- Corporate repentance and confession
- The Confessions are ordered according to the 22 letter Alef-Bet
- Atonement and Purity
- The incense offering and the powerful fragrance of Innocence and Purity
- The supremacy of Mind and Soul
- The Unbroken second set of Ten Commandments
Corporate repentance and confession:
The congregation recites prayers of confession as a group, rather than individually because all Israel is responsible together. For this reason congregants “confess” sins they may not personally have committed. Everyone confesses everything. Yom Kippur is all about repentance and confession. It is the “final” settling of accounts with the King of the Universe for the whole year. In the afternoon service, the book of Jonah is read in its entirety. Jonah is a story of repentance and forgiveness. The final service of Yom Kippur is the “Neilah” (נעילה). One final plea is made to the Almighty to forgive the sins of his people and grant life for the coming year. The service closes with a “Final Blast” of the Shofar, so the High Holy Days end just as they began.
The Confessions are ordered according to the 22 letter Alef-Bet:
The Confessions are arranged in the order of the Alef-Bet to symbolize one’s regret over violating the Torah, written with the twenty-two letters of the Alef-Bet. There are two primary components to the confessional recited on Yom Kippur:
1. Ashamnu (אָשַמנוּ-we have become culpable) – A brief paragraph wherein each of the twenty-two letters of the Alef-Bet represents a form of sin.
2. Al Chet (עֵל חֵטְא-for the sin of) – This too, is based on the Alef-Bet, but it consists of forty-four verses, two for each of the twenty-two letters (these two Confessions cover a wide variety of misdeeds).
The Confessions are recited twice, a total of ten times, beginning Erev Yom Kippur and ending Ne’ilah. This corresponds to the Ten Commandments which we violated and need to rectify.
Atonement and Purity:
There are two aspects of Yom Kippur for which everyone must strive on this sacred day: atonement and purity or cleansing (Leviticus 16:30).
כִּֽי־בַיֹּום הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי ה’ תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃
For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before Adonai.
Atonement and purity are two processes. Our first goal on the Day of Atonement is to earn the Holy One’s merciful decision not to punish us for past misdeeds. That is atonement. It requires sincere Teshuvah (repentance).
The incense offering and the powerful fragrance of Innocence and Purity:
There wasn’t a more potent Temple Service than the daily incense offering, known as the “Ketoret” (קְטֹרֶת-from-קָטַר) which gave off a powerful fragrance. The rare fragrance of the incense offering possessed a rare ability to generate a large measure of Divine favor. In fact, the highlight of the Yom Kippur service was the incense-offering being performed by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies, on the one and only day of the year that he entered the inner sanctum. In truth, there is no greater pleasurable fragrance to the Almighty than when His children cleanse themselves of their impurities and stand before Him thoroughly pure. Innocence and purity are a Divinely discerned and most highly prized reality. In fact, I believe the highlight of the Yom Kippur service for our Father in heaven is when the incense-offering has been successfully performed by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies. This represents the joyous time one day when Inside-and-out the purity of our consciousness and our behavioral and relational life will match the royal expectations of our Most Holy and Righteous Father.
The supremacy of Mind and Soul:
“Purity” requires the supremacy of our mind and soul. Purity is the pursuit of purpose for which our Father in heaven created us. Our purpose is to love Adonai and enjoy Him forever. We demonstrate our love of the heavenly Father by obeying His commandments. We exist to do His will. Man is called upon to endow his entire life with the attitude that every morsel, thought, and deed must be directed toward achieving that purpose. To be a wellspring of this purity is the function of Yom Kippur. It requires a renewed quest for purity and it provides the spiritual conditions that make it possible.
The Unbroken second set of Ten Commandments:
The Day of Atonement is the anniversary of the day Moses brought down the second set of (Unbroken) Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. This signified that the Eternal One forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Holy One. Transgressions against our fellow man require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. So, more than anything else, this is a day for confession and repentance.