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September 13, 2013 12:50 am

Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2013

avatar by Yoram Ettinger

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Yom Kippur on Highway 20 ("Netivey Ayalon"), Tel-Aviv - Ramat-Gan. Photo: Roy Boshi.

1.  Yom Kippur commemorates God’s forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf. Forgiveness applies to everyone, including non-religious persons. In addition, Yom Kippur commemorates God’s Covenant with the Jewish people.

2.  Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness only for sins committed against God. It is customary to dedicate the eve of Yom Kippur to apologies for sins committed against fellow human-beings. However, an apology or compensation are not sufficient if they do not elicit an expressed forgiveness by the injured person. One should not be selfish, and therefore one is commanded to invite transgressors to participate in Yom Kippur services.

3.  Yom Kippur’s focus on seeking forgiveness highlights humility (admitting, fallibility), faith, soul-searching, thoughtfulness, being considerate, compassion, accepting responsibility, magnanimity.  Speaking ill of other people (“evil tongue” in Hebrew) may not be forgiven. In order to provide more time for seeking forgiveness, there are five services conducted on Yom Kippur, compared with three daily services and four on Shabbat and other holidays.

4.  Yom Kippur is a Happy Jewish Holiday, replacing vindictiveness and rage with peace-of-mind and peaceful co-existence between God and human beings and, primarily, among human beings.

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5. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, whose astrological sign is Libra (♎). Libra symbolizes key themes of Yom Kippur: scales, justice, balance, truth, symmetry, sensitivity, and optimism. Libra is ruled by the planet Venus (Noga, × ×’×”, in Hebrew), which reflects divine light and love of the other person.  (It is the name of my oldest granddaughter!) The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of × ×’×” is 58, just like the numerical value of אזן, which is the Hebrew root of “balance” and “scale.” Tishrei and Libra are dominated by the Hebrew letter ל, which is the tallest Hebrew letter, consisting of 3 parts, aiming upward, reflecting the need to elevate-oneself morally, of self-enhancement. Yom Kippur is not driven by punishment, but by behavioral-enhancement.

6. Three holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot (Tabernacles) – are celebrated during the Jewish month of Tishrei. The number 3 is identified with balance, stability, and The Essence.  The triangle is a symbol of stability.

7.  The first human being, Adam, was created on the first day of Tishrei. Human-beings are accorded an opportunity to recreate themselves spiritually each year, on Yom Kippur, the tenth day of Tishrei – an Acadian word for forgiveness and Genesis. Yom Kippur culminates ten days of genuine, heart-driven atonement/repentance, which begin on Rosh Hashanah.Ten has special significance in Judaism: God’s abbreviation is the tenth Hebrew letter (Yod – ×™); Ten attributes of God – Divine perfection – were highlighted during the Creation; the Ten Commandments; the Ten Plagues; Ten reasons for blowing the Shofar; 10% gift to God (tithe); the Ten Martyrs (Rabbis who were tortured/murdered by the Roman Empire); the ten generations between Adam and Noah and ten generations between Noah and Abraham; a ten worshipper quorum (Minyan in Hebrew) is required for a collective Jewish prayer;  etc.

8.  Yom Kippur and the Jubilee highlight liberty and the subordination to God. The Jubilee – sanctifying each 50th year by proclaiming liberty, as also inscribed on the Liberty Bell – is announced by blowing the Shofar (a ritual ram’s horn) on Yom Kippur. The Jubilee liberates people physically and spiritually. The word “jubilee” (יובל) is a Hebrew synonym for Shofar.

9.  The Hebrew word Kippur כיפור  (atonement/repentance) is a derivative of the Biblical word Kaporet כפורת , the cover of the Holy Ark at the Sanctuary, and Kopher כופר, the cover of Noah’s Ark and the Holy Altar at the Temple. Yom Kippur resembles a spiritual cover (dome), which separates between the holy and the mundane, between spiritualism and materialism. The Kippa כיפה (skullcap, Yarmulke), which covers one’s head during prayers, reflects a spiritual dome.

10. Yom Kippur calls for repentance – Teshuvah, תשובה in Hebrew. The root of Teshuvah is similar to root of the Hebrew word for Return שובה – returning to positive values – and Shvitah שביתה – cessation (strike) of mundane thoughts and actions and eating.  It is also similar to the root of Shabbat שבת. Yom Kippur is also called Shabbat Shabbaton – the supreme Sabbath.  The last Sabbath before Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Teshuvah (based on Hosea’s prophesy, chapter 4).  While the Sabbath is the soul of the week, Yom Kippur is the soul of the year.

11.  The Hebrew spelling of “fast” (צם/צום) – abstinence from food – reflects the substance of Yom Kippur. The Hebrew word for “fast” is the root of the Hebrew word for “reduction” and “shrinking” (צמצום) of one’s wrong-doing. It is also the root of the Hebrew words for”slave” (צמית) and “eternity” (צמיתות) – enslavement to God, but not to human-beings.  “Fast” is also the root of עצמי  (being oneself), ×¢×¦×•×  (awesome),  עצמה  (power), and עצמאות  (independence), which are gained through the process of fasting, soul-searching, spiritual enhancement, and faith in God.

12.  The prayer of Veedooi -וידוי  (confession/reaffirmation in Hebrew) is recited ten times during Yom Kippur, re-entrenching genuine repentance and the plea for forgiveness. The prerequisites for forgiveness are the expression and exercise of repentance; assuming full-responsibility for one’s (mis)behavior; and significantly altering one’s behavior. King Saulsinned only once – ignoring the commandment to annihilate the Amalekites – but was banished from the crown and killedbecause he shirked responsibility. King David sinned twice (The “Bat-Sheba Gate” and the “Census Gate”), but was forgiven, because he accepted full-responsibility and the death sentence (as proclaimed by Nathan the Prophet), which was promptly rescinded.

13.  A 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.

14.  The Scroll of Jonas is read on Yom Kippur. It demonstrates that repentance and forgiveness is universal to all peoples. Among its lessons: commanding one to assume responsibility; getting involved socially/politically; sounding the alarm when wrong-doing is committed anywhere in the world; displaying compassion for all peoples and adhering to faithand optimism in defiance of all odds.

15.  A long sound of the Shofar (תקיעה גדולה) concludes Yom Kippur. It commemorates the covenant with God (the almost-sacrifice of Isaac), the receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai,Liberty (Jubilee), and the opening of God’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.

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  • Sidney Ford

    Thank you so much, Mr. Ettinger! I was looking for a good description of Yom Kippur and found a great one. It is personally very meaningful to me and will help me in my reflections on self and increasing my service to others at this time in my life.

  • Thanks you for your explanation. I think it is important for people of all faiths to understand traditional holidays for all religions so that we can respect and honor them.

  • baerlibrum

    thank you for your wonderful work
    was and is very helpful for me

    baer

  • Ira Friedman

    Thank you for the information and as importantly the ability to share it with others in a very
    concise form. Very well done.

    I am asked on occasion by others for an interpritation of Yom Kippur.

    Thank you Mr. Ettinger.

  • K.Braithwaite

    I thought i made my comment..It is fascinating

  • K.Braithwaite

    That is very illuminating but complex so I shall have to come again to make notes…
    Very interesting about the meaning of the words.I enjoyed it

  • mary alterman

    Thanks for that very detailed, useful and clear description. This Jewish convert (me) found it really helpful.

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