- The covering of our sin
- The atonement of the soul Temple offering:
- The Mystery of the term “Yom HaKippurim”
- The Mercy Seat
- On this day in history (Tishri 10)
- Jonah calls the Gentiles to Teshuvah
- The Sabbath of Sabbaths
- Return to the garden of Eden
- The troubling and arousal of the Soul
- Abstinence from food and drink
- Customs that are unique to Yom Kippur
- How to make a proper apology to the Holy One
- Kol Nidre and the tribunals of heaven and earth
- The preemptive nullification of vows, pledges, and oaths
- The wearing of the Wedding Garment
The covering of our sin:
Yom means “day” in Hebrew and Kippur comes from a root that means “to atone.”
The word kippur (כִּפֻּר), atonement, comes from the Hebrew root kaphar (כָּפַר), which literally means to cover, to cancel, to set one free from a charge or a debt. Think of the words “Paid in Full.” Sin must be atoned for. Sin must be “covered.” Legally speaking our debt to the Heavenly Court (due to our breaking the Holy One’s commandments) must be paid in full so that we might be returned to a status of good standing with our Father who dwells in heaven. Thus Yom Kippur has come to mean “Day of Atonement.”
The atonement of the soul Temple offering:
The ransom of the soul offering indicates the importance of the sacrificial shedding of blood.
This atonement (ransom) of the soul offering indicates the importance of the (sacrificial) shedding of blood. The Machatzit Ha-Shekel (מחצית השקל-Half-shekel) is made out of silver and silver coinage represents the currency of our redemption. In Torah:
Meaning #1. Gold is the metal of Divinity;
Meaning #2. Silver is the metal of Redemption;
Meaning #3. Copper (or bronze) is the metal of Judgment; and
Meaning #4. Wood represents our Humanity.
Therefore, the silver Machatzit HaShekel (temple tax) speaks of the redemption of our souls that is collectively represented in Moses’ using the atonement of the soul Half-Shekel offering to formulate the Silver Foundations of the Tabernacle (cf. Exodus 30:11-16).
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת־רֹאשׁ בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשֹׁו לַיהוָה בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם וְלֹא־יִהְיֶה בָהֶם נֶגֶף בִּפְקֹד אֹתָֽם׃ זֶה יִתְּנוּ כָּל־הָעֹבֵר עַל־הַפְּקֻדִים מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה הַשֶּׁקֶל מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל תְּרוּמָה לַֽיהוָֽה׃ כֹּל הָעֹבֵר עַל־הַפְּקֻדִים מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמָעְלָה יִתֵּן תְּרוּמַת יְהוָֽה׃ הֶֽעָשִׁיר לֹֽא־יַרְבֶּה וְהַדַּל לֹא יַמְעִיט מִֽמַּחֲצִית הַשָּׁקֶל לָתֵת אֶת־תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה לְכַפֵּר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶֽם׃ וְלָקַחְתָּ אֶת־כֶּסֶף הַכִּפֻּרִים מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְנָתַתָּ אֹתֹו עַל־עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מֹועֵד וְהָיָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְזִכָּרֹון לִפְנֵי יְהוָה לְכַפֵּר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶֽם׃
Adonai also spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom (kopher-כֹּפֶר) for his soul (nephesh-נֶפֶשׁ) to Adonai, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel (מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל) according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to Adonai. Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to Adonai. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to Adonai to make atonement (kopher-כֹּפֶר) for yourselves. You shall take the atonement (ha-kippurim-הַכִּפֻּרִים) money (keceph-כֶּסֶף) from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before Adonai, to make atonement (kopher-כֹּפֶר) for yourselves.”
In the absence of the Temple silver half-shekel tax, the atonement of the soul offering has become a charitable contribution.
This designated charitable contribution is used to help those who are poor and in need. Since the atonement of the soul money is supposed to be used for the maintenance of the Temple, and we are His Temple not made “out of human hands,” it is only right that the half-shekel contributions by Am-Israel be used to ‘support’ the lives of the poor and needy.
The Mystery of the term “Yom HaKippurim:”
The term kippur (כִּפֻּר) in the singular never occurs in the Torah.
The term kippur (כִּפֻּר) in the singular never occurs in the Torah. It occurs in the plural as kippurim (כִּפֻּרִים). The Hebrew term Kippurim means to make atonement, cleanse, purify, disannul, forgive, be merciful, appease, pacify, pardon, purge away, put off, and make reconciliation. The following three places are the only places where the Day of Atonement feast is mentioned in the Torah:
Reference #1. In Leviticus 23:27 the feast is called Yom HaKippurim (יֹום הַכִּפֻּרִים).
Reference #2. In Leviticus 23:28, the feast is called Yom Kippurim (יֹום הַכִּפֻּרִים).
Reference #3. In Leviticus 25:9 the feast is called Yom HaKippurim (יֹום הַכִּפֻּרִים).
Why is the Tenth day of Yamim Noraim (Yom Kippurim) only referred to in the plural and not the singular?
Why is the Tenth day of Yamim Noraim (Yom Kippurim) only referred to in the plural and not the singular? The reason the day is only referred to in the plural is because the Day of Atonement prophetically refers to more than one judgment. Yom Kippurim is symbolic of two types of judgment:
Judgment Type #1 (Plural). This is a preliminary series of annual judgments (plural) that exist up to the present time. [For more on the plural prophetic meanings of Yom Kippur see the final chapter of this document, Chapter 24.]
Judgment Type #2 (Singular). This is a final once-in-eternty (permanent) judgment (singular) that will follow the conclusion of mortal human history.
The Mercy Seat:
וְעָשִׂיתָ כַפֹּרֶת זָהָב טָהֹור
You shall make a Mercy Seat of pure gold.
The Day of Atonement is linked to kapporet (כַפֹּרֶת), the “mercy seat” or covering of the Ark of the Covenant. The word kapporet indicates the task and not just the shape of the ark cover; since the blood of the Yom Kippur sacrifice was sprinkled in its direction, it is the symbol of propitiation (turning away of wrath by a sacrifice-offering).
On this day in history (Tishri 10):
1. Our father Abraham was circumcised on this day and each year Adonai sees the blood of the covenant of father Abraham and forgives all our sins.
2. The prophet Moses descended for the third and final time from Mount Sinai, bearing the second set of Tablets, a gift from the Almighty that symbolizes His exceeding graciousness and forgiveness, His willingness to forgive us for the sin of the Golden Calf.
Jonah calls the Gentiles to Teshuvah:
Yom Kippur features the reading of the Book of Jonah, in which the prophet is sent to inspire the Assyrians (the nation responsible for the exile of the ten tribes) to repent before Adonai.
The Sabbath of Sabbaths:
וְהָיְתָה לָכֶם לְחֻקַּת עֹולָם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בֶּֽעָשֹׂור לַחֹדֶשׁ תְּעַנּוּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם וְכָל־מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ הָֽאֶזְרָח וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתֹוכְכֶֽם׃
This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you.
Leviticus 16:29 mandates establishment of this holy day on the 10th day of the 7th month as the day of atonement for sins. It calls it the Sabbath of Sabbaths and a day upon which one must afflict one’s soul.
אַךְ בֶּעָשֹׂור לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה יֹום הַכִּפֻּרִים הוּא מִֽקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָֽה׃
“On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to Adonai.”
Leviticus 23:27 decrees that Yom Kippur is a strict day of rest to humble our souls (נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם). Soul in the Torah is known by five separate names. The number five is a set number, relating to the graciousness of our Father in heaven:
Reference #1. In the Yom Kippur section of the Torah, the word soul (nephesh-נֶפֶשׁ) appears five times.
Reference #2. Soul (נֶפֶשׁ) in the Torah is known by five separate names: soul, wind, spirit, living one, and unique one.
Reference #3. Unlike regular days, which have three prayer services, Yom Kippur has five: Maariv, Shacharis, Mussaf, Minchah and Neilah.
Reference #4. The Kohen Gadol rinsed himself in the mikveh five times on Yom Kippur.
Reference #5. There are five books included in the Torah portion of the Tanakh.
Return to the garden of Eden:
A parallel has been drawn between these activities and the human condition according to the Torah account of the expulsion from the garden of Eden. Refraining from attending to the physical so that we might more readily attend to our spiritual well-being symbolically represents a return to a pristine spiritual state, like the one our original ancestors once enjoyed in Eden (a time of complete grace (chen and chesed), where all of our existence was generously nurtured and sustained solely by the works of Adonai’s loving-kindness).
The goal of Yom HaKippurim is to return us to the garden of Eden.
This return to the paradise of Eden is highlighted by the mikveh (immersion) in water. Running (Living) Water is symbolic of the Life and work of the Holy Spirit. Water was one of the two things which came out of the garden. Unfortunately the other thing that came out of the Garden was two sinful people (Adam ish v’ ishah). The atonement accomplishes the task of cleansing the sinful people and returning us back into the Garden. During the feast we symbolically rehearse our return to our Creator (Hayotzer- from יָצַר -to frame, fashion, frame according to a pre-ordained Divine plan) who walked with us in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day.
The troubling and arousal of the Soul:
On the Day of Atonement there is a particular obligation to arouse one’s soul.
Every sin consists of the deed and of the attitudes that underlie it. Just as man can more easily control his hands than his eyes, his actions than his imagination, so it is infinitely easier to avoid sinning in deed and to repent from sinful deeds than it is to avoid, and repent from sinful thoughts. Yom Kippur is a day of purity. It calls for one to uproot those attitudes and thoughts (cf. Midrashim of Yakov Ben Yosef addressed to the Twelve Tribes – שנים עשר שבטים -in the Jewish HaBrit HaChadashah). The soul is considered to be the life force in the body. Therefore, by making our bodies uncomfortable, our souls are made uncomfortable (afflicted, troubled; i.e. we are to humble our souls-וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם). By feeling pain we can feel how others feel when they are in pain. This is the purpose of the prohibitions. As stated previously the traditional prohibitions are:
Prohibition #1. No eating and drinking
Prohibition #2. No wearing of leather shoes
Prohibition #3. No bathing or washing
Prohibition #4. No anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions
Prohibition $5. No marital relations
Abstinence from food and drink:
Total abstention from food and drink usually begins 20 minutes before sundown (called tosefet Yom Kippur, lit. “Addition to Yom Kippur”), and ends after nightfall the following day. Although the fast is required of all healthy adults over 12 or 13, it is waived in the case of certain medical conditions. Virtually all Jewish holidays involve a ritual feast, but since Yom Kippur involves fasting, Jewish custom requires one to eat a large and festive meal on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, after the Mincha (afternoon) prayer.
Customs that are unique to Yom Kippur:
There are numerous customs unique to Yom Kippur that have been instituted over the centuries. What follows is a short list of some of the more universal customs:
Custom #1. Kittel (קיטל) – Many have a custom to don a Kittel (white robe) on Yom Kippur. Wearing white clothing (preferably a kittel) is traditional to symbolize one’s purity on this day. It is also the practice of many of the men that they completely immerse themselves in a mikveh on the day before Yom Kippur.
Custom #2. Honoring the Day – Although the Torah insists that we afflict ourselves on this day through the previously mentioned five afflictions, we must not exceed those restrictions in an overt manner. Instead, one should honor the day as it has the status of being the most somber and holy day of the Jewish calendar; which one must honor and glorify.
Custom #3. Not wearing jewelry – Although one must dress in a festive manner as befits a holiday, some have a custom not to adorn themselves with jewelry.
Custom #4. Talit (טלית) – A Talit is worn throughout the prayer services of Yom Kippur, including the evening prayers. Since a blessing may not be recited over a Talit at night, it is important to don it prior to sundown while it is still daytime.
Custom #5. Yizkor (remember – יזכור) – It is customary to pledge money to charity on Yom Kippurim in honor (memorial) of the deceased and to recall their souls through the Yizkor prayer on the Day of Atonement.
Satan (lit. the Accuser) is always acting as a prosecuting angel of the brethren (i.e. the children of Israel). The evil one is always working hard to facilitate and point out the shortcomings of the Jewish people. However, it is said that on Yom Kippur he is rendered speechless, for: Nothing can successfully stand in the way of “repentance” (Teshuvah-תשובה).
How to make a proper apology to the Holy One:
In order to properly apologize to the Holy One it is believed a person must:
Requirement #1. Pray (tefillah – תפילה)
Requirement #2. Repent (teshuvah – תשובה)
Requirement #3. Be charitable (tzedakah – צדקה)
Kol Nidre and the tribunals of heaven and earth:
Before sunset on Yom Kippur eve, worshipers gather in the synagogue. The Torah Ark is opened and two people take from it two Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls – ספרי תורה). Then they take their places, one on each side of the Chazzan (חזן), and the three recite (in Hebrew): “In the tribunal of Heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of Adonai—praised be He— by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with transgressors.”
The preemptive nullification of vows, pledges, and oaths:
The cantor chants the Kol Nidre prayer in Aramaic, not Hebrew.
The cantor then chants the Kol Nidre prayer in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Its name is taken from the opening words, meaning “All vows” (כל נדרים): “All personal vows we are likely to make [with Adonai] all personal oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Let our personal vows, pledges and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.” The leader and the congregation then say together three times: “May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault.” The Torah scrolls are then replaced, and the Yom Kippur evening service begins.
The wearing of the Wedding Garment:
Many married men wear a kittel, a white robe-like garment for evening prayers on Yom Kippur, otherwise used by males on their wedding day. They also wear a talit (prayer shawl), which is typically worn only during morning services.