Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2014
1. Yom Kippur commemorates God’s forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf and 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 is commanded to be community-sensitive and invite everyone, including transgressors, to participate in Yom Kippur services. Thus, Yom Kippur underlines unity, as synagogues become a platform for the righteous and the sinner.
3. Yom Kippur’s focus on seeking forgiveness highlights humility, fallibility, faith, soul-searching, compassion, thoughtfulness, being considerate, accepting responsibility, and magnanimity. Speaking ill of other people (“evil tongue,” Le’shon Ha’Ra, in Hebrew) may not be forgiven.
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, between human beings.
5. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, whose astrological sign is Libra (â™Ž). Libra symbolizes the 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. (Noga is the name of my oldest granddaughter). The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of × ×’×” is 58 (× -50, ×’-3, ×”-5), just like the numerical value of ××–×Ÿ, which is the Hebrew word for “ear,” as well as, the Hebrew root of “listening,” “balance,” and “scale.”
6. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of Tishrei – an Acadian word for forgiveness and Genesis. Ten has special significance in Judaism: God’s abbreviation is the tenth Hebrew letter (Yod – ×™); there are ten attributes of God – Divine perfection – which were highlighted during the Creation; the Ten Commandments; the Ten Plagues; there are ten reasons for blowing the Shofar; The Prayer of Veedooi – ×•×™×“×•×™ (confession/reaffirmation in Hebrew), is recited ten times during Yom Kippur; one is commanded to extend a 10% gift to God (tithe); Ten Martyrs (Jewish leaders) were tortured/murdered by the Roman Empire; there were ten generations between Adam and Noah and between Noah and Abraham; a ten worshipper quorum (Minyan in Hebrew) is required for a collective Jewish prayer; etc.
7. The Hebrew word Kippur, ×›×™×¤×•×¨ (atonement/repentance), is a derivative of the Biblical word Kaporet ×›×¤×•×¨×ª,, the cover of the Holy Ark at the Sanctuary, and Kopher, ×›×•×¤×¨, 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 Kippah, ×›×™×¤×” (skullcap, Yarmulka’), which covers one’s head during prayers, reflects a spiritual dome.
8. The Hebrew spelling of “fast” (×¦×/×¦×•×) – 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” (×¦×ž×¦×•×) of one’s wrong-doing. It is also the root of the Hebrew words for “slave” (×¦×ž×™×ª) and “eternity” (×¦×ž×™×ª×•×ª) – eternal enslavement to God, but not to human beings. “Fast” is also the root of ×¢×¦×ž×™ (being oneself),×¢×¦×•× (awesome), ×¢×¦×ž×” (power),×¢×¦×ž××•×ª (independence), which are gained through the process of fasting, soul-searching, spiritual-enhancement, and faith in God.
9. A Memorial Candle, in remembrance of one’s parents, is lit during Yom Kippur. This reaffirms the “Honor Thy Father and Mother Commandment,” providing another opportunity to ask forgiveness of one’s parent(s), as well as, asking forgiveness on their behalf.
10. The Scroll of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur. It demonstrates that repentance and forgiveness is universal. 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 faith and optimism in defiance of all odds.
To read more on Yom Kippur, additional Jewish holidays, the Sabbath, the Jubilee, annual fasting days and the Jewish meaning of “holiday,” please see here.