Yom Kippur 2009 – Guide for the Perplexed

Yom Kippur 2009 Guide for the Perplexed

Yoram Ettinger, September 27, 2009

Assembled from various Jewish Sages

1. Yom (Day of) Kippur is a breakthrough Jewish contribution to humanity. It highlights the most essential human attributes, which constitute prerequisites to positive leadership: humility (as featured in the Netaneh Tokef prayer), soul-searching, recognizing fallibility, confessing wrong-doing, asking and granting forgiveness, accepting responsibility, collective responsibility, magnanimity. Yom Kippur is not driven by punishment, but by behavioral-enhancement.

2. The Hebrew spelling of “fast” (צם/צום) – abstinence from food – highlights the substance of Yom Kippur. צום is the root of צמצום (reduction, shrinking), which alludes to one’s “spiritual diet,” aimed at clearing the body and the mind. צם is the root of צמית and צמיתות, the Hebrew words for “slave” and “eternity” (enslavement to G-D only). At the same time, צם is the root of עצמי (being oneself), עצום, עצמה, עצמאות (awesome, power, independence), which are gained through the process of fasting, soul-searching and submission to G-D.

3. The Hebrew word Kippur כיפור (atonement/repentance) is a derivative of the Biblical words Kaporet כפורת – which covered the Holy Ark at the Sanctuary – and Kopher כופר, 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 separates between the holy and the secular, between spiritualism and materialism, thus intensifying preoccupation with inner deliberations and soul-searching. The Kippa כיפה (skullcap, Yarmulke), which covers one’s head during prayers (or – in the case of observant Jews – at all times), reflects a spiritual cover (Dome). Thus, Yom Kippur constitutes the cover (Dome) of the Ten Days of Atonement (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), separating them from the rest of the year.

4. Teshuvah-תשובה is the Hebrew word for repentance, sharing the same root of the Hebrew word for Return שיבה – returning to root/positive values, morality, and behavior). Yom Kippur is also called – in Hebrew – Shabbat Shabbaton שבת שבתון (the highest level Sabbath), which has the same root. The last Sabbath before Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Teshuvah שבת תשובה (based on the prophesy of Hosea, chapter 4). While the Sabbath is the soul of the week, Yom Kippur is the soul of the year.

5. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which is an ancient word for forgiveness and Genesis. Ten has special significance in Judaism: G-D’s abbreviation is the tenth Hebrew letter, Ten Commandments, Ten reasons for blowing the Shofar, Ten Percent Gift to G-D (tithe), etc.

6. The prayer of Veedooi-וידוי (confession/confirmation/reaffirmation in Hebrew) is recited Ten times during Yom Kippur, re-entrenching the genuine plea for forgiveness. The prerequisites for forgiveness, according to Jewish Sages, are the expression & exercise (talking & walking) of confession (assuming full-responsibility), repentance and significantly altering one’s behavior through the heart as well as through the head (no “buts,” no “ifs” and no plea for mitigating circumstances). King Saul sinned only once – ignoring the commandment to annihilate the Amalekites – but was banished from the crown and killed. King Saul raised mitigating circumstances, while responding to Samuel’s accusation. King David sinned twice (The “Bat-Sheba Gate” and “Census Gate”), but was forgiven. King David accepted full-responsibility and unconditional blame and the death sentence (as expressed by Nathan the Prophet), which was promptly rescinded.

7. Tefila Zaka, תפילה זכה, the initial prayer on the eve of Yom Kippur, enables each worshipper to announce universal forgiveness. While transgressions between human-beings and G-D are forgiven summarily via prayers, transgressions among human-beings require explicit forgiveness. Ill-speaking of other persons may not be forgiven.

8. The Memorial Candle, commemorating one’s parent(s), is lit during Yom Kippur. It reaffirms “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” providing another opportunity to ask forgiveness of one’s parent(s), as well as asking forgiveness on their behalf.

9. G-D’s forgiveness and G-D’s Covenant with the Jewish People are commemorated on Yom Kippur. It reflects the end of G-D’s rage over the sin of the Golden Calf, and it was the day of Abraham’s own circumcision, signifying G-D’s covenant with the Jewish People.

10. Yom Kippur underlines unison, as synagogues become a platform for the righteous and the sinner.

11. The Scroll of Jonas is read on Yom Kippur. Its lessons demonstrate that repentance and forgiveness is universal to all Peoples, commanding one to assume responsibility, to get involved socially-politically, to sound the alarm when wrong-doing is committed anywhere in the world, to display compassion to all peoples and to adhere to Faith and Optimism, in defiance of all odds. It behooves good folks to roll up their sleeves, lest evil triumphs!

12. A long sound of the Shofar concludes Yom Kippur. It commemorates the covenant with G-D (the almost-sacrifice of Isaac), the receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Liberty and anti-slavery (Jubilee) and the opening of G-D’s gates of forgiveness. The Hebrew root of Shofar שופר means to enhance/improve oneself (שפר). A Hebrew synonym for Shofar is Keseh כסה, which also means cover-Kaporet-Kippur.

Yom Kippur 2008 Guide for the Perplexed

1. Yom (Day of) Kippur has been a breakthrough Jewish contribution to, and enhancement of, human-relations in general and leadership in particular. It highlights the most essential human attributes, which constitute prerequisites to positive leadership: humility (as featured in the very special Netaneh Tokef prayer), soul-searching, pleading fallibility, confessing wrong-doing, asking and granting forgiveness, magnanimity. Yom Kippur is not driven by punishment, but by behavioral-enhancement.

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 intensify preoccupation with inner deliberations and soul-searching. The Kippa (Yarmulke), which covers one’s head during prayers (or – in the case of observant Jews – at all times), reflects a spiritual cover (Dome). Thus, Yom Kippur constitutes the cover (Dome) of the Ten Days of Atonement (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), separating them from the rest of the year.

3. Teshuvah is the Hebrew word for repentance. Its root is the Hebrew word for Return – returning to root/positive values, morality, and 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 (based on the prophesy of Hosea, chapter 4). While the Sabbath is the soul of the week, Yom Kippur is the soul of the year.

4. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which is an ancient word for forgiveness. Ten has special significance in Judaism: G-D’s abbreviation is the tenth Hebrew letter, Ten Commandments, Ten reasons for blowing the Shofar, Ten Percent Gift to G-D (tithe), etc.

5. The prayer of Veedooi (confession/confirmation/reaffirmation in Hebrew) is recited Ten times during Yom Kippur, re-entrenching the genuine plea for forgiveness. The prerequisites for forgiveness, according to Jewish Sages, are the expression & exercise (talking & walking) of confession (assuming full-responsibility), repentance and significantly altering one’s behavior through the heart as well as through the head (no “buts,” no “ifs” and no plea for mitigating circumstances). King Saul sinned only once – ignoring the commandment to annihilate the Amalekites – but was banished from the crown and killed. King Saul raised mitigating circumstances, while responding to Samuel’s accusation. King David sinned twice (The “Bat-Sheba Gate” and “Census Gate”), but was forgiven. King David accepted full-responsibility and unconditional blame and the death sentence (as expressed by Nathan the Prophet), which was promptly rescinded.

6. Tefila Zaka, the initial prayer on the eve of Yom Kippur, enables each worshipper to announce universal forgiveness.

While transgressions between human-beings and G-D are forgiven summarily via prayers, transgressions among human-beings require explicit forgiveness. Ill-speaking of other persons may not be forgiven.

7. The Memorial Candle, commemorating one’s parent(s), is lit during Yom Kippur. It reaffirms “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” according another opportunity to ask forgiveness of one’s parent(s), as well as asking forgiveness on their behalf.

8. G-D’s forgiveness and G-D’s Covenant with the Jewish People are commemorated by Yom Kippur. It reflects the end of G-D’s rage over the sin of the Golden Calf, and it was the day of Abraham’s own circumcision, signifying G-D’s covenant with the Jewish People.

9. The Fast of Yom Kippur aims at clearing the body and the mind – in order to facilitate genuine repentance and one’s empathy with the needy.

10. Yom Kippur underlines unison, while synagogues become a platform for the righteous, as well as for the sinner.

11. The Scroll of Jonas is read on Yom Kippur. Its lessons demonstrate that repentance and forgiveness is universal to all Peoples, commanding one to assume responsibility, to get involved socially-politically, to sound the alarm when wrong-doing is committed anywhere in the world, to display compassion to all peoples and to adhere to Faith and Optimism, in defiance of all odds.

12. A long sound of the Shofar concludes Yom Kippur. It commemorates the covenant with G-D (the almost-sacrifice of Isaac), the receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Liberty and anti-slavery (Jubilee) and the opening of G-D’s gates of forgiveness. The Hebrew root of Shofar means to enhance/improve oneself (Shafar). A Hebrew synonym for Shofar is Keseh, which almost means cover-Kaporet-Kippur.

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The Basics of Yom Kippur

The Basics of Yom Kippur

 

ANGEL FOR A DAY

 

 

What are “angels?” Angels are completely spiritual beings, whose sole focus is to serve their Creator.

On Yom Kippur, every Jew becomes like an angel. As the Maharal of Prague explains:

 

“All of the mitzvot that God commanded us on [Yom Kippur] are designed to remove, as much as possible, a person’s relationship to physicality, until he is completely like an angel.”

Just as angels (so to speak) stand upright, so too, we spend most of Yom Kippur standing in the synagogue. And just as angels (so to speak) wear white, so too we are accustomed to wearing white on Yom Kippur. Just as angels do not eat or drink, so too, we do not eat or drink.

 

FIVE ASPECTS

 

 

There are five areas of physical involvement which we remove ourselves from on Yom Kippur. They are:

  1. Eating and Drinking
  2. Washing
  3. Applying oils or lotions to the skin
  4. Marital Relations
  5. Wearing Leather Shoes

Throughout the year, many people spend their days focusing on food, work, superficial material possessions (symbolized by shoes) and superficial pleasures (symbolized by anointing). On Yom Kippur, we restore our priorities to what really counts in life.

As Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes:

 

“On Yom Kippur, the power of the evil inclination is muted. Therefore, one’s yearning for spiritual elevation reasserts itself, after having lain dormant as a result of sin’s deadening effect on the soul. This rejuvenation of purpose entitles a person to special consideration and forgiveness.”

 

TESHUVA AND FORGIVENESS

 

 

Following the Golden Calf, Moses pleaded with God to forgive the people. Finally on Yom Kippur, atonement was achieved and Moses brought the second set of Tablets down from Mount Sinai.

From that day forward, every Yom Kippur has carried with it a special power to cleanse the mistakes of Jews (both individually and collectively) and to wipe the slate clean.

Though while Yom Kippur atones for transgressions against God, this does not include wrongs committed against other human beings. It is, therefore, the universal Jewish custom – some time before Yom Kippur — to apologize and seek forgiveness from any friends, relative, or acquaintances whom we may have harmed or insulted over the past year.

 

THE FAST ITSELF

 

 

The Yom Kippur fast begins at sundown and extends 25 hours until the following nightfall.

The afternoon before Yom Kippur, it is a special mitzvah to eat a festive meal.

As far as making your fast easier in general, try to pace your intake throughout the previous day by eating something every two hours. At the festive meal itself, eat a moderate portion of food so as not to speed up the digestion process. Also, don’t drink any coffee or coke, because caffeine is a diuretic. Heavy coffee drinkers can also avoid the dreaded headache by slowly reducing the amount of coffee consumption over the week leading up to Yom Kippur.

After a meal, we generally get thirstier, so when you complete the festive meal, leave some extra time before sundown to drink. Also, drinking lukewarm water with some sugar in it can help make you less thirsty during the fast.

 

IN CASE OF ILLNESS

 

 

If someone is ill, and a doctor is of the opinion that fasting might pose a life-danger, then the patient should eat or drink small amounts.

The patient should try to eat only about 60 cc., and wait nine minutes before eating again. Once nine minutes have passed, he can eat this small amount again, and so on throughout the day.

With drinking, he should try to drink less than what the Talmud calls “melo lugmav” — the amount that would fill a person’s puffed-out cheek. While this amount will vary from person to person, it is approximately 80 cc., and he should wait nine minutes before drinking again.

How does consuming small amounts make a difference? In Jewish law, an act of “eating” is defined as “consuming a certain quantity within a certain period of time.” Otherwise, it’s not eating, it’s “nibbling” — which although it’s also prohibited on Yom Kippur, there is room to be lenient when one’s health is at stake.

The reason for all these technicalities is because eating on Yom Kippur is regarded as one of the most serious prohibitions in the Torah. So while there are leniencies in certain situations, we still try to minimize it.

Note that eating and drinking are treated as independent acts, meaning that the patient can eat and drink together during those nine minutes, and the amounts are not combined.

Having said all this, if these small amounts prove insufficient, the patient may even eat and drink regularly. In such a case, a person does not say Kiddush before eating but does recite “Grace After Meals,” inserting the “ya’aleh veyavo” paragraph.

Now, what about a case where the patient’s opinion conflicts with that of the doctor? If the patient is certain he needs to eat to prevent a danger to health, then we rely on his word, even if the doctor disagrees. And in the opposite scenario — if the patient refuses to eat despite doctors’ warnings — then we persuade the patient to eat since it is possible that his judgment is impaired due to illness.

Wishing you an easy fast and a meaningful Yom Kippur!