-- An Overview
of Yom Kippur
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai said concerning a king, "Should
he fine me, his penalty is not eternal" for I would be able to earn more money.
"Should he imprison me, his imprisonment is not eternal" for he might die and
his successor will release me. "Should he kill me, my death is not eternal for
he can only affect my body, but my soul returns to G-d." Yet despite this, how
great is the fear a person has of law and authority in this world. How much more
so should one fear the judgment of the King of Kings, whose verdict is eternal.
Yom Kippur is a day designed to bring Jews closer to G-d and encourages
return to him through the process of Teshuvah. Though the Yom Kippur service was,
during the times of the Temple, focused around the Kohen Gadol, today each individual
focuses on himself and his personal Avodah, service to G-d.
Known as a
day of prayer, Yom Kippur does have numerous prayers associated with it. Most
revolve around the central theme of repentance and return. Apparently, Jews everywhere
find a connection to Judaism through Yom Kippur. Indeed, Yom Kippur brings more
Jews to shul than any other holiday.
The laws for Yom Kippur include all
of the work restrictions found on Shabbos. In addition, there are 5 ennuim, afflictions,
which a person is also not allowed to do on Yom Kippur. These are eating or drinking,
washing one's body, anointing one's body, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.
The most famous restriction of Yom Kippur is, of course, fasting. The intention
of fasting is not to torture ourselves or to punish ourselves for the sins we
have done. Rather, fasting help us to transcend our physical natures. Praying
without concern for food allows us to completely focus on the prayers.
have the purpose of focusing a person on the task at hand for Yom Kippur. The
Kuzari, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, points out that, "the fast of the pious man is such
that eye, ear and tongue share in it, that he regards nothing except that which
brings him near to G-d. "For through this day, He will atone for you, to cleanse
you; from all your sins before Hashem you will be cleansed." (Vayikra 16:30) May
we all emerge from Yom Kippur with a Teshuvah Gamura, complete repentance and
merit a year filled with happiness, health and Yirat Shamayim, fear of Heaven.
Customs of Erev Yom Kippur
The day before Yom Kippur is considered
to be a quasi-festival day.
Traditionally, "all who eat on the ninth are
considered to have fasted on the ninth AND the tenth." It is thus a mitzvah to
eat and drink Erev Yom Kippur. This both gives us strength for the fast and substitutes
for the usual Yom Tov meals, which cannot be eaten on Yom Kippur because of the
It is customary to give increased charity on Erev Yom Kippur as charity
helps to repeal any evil decrees.
Sins committed against another person
cannot be atoned for until one has first sought forgiveness from the person he/she
has wronged. Even the great day of Yom Kippur or death cannot atone for sins against
Thus - it is customary to go visit (or at least call) friends,
family, associates and any person whom one may have somehow wronged or spoken
ill of in the past year and ask forgiveness. For example, any stolen objects must
be returned to their rightful owners. Any person you have spoken Loshen Hara,
evil gossip, about, should be asked for their forgiveness.
It is a mitzvah
to immerse oneself in a mikvah (ritual bath) on Erev Yom Kippur. This symbolizes
a person's rebirth associated with the doing of Teshuvah, return. Men have this
custom universally, and women have different customs concerning mikvah Erev Yom
Kippur. Kaparot - An ancient and mystical custom designed to imbue people with
a feeling that their very lives are at stake as the holy Yom Kippur approaches.
The kaparot ceremony symbolizes our sins crying out for atonement, and
as a reminder that our good deeds, charity and repentance can save us from the
penalty our many sins deserve. In its original form, a chicken (a white rooster
for a male, hen for a female) was taken and waved over one's head while reciting
proscribed verses which can be found in the Yom Kippur machzor (special prayer
book). It was customary to then redeem the kaparot for money, which was given
Today though, most communities prefer to place the chosen sum
of money in a white cloth napkin and give it to charity following the ceremony.
Viduy, confession, is recited at mincha, the afternoon service, during
the silent Amidah. In case a person should choke and die during his pre-Yom Kippur
meal, he will have least said one viduy.
It is customary to wear white
on Yom Kippur. This is symbolic of the angels and of spiritual purity. Many married
men wear a kitel, which is also worn upon burial (and by many men at their wedding)
as a reminder of the day of death and repentance.
Though not usually worn
at night - the talit (prayer shawl) is worn for Kol Nidre, is kept on for the
entire evening service, and is left unfolded at the synagogue to be adorned again
the next morning.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, dean of the Ohr Torah Institutions
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*This article was originally
published in 1978. Jews for Jesus. Used with permission.
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