the heels of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year, which is on the first and second days of Tishrei). For nearly 26 hours we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or apply lotions or creams, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from marital relations. Instead, we spend the day in synagogue, praying for forgiveness.

Just months after the people of Israel left Egypt in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), they sinned by worshipping a golden calfMoses ascended Mount Sinai and prayed to G‑d to forgive them. After two 40-day stints on the mountain, full Divine favor was obtained. The day Moses came down the mountain (the 10th of Tishrei) was to be known forevermore as the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur.

That year, the people built the Tabernacle, a portable home for G‑d. The Tabernacle was a center for prayers and sacrificial offerings. The service in the Tabernacle climaxed on Yom Kippur, when the High Priest would perform a specially prescribed service. Highlights of this service included offering incense in the Holy of Holies (where the ark was housed) and the lottery with two goats—one of which was brought as a sacrifice, the other being sent out to the wilderness (Azazel).

While the High Priest generally wore ornate golden clothing, on Yom Kippur, he would immerse in a mikvah and don plain white garments to perform this service.

This practice continued for hundreds of years, throughout the time of the first Temple in Jerusalem, which was built by Solomon, and the second Temple, which was built by Ezra. Jews from all over would gather in the Temple to experience the sacred sight of the High Priest performing his service, obtaining forgiveness for all of Israel.

When the second Temple was destroyed in the year 3830 from creation (70 CE), the Yom Kippur service continued. Instead of a High Priest bringing the sacrifices in Jerusalem, every single Jew performs the Yom Kippur service in the temple of his or her heart.

Forty days before Yom Kippur, on the first of Elul, Jewish people begin blowing the shofar every morning and reciting Psalm 27 after the morning and afternoon prayers. In Sepharadic communities, it is customary to begin saying Selichot early every morning (Ashkenazimbegin just a few days before Rosh Hashanah)—building an atmosphere of reverence, repentance and awe leading up to Yom Kippur.

For the week before Yom Kippur (known as the 10 Days of Repentance), special additions are made to prayers, and people are particularly careful with their mitzvah observance.

Just as Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, the day before Yom Kippur is set aside for eating and preparing for this holy day. Here are some of the activities that we do on the day before Yom Kippur:

Kaparot is often performed in the wee hours of this morning. There is a beautiful custom to request and receive a piece of honey cake, so that if, G‑d forbid, it was decreed that we need be recipients, it be fulfilled by requesting honey cake and being blessed with a sweet year

Jewish people eat two festive meals, one in early afternoon and another right before the commencement of the fast.

Many have the custom to immerse in a mikvah on this day. Extra charity is given. In fact, special charity trays are set up at the synagogue before the afternoon service, which contains the Yom Kippur Al Cheit prayer.

Just before the fast begins (after the second meal has been concluded), it is customary to bless the children with the Priestly Blessing. Holiday candles are lit before the onset of the holy day.

How Yom Kippur is observed: Like Shabbat, no work is to be done on Yom Kippur, from the time the sun sets on the ninth of Tishrei until the stars come out in the evening of the next day.

On Yom Kippur, Jews afflict themselves by avoiding the following five actions:

Eating or drinking , Wearing leather shoes, Applying lotions or creams, Washing or bathing, and Engaging in conjugal relations.

Is it okay to say Happy Yom Kippur?

Your first inclination might be to wish your Jewish friends “Happy Yom Kippur!” because, after all, “Happy Hanukkah!” works. But heaven forbid, do not do this. … Much better you say, “Have an easy fast” or “Good Yontif,” or “Good holiday” or “Blessed Yom Kippur. Please never say Happy Yom Kippur!

In Blitz, our goal is to make the people aware of Yom Kippur and other religious festivals of Judaism. Because, we uphold the spirit of interfaith harmony! This article contains opinion from five individuals on Yom Kippur:

One Question, Five Voices: How do we make an atonement that lasts?

Miriam Yerushalmi:

Director of SANE (Soulful Advice for a New Existence); marriage and family counselor; author of the “Reaching New Heights” books.

Yom Kippur is such an awesome holy day that some people have the misconception that God expects only perfection from us and judges us accordingly. Not so! God wants us to do teshuvah, repentance, to return to the truth. HaShem is not focused on our reaching perfection; it’s the process of teshuvah that counts.

To be at peace with this process of becoming our truest self is the best aid to successful positive change. The way the land of Israel was acquired — territory by territory, piece by piece — teaches us how to achieve our best selves: step by step.

Yes, teshuvah revolves around minimizing our faults as much as possible, but this involves forgiving ourselves with mercy and developing ourselves with joy.

On Yom Kippur, HaShem bestows upon us extra strength to accomplish all of this and more.

The Yom Kippur prayers feature the verses listing the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy. With this recitation, not only do we beseech HaShem to judge us with compassion through the medium of these attributes, but we also focus on emulating these holy attributes — remembering always that they are qualities of mercy, not strictness. HaShem wants us to treat ourselves with the same compassion we hope to receive from Him. With our own compassion, we arouse God’s compassion. This frees us from the toxic burden of guilt that can lead to stagnation and worse.

With peace, mercy and joy, we can reach our Divinely orchestrated potential.

David Sacks
The Happy Minyan of Los Angeles

Most people approach teshuvah — or change, or even better, return — in the following way: These are the things I need to do more of, and these are the things I need to do less of. Makes sense.

The problem is, when we focus only on our actions, it often doesn’t work. Maybe it does in the short term, but usually not over the long haul. Why? Because before I examine my deeds, the first thing I need to decide is who it is I want to be. Once I decide with all my heart that this is the new me, the choices I make will be different.

How do you know? Because you yourself will want them to be different. Because your old behaviors will be inconsistent with who you are now.

This is one of the cornerstone teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, which is you are where your thoughts are. Imagine you want to go to a new place. There are two ways to get there. The first way is to lug all your belongings there. The second, easier way is you just go there and then send for your stuff. The first process is extremely labor intensive. The second process is much easier. I just pick the place I want to go and there I am.

Use these precious days to craft that vision of the better you, and then let your deeds paint the portrait of who you are now.

Shaindy Jacobson
Director of the Rosh Chodesh Society of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute

It is said, to err is human, to forgive is divine. Each of us has the capacity to fuse the human with the divine.

You may be familiar with these words penned by Ernest Hemingway in “A Farewell to Arms”: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.”

Yes, while life may break us, it’s what we do with the pieces that matters most. Think of atonement as a circle. In fact, the word for “forgiveness” in Hebrew is mechila, which is related to the word machol, meaning “circle.” Life is a circle, encompassing all our relationships, deeds and experiences. With the occurrence of a negative action, the circle is broken. With your atonement, the break is mended.

When the circle is again complete, you are embraced by the wholeness of God and all His creations, of which you are, indeed, an integral part.

The gift of lasting atonement is the birth of hope. It takes far greater effort to rebuild a relationship after it was fractured than to build it in the first place. But when you succeed, the rebuilt entity is so superior that it can never be broken again.

As Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.”

Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn
B’nai David-Judea Congregation

The Yamim Noraim are a time of heightened spirituality and self-reflection that stand out from the rest of the year. But how do we carry the energy of these holy days with us once Yom Kippur ends?

A beautiful practice gives us insight into how we can make our atonement lasting. The Rama records that immediately after Yom Kippur ends, we begin building our sukkah for Sukkot. When our preparation for Sukkot is on the heels of Yom Kippur, one mitzvah is juxtaposed with another. Why do we do this? Because the sukkah reminds us of what God put us in the world to do, of what we were saved for at Yom Kippur. And if we are clear on this mission, we can more easily brush off the temptation to fall back into our old ways.

As Jews, we are called to build “sukkat shalom” — God’s dwelling place of peace in this world. A sukkah is warm, welcoming and accessible. It represents God’s clouds of glory, God’s loving presence that led us in the desert and that continues to guide us through our lives today. If we are busy with the holy work of creating peace, wholeness, warmth and awareness of God, our atonement will not only be lasting, but expansive, constructive and worthwhile. And so, as Yom Kippur ends, let’s ask ourselves, what does it look like for each of us to build God’s “sukkat shalom”?

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

My pal Sal wants to achieve everlasting at-onement. I figure he must mean being at one with God, since God is the only one who is everlasting.

I mean, you know those moments of bliss in life that you want to hold onto forever — and then they’re gone as though they never were, often with more pain than gain. Because nothing in this world is ever everlasting.

But a mitzvah is not of this world. A mitzvah is a glistening droplet of infinite light extracted from the divine. We bring it alive in our world, through a partnership of divine providence and free will. Yet, even as this mitzvah plays out through our hands, it remains a mystery beyond our grasp.

And so the moment of a mitzvah is a moment of at-onement everlasting. A moment with family and guests at my Shabbos table. A moment of binding myself with my God with those black leather boxes. A moment of a helping hand, a kind word, an ear lent to a broken heart on behalf of my Creator. A moment of swimming in the endless waters of the wisdom of His Torah.

If I could make every moment of my life into a mitzvah moment, I would always be at-onement. But even if I fall away and disconnect from that eternal source — may God protect me from myself — that moment of my life remains my everlasting moment of at-onement. Nothing in this world or the next can ever take it away. It is, indeed, the only thing I truly own.

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Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on BLiTZ

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