Yom Kippur Reflections

YOM KIPPUR REFLECTIONS, Yoram Ettinger, October 12, 2005

1. Yom (Day of) Kippur has been a breakthrough contribution to humanity, highlighting HUMILITY and SOUL-SEARCHING as a pre-requisite for improving one’s conduct. Yom Kippur encourages individuals to admit that they are FALLIBLE, identify their own wrong-doing, and ask forgiveness for any faut-pas committed (intentionally or unintentionally) against relatives, friends, socially, at work, or otherwise.

2. The Hebrew word KIPPUR (atonement/repentance) is a derivative of the biblical words, KAPORET, which covered the holy ark at the sanctuary and KOPHER, which covered Noah’s Ark and the holy altar at the Temple. The reference is to a spiritual cover (dome), which does not cover-up, but rather separates between the holy and the secular, between spiritualism and materialism. The cover intends to enhance preoccupation with inner deliberations and soul-searching. The KIPPA, which covers one’s head during prayers (or – in the case of observant Jews – at all times), reflects that meaning. Thus, YOM KIPPUR covers the Ten Days of Atonement (starting with Rosh Hashana), separating them from the rest of the year.

3. The Hebrew word for Repentance is TESHUVAH, which means RETURN (to values, morality, good behavior). Yom Kippur is also called – in Hebrew – SHABBAT SHABBATON (the highest level Sabbath), which has the same root as TESHUVAH. The last Sabbath before Yom Kippur is called SHABBAT TESHUVAH. While the Sabbath is the soul of the week, Yom Kippur is the sole of the year.

4. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of TISHREY, which is an ancient word for forgiveness. Number TEN has a special significance in Hebrew: G-D, Ten Commandments, Ten reasons for blowing the Shofar, Ten Percent Gift to G-D, etc. Forgiveness is accorded, according to Jewish Sages, ONLY IF one expresses&exercises (talks&walks) repentance and alters one’s behavior significantly through the heart as well as through the head. The initial prayer on the eve of Yom Kippur (Tefila Zaka) enables each worshipper to announce universal forgiveness.

5. Yom Kippur commemorates G-D’s forgiveness: the end of G-D’s rage over the sin of the Golden Calf. According to tradition, Yom Kippur was the day of Abraham’s own circumcision, signifying G-D’s covenant with the Jewish People.

6. Yom Kippur is observed through a Fast, which clears the body and the mind, facilitating one’s empathy with the needy.

7. Yom Kippur underlines unison, and synagogues become a platform for righteous folks, as well as for sinners.

8. The Scroll of Jonas is read on Yom Kippur, demonstrating that repentance and forgiveness is universal to all Peoples, urging one to sound the alarm when wrong-doing is committed anywhere in the world.

9. Yom Kippur is concluded with a long sound of the Shofar, which commemorates the covenant with G-D (almost sacrifice of Isaac), the receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai and the opening of G-D’s gates of forgiveness. The Hebrew root of Shofar means to improve oneself (Shafar). A Hebrew synonym for Shofar is KESE, which means cover-Kaporet-Kippur.