Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed
Thoughts as we approach Yom Kippur
Viddui also means gratitude
Exploring the Al-Chet Prayer
Who can eat on Yom Kippur?
What does the Word “Kippur” Mean?
The Yom Kippur Temple Service
Sending Away the Goat to Azazayl
Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed
From the desk of Ambassador (retired) Yoram Ettinger
1. Yom Kippur is a day of hope and optimism, in addition to a solemn day of soul-searching. Yom Kippur provides unique awareness of one’s own character and track record, as well as the opportunity to upgrade relationships with relatives, friends, associates and the community at-large.
2. Yom Kippur’s focus on forgiveness highlights humility, fallibility, soul-searching faith, compassion, thoughtfulness, being considerate, accepting responsibility and magnanimity.
3. 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 - י); 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; 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-person-quorum (Minyan in Hebrew) is required for a collective Jewish prayer; etc.
4. 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, נגה, in Hebrew), which reflects divine light and love of the other person. Noga is the name of my oldest granddaughter.
5. Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness 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, apology or compensation are not sufficient if they do not elicit expressed forgiveness by the injured person.
6. Yom Kippur commemorates God’s covenant with the Jewish people and God’s forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf.
7. Yom Kippur and the Jubilee highlight liberty and subordination to God. The Jubilee – sanctifying each 50th year by proclaiming liberty, as 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.
8. The Hebrew word Kippur, כיפור (atonement/repentance), is a derivative of the Biblical word Kaporet כפורת,, the cover of the Holy Ark in the Sanctuary, and Kopher, כופר, the cover of Noah's Ark and the Holy Altar in the Temple. Yom Kippur resembles a spiritual cover (dome), which separates between the holy and the mundane, between spiritualism and materialism. The Kippah, כיפה (skullcap, Yarmulka'), which covers one's head during prayers, reflects a spiritual dome.
9. Yom Kippur calls for repentance – Teshuvah, תשובה, in Hebrew. The root of Teshuvah is similar to the root of the Hebrew word for return, שובה – returning to positive values – and Shvitah שביתה – cessation (strike) of mundane thoughts, actions and eating. It is also similar to the root of Shabbat, שבת. Yom Kippur is also called Shabbat Shabbaton – the supreme Sabbath.
10. 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) – eternal enslavement to God, but not to human-beings. "Fast" is also the root of עצמי (being oneself),עצום (awesome), עצמה (power),עצמאות (independence).
As We Approach Yom Kippur Evening…[/center]
Koheles notes that while it is true that two are better than one because if either of them falls down, one can help the other, “…. three are even better for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken”.
Over the past few weeks on Shabbos mornings we have been reading the words of the Torah presenting and repeating three major themes which now converge and define Yom Kippur. And today we again confront the three periods of our lives—the past, the present, and the future.
The first Torah theme is the need to remember our past and to be grateful in the present for all the good in our lives. The great Russian novelist Dostoevsky observed that “man only likes to count his troubles, but he does not count his joys”.
By contrast, we Jews are mandated to always remember our past-- zachor--and to always express gratitude--to give hodaah-- for all with which we’ve been blessed. We verbalize our gratitude and make a conscious effort to think about appreciation when we utter the words.
Opportunities for expressing gratitude abound. Our first chance is when we start each day, as soon as we wake up with the recitation of “Moda Ani L’fanecha…I gratefully thank you Hashem for having returned my soul within me…”
In these past weeks, we’ve read about the farmer bringing his first fruit offering, his Bekurim, to the Holy Temple. He states his gratitude for his having been brought to the Land of Israel and his gratitude for the crops with which he has been blessed. He tries to capture the joy felt by those first farmers to enter the Holy Land many years before him.
There is a very insightful understanding of gratitude to be gleaned from our prayers. One can fulfill one’s obligation to recite the blessings of Shemoneh Esrei by answering “amen” after the chazzan reads them during chazaras h’chatz. But this only true for seventeen of the eighteen blessings. For Modim, for gratefully thanking God, answering amen is not enough. Because when it comes to gratitude each one of us has to reflect upon, acknowledge and say the words ourselves .No one can do that for us.
The second major Torah theme relates to idolatry. The warning to avoid avodah zara is repeated over and over in the Torah. A significant number of mitzvot, some obvious and some not so obvious, are meant to prevent us from engaging in idolatrous worship and pagan behavior. The Land of Israel must be an idolatry-free zone. But what is idolatry? Is it only limited to the worship of man-made idols and totems or the worship of Nature?
No, emphatically answers Rabbi Marc Angel. Idolatry is a lot more than that. It is “the attribution of false value to an object”. Idolaters convince themselves that falsehood is truth and so they worship, bow down to and bring food to an inanimate piece of wood or metal. The evil of idolatry is: believing in falsehood, abandoning truth. The Torah commands us to cling to truth, to reject lies”. “This above all to thy own self be true” wrote William Shakespeare.
The third Torah theme is T’shuva (from the Hebrew root meaning “return”) which is defined as a transformational process that leads to our regeneration, rebirth and renewal. In beautiful, poetic language the Torah describes that no matter how far away we are, whether geographically or emotionally, we have the ability to return to God (i.e., do T’shuva). The inner struggle that is T’shuva is also a three step process consisting of…
• Thinking about one’s past actions
• Verbally confessing/expressing regret
• Committing not to repeat this behavior in the future
T’shuva is about self-renewal. The final two commandments in the Torah, which we read recently are about national and individual renewal. Hakhel, the covenant-renewal ceremony every seven years, ensured that as a nation we would regularly rededicate ourselves. The command that we should each take part in the writing of a new Torah scroll and write one for ourselves is about personal renewal.
It is in the Viddui/ Confession, the heart of the Yom Kippur service, that these three themes converge.
In the Torah, this confessional is mentioned relating to the ceremony of atonement of the High Priest. In his exhaustive work, Jewish Liturgy, A Comprehensive History, author Professor Ismar Elbogen explains that an expanded version was known to the Tannaim, some of whom required a detailed enumeration of sins, but “as with many liturgical passages it is only from the early Amoraim that we hear of a text of the Confession…but the passages named in the Talmud have been expanded greatly in the course of time.” [Note: Tannaim are sages living in Israel whose views are recorded in the Mishna, from about 220-10 BCE. Amoraim were scholars from 200-500CE whose discussions and debates on the Mishna were eventually codified in the Gemara. They were concentrated in Babylonia and the land of Israel. Tannaim directly transmitted the uncodified oral tradition; Amoraim expounded upon and clarified.] Viddui is first mentioned by the eighth century R’ Acahi Gaon “and an abbreviated and probably more original form is found” in the mid-ninth century work Seder Rav Amram (according to the Encyclopedia Judaica).
Rambam establishes that anytime a person transgresses a Torah law, he is required to verbally confess his sin. This applies to all Biblical commands, whether one neglected a Mitvat Aseh (affirmative command) or violated a Mitvat Lo Ta’aseh (prohibition). Furthermore, one must verbally confess even for sins transgressed inadvertently.
Rambam also presents the basic confessional text: “Please, God: I have sinned, transgressed and betrayed before You, and I did such-and-such. I hereby regret and feel ashamed over what I’ve done, and I will never repeat this thing.” He adds that it is admirable for a sinner to speak in greater length about the remorse he feels for the sin or sins he transgressed.
Atonement is not possible without confession. In ancient times, when sinners would bring sacrifices as a means of atonement, the sacrifice earned atonement only in conjunction with T’shuva and confession. The sinner would declare confession over his sacrifice to earn forgiveness. Likewise, when Bet Din would administer corporal or death punishment, the sinner had to verbally confess in order to earn atonement. Confession is required especially for interpersonal offenses. If a person caused physical harm or damage, his sin is not atoned through monetary compensation alone. He must also confess his sin and commit never to repeat.
But in Tanach the word viddui means gratitude
Gratitude starts with the realization that each of us is blessed. Yes, we all have our own peckale of woes, but when we look around and see the suffering of others we gain a different perspective. “Be grateful for what you don’t have”.
Viduui then becomes an exercise in self-analysis. Once we’ve stopped to realize the good in our lives we begin to ask ourselves how we could have made such poor behavioral choices in the face of the enormous blessings we’ve received. What were we thinking? What came over us?
Viddui also is rejection of avodah zara in its broader sense. We are called upon to be truthful and to not lie to ourselves about what it is we did or did not do. We may feel guilt over a behavior or action during the past year, but never allow ourselves the “luxury” of verbalizing, facing and then dealing with this intense, destructive emotion. My friend Keith Sharfman reasons that the Viddui provides us with the words that facilitate our ability to focus on these deeply-buried feelings. Guilt can destroy a person. The Viddui provides both the opportunity to confront our guilt and ironically to limit it to only on Yom Kippur so it does not plague us our entire lives.
Being cleansed is freeing and enables us to manage our lives better and to relate to, and interact with, others. We pray for God to look favorably on us and to accept us for what we are. “Ultimately, the Seforim tell us, that how we look at others is how Hashem will look at us.” [Rabbi R. Y. Eisenman, Passaic, N.J.]
We are called upon to acknowledge our mistakes, to learn from them, to grow through them and to make amends. We force ourselves to negate the psychological defenses within us-- the denials, the rationalizations, the sublimation, and the projective identification.
It is from this honest internal evaluation that the third component of sincere t’shuva can emerge. T’shuva is the remorse from recognition of past deeds and the commitment to change for the better going forward. This hakaras hatov, this honesty in our self- examination and t’shuva are what Yom Kippur is all about. Putting our energy into this intense tri-pronged approach can only strengthen us.
Viddui can and should become a positive experience
Viddui on Yom Kippur is recited ten times in a sometimes-mind-numbing repetitive way. There is always a risk that our davening slips into just words said by rote, with no feeling. So, we need to make a conscious effort to concentrate and put ourselves into it if we expect it to have an impact on us.
Sefer Hachinuch explains that our obligation is to perform mitzvahs even if we don’t understand them or feel them because, “Acharay hapulos nimshach halvvos”: understanding, intent and feeling follow behavior. Perhaps the same is true for the viddui. Perhaps the very repetition of and thinking about our behavior paves the way for our eventually gaining insight and then changing.
Yom Kippur is the day to consider the goodness in our lives: our health, our parnasah, our family and friends. It is also the day for dealing with our guilt. It is the day on which God promises “you shall have all your sins atoned (y’chapayr), so that you will be cleansed (titharu)
Today we are here and we are alive. kall z’man shanayr dolake yash l’takayn. Where there is Life there is Hope. We are alive and we can change.
Exploring the Al-Chet Prayer
by Rabbi Shraga Simmons (AISH.COM)
The Yom Kippur service features an extensive list of 44 mistakes. What does it all mean?
When one begins to look at the task of teshuva (repentance), it can be overwhelming. We've made so many mistakes this past year that it's hard to know where to begin! Clearly, if we don't have an excellent system for tackling this project, it will be very time consuming, draining -- and ultimately unproductive.
In Judaism, we say that if you can get to the root of the problem, you can eliminate it entirely. That is the goal of the "Al Chet" prayer that we say so many times during Yom Kippur services. These 44 statements are not a list of mistakes, but rather identify the roots of mistakes.
We'll examine the "Al Chet" prayer, one statement at a time. But remember: "Change" is a process that doesn't happen immediately. Don't try to conquer too many things at once; it may be too overwhelming. Instead, choose the areas that cut closest to the root of your problems. This will maximize your success in the Teshuva process.
1. For the mistakes we committed before You under duress and willingly.
How can we be held accountable for mistakes committed under duress?! The answer is that sometimes, we get into compromising situations because we are not careful. Many of these "accidents" can be avoided by setting limitations to avoid temptation.
Did I put myself into compromising situations, and then when I got into trouble rationalize by saying it was "unavoidable" or "accidental"?
Have I tried making "fences" so that I won't transgress?
Have I considered setting up a penalty system as a deterrent against certain mistakes?
When I legitimately got into an unavoidable situation, did I stop to consider why God might want me to experience this challenge?
Did I make mistakes because I was lazy, or because my lower, animalistic urges were getting the better of me?
2. For the mistakes we committed before You through having a hard heart.
Hardening of the heart means that I closed myself off to deep, human emotions like compassion and caring. The newspapers and streets seem so filled with one tragic story after another, that I can become desensitized to the whole idea of human suffering.
Did I ignore the poor and the weak?
When I did give charity, was it done enthusiastically or begrudgingly?
Was I kind, compassionate and loving when my family and friends needed me to be?
Do I feel the pain of Jews who are assimilating, and of how that impacts the Jewish nation?
3. For the mistakes we committed before You without thinking (or without knowledge).
Every day, we should pray to God for the ability to think and reason. A clear mind is integral to our growth and development. If we're riding in a car and staring aimlessly out the window, then for those precious moments we are nothing more than zombies.
Do I carefully examine my society and surroundings, weighing out what is right and what is wrong?
Do I constantly review my major goals in life?
Do I strive for a constant awareness of the presence of God?
Is one of my goals in life to be a "thinking" individual?
4. For the mistakes we committed before You through things we blurted out with our lips.
A wise man once said, "You don't have to say everything you think." The Talmud says that when we speak, our lips and teeth should act as "gates," controlling whatever flows out.
Do I think before I speak?
Am I prone to thoughtless outbursts?
Do I make hasty promises that I am unlikely to fulfill?
5. For the mistake we committed before You in public and in private.
Did I do foolish or degrading things to attract attention or approval?
On the other hand, did I do honorable deeds in public -- that I would otherwise not have done -- simply so that others would see me?
Did I act privately in a way that I would be ashamed if anyone found out?
Did I consider how God is watching even in my most private moments?
Did I convince myself that because nobody sees me, the mistakes somehow don't count?
6. For the mistakes we committed before You through immorality.
When the Torah speaks of immorality, it usually refers to sexual immorality. Since sex is the strongest human drive (next to survival itself), it can therefore be used to achieve the greatest degree of holiness, or -- as we so often witness -- the greatest degree of debasement.
Did I speak or act in a way that lowered sexuality as a vehicle for spiritual connection?
Do I realize how sexual immorality reduces the spiritual potential of future, more holy unions?
7. For the mistakes we committed before You through harsh speech.
Speech is the unique human faculty, and is the way we build bridges between each other -- and through prayer, with God. That's why abuse of speech is considered one of the gravest mistakes possible.
Did I speak to anyone in a harsh and forceful manner?
Did I gossip?
Did I engage in idle chatter that wasted my time and that of others?
Did I seek opportunities to elevate others with an encouraging word?
8. For the mistakes we committed before You with knowledge and deceit.
As we know, knowledge is a powerful tool -- and a dangerous weapon when misused.
Did I use knowledge of a certain situation to deceive others?
Did I use knowledge to deceive myself -- i.e. did I rationalize away my bad actions?
Did I use knowledge to circumvent the spirit of the law?
Did I use knowledge to show off and impress others?
9. For the mistakes we committed before You through inner thoughts.
The Talmud says that "Bad thoughts are (in one way) even worse than bad deeds." This is because from a spiritual perspective, "thoughts" represent a higher dimension of human activity. ("Thoughts" are rooted in the spiritual world; "deeds" are rooted in the physical world.)
Did I think in a negative way about people, or wish bad upon them?
Did I fantasize about doing bad deeds?
10. For the mistakes we committed before You through wronging a friend.
"Friendship" is one of the highest forms of human activity. When we reach out and connect with others, we experience the unity of God's universe, and bring the world closer to perfection.
Did I strive to go out of my way to help friends, based on my commitment to be their friend?
Was I insensitive toward my friends' needs, or did I hurt their feelings?
Did I take advantage of someone who trusted me as a friend?
Did I check my email or answer my cell phone while listening to a friend, thus denying them my full attention?
Have I made a conscious effort to become a better friend?
11. For the mistakes we committed before You through insincere confession.
On Yom Kippur when we say each line of the "Al Chet" prayer, we gently strike our heart -- as if to say that it was "passion and desire" that led to these mistakes. Do we really mean it?
Did I ever apologize without being sincere?
Have I committed myself to "change" without seriously following up?
12. For the mistakes we committed before You while gathering to do negative things.
Engaging in evil as a lone individual is bad enough. But just as the secular courts treat "conspiracy" more seriously, so too God despises the institutionalizing of unpleasant habits.
Am I part of a regular group that discusses negative things?
Did I participate in a gathering that led to negative activities?
Am I careful to associate only with moral and ethical people?
13. For the mistakes we committed before You willfully and unintentionally.
Did I ever "act out" in a desire to demonstrate my independence from God?
Did I make mistakes out of carelessness? Could they have been avoided?
14. For the mistakes we committed before You by degrading parents and teachers.
Parents and teachers are our first authority figures in life, and by way of association they teach us how to be respectful toward God and His mitzvot. The breakdown of respect for parents and teachers corrodes the moral core of society.
Do I sometimes think poorly of my parents?
Do I ever actually communicate a dislike toward them?
Do I make the effort to appreciate how much my parents have done for me?
If I were a parent, what would I want from my children? Am I giving that now to my parents?
Do I give special attention to the needs of the elderly?
Have I maximized opportunities to learn from rabbis and teachers?
Have I actively sought the guidance and counsel of wise people?
15. For the mistakes we committed before You by exercising power.
God apportions to everyone exactly what they need: whether wealth, intelligence, good fortune, etc. Only when we feel our position is independent of God do we seek to dominate others for our own advantage.
Did I take advantage of those who are weak -- either physically, economically or politically?
Did I manipulate or intimidate someone into doing something he'd rather not have?
16. For the mistakes we committed before You through desecrating God's name.
As a "Light Unto the Nations," every Jew is a messenger of God in this world, responsible to project a positive image.
Did I ever act in a way that brought less honor and respect to God?
Did I ever act in way that gave a bad impression about what it means to be a Jew?
Did I take every opportunity to enlighten others about the beauty of Torah?
17. For the mistakes we committed before You with foolish speech.
People have a habit of talking for talking's sake. When we're bored, we may get on the phone, and "talk and talk and talk." Don't talk without a purpose. In any conversation ask yourself: "Is there any point to this conversation? Am I learning anything? Am I growing?" If you can't identify the point, there probably is none.
Did I waste time by talking about trivial things?
Do I seek to share words of Torah at every opportunity?
18. For the mistakes we committed before You with vulgar speech.
Did you ever find yourself in the middle of a distasteful joke? It can be insidious, but suddenly you find yourself dragged into a discussion that has taken a turn for the worse. Learn to switch tracks. Monitor your conversations, and when you notice them slipping off track, pull them back, gently and subtly.
Did I contaminate my mouth with vulgar speech?
Did I listen to vulgar speech or jokes?
Did I protest when I heard vulgar speech?
Do I always express myself in the most pleasant way possible?
19. For the mistakes we committed before You with the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination).
The Yetzer Hara is that little voice inside each of us that tries to convince us to pursue physical comfort, at the expense of greater spiritual pleasures.
Have I pursued my physical drives for their own sake -- without involving any spiritual dimension?
Do I resort to the excuse that "I couldn't help myself"?
Have I studied Torah techniques for channeling physical drives into holiness?
20. For the mistakes we committed before You against those who know, and those that do not know.
Have I wronged people behind their backs?
Have I wronged people to their faces?
21. For the mistakes we committed before You through bribery.
Bribery is most subversive because we are often not aware of how it affects our decisions. In the words of the Torah, bribery is "blinding."
Have I compromised my honesty and integrity because of money?
Have I compromised myself for the sake of honor and flattery?
Have I failed to do the right thing because I wanted approval?
22. For the mistakes we committed before You through denial and false promises.
The mark of a great person is a meticulous commitment to truth -- despite whatever hardships, embarrassment, or monetary loss might be involved.
Have I lied to myself?
Have I lied to others?
Does my job ever involve having to lie?
Have I rationalized the acceptability of a "white lie?"
23. For the mistakes we committed before You through negative speech (Loshon Hara).
It is said that big people talk about ideas, medium people talk about places and things, and little people talk about people. Gossip causes quarrel and division amongst people -- and tears apart relationships, families, and even entire communities. As King Solomon said: "Life and death are in the hands of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21).
Do I enjoy gossip?
When I hear gossip, do I accept it as true, or do I reserve judgment?
Have I set aside time to study Jewish law on how to avoid Loshon Hara?
24. For the mistakes we committed before You through being scornful (or scoffing).
Did I mock and ridicule serious things?
Did I make fun of someone who I considered less intelligent or attractive?
Did I shrug off constructive criticism as meaningless?
25. For the mistakes we committed before You in business.
Integrity is the mark of every great person. The Talmud says that the first question a person is asked upon arriving in heaven is: "Did you deal honestly in business?"
Have I been scrupulously honest in all my financial transactions?
Was I harsh in trying to beat the competition, or did I seek ways for us both to thrive?
Have I chosen a career that gives me freedom to pursue my personal and spiritual goals as well?
When I was successful in business, did I show my appreciation to God for that success?
26. For the mistakes we committed before You with food and drink.
Eating is such an essential human activity, that the rabbis say all a person's character traits are revealed at the dinner table.
Did I eat to gain energy to do mitzvot, or did I eat for the sake of the animalistic act alone?
What secondary activity did I do while eating: Did I read the paper and watch TV, or did I engage in meaningful conversation?
Have I made every effort to eat kosher food?
Did I express gratitude to God for providing me with the food?
Did I overeat?
Did I eat unhealthy foods?
Did I waste food?
27. For the mistakes we committed before You through interest and extortion.
Gaining financial advantage because someone else is destitute shows poor character. That is why the Torah forbids loaning money to another Jew on interest.
Have I made a profit because of someone else's misfortune or downfall?
Am I greedy?
Am I stingy?
Do I feel responsible for helping to satisfy the needs of others?
Do I appreciate the Torah prohibition against charging interest -- and have I studied these laws?
28. For the mistakes we committed before You by being arrogant.
The trait the Torah uses to describe Moses is "the humblest man." Humility is a key to spiritual growth, because it allows us to make room in our life for other people - and for God.
Have I made others feel lowly to raise myself higher?
Do I dress and speak in a way that draws extra attention to myself?
When walking through a door, do I usually go first, or let others go first?
29. For the mistakes we committed before You with eye movements.
Sometimes we can harm others without even saying a word. For instance, the Talmud discusses the illegality of staring into someone else's home or yard.
Did I look at someone else's private things that were not my business?
Did I gawk at an accident scene on the freeway?
Did I look at the opposite gender in an inappropriate and disrespectful way?
Did I signal my disdain for another person by rolling my eyes?
30. For the mistakes we committed before You with endless babbling.
Often, we feel uncomfortable with silence, so we fill the time with meaningless chatter. The Torah tells us, however, that more than anywhere, God is found in the sound of silence.
Do I participate in conversations with no meaningful content?
Do I think before speaking and measure my words carefully?
Do I forward inane emails and post trivial content online?
Am I careful to concentrate when reciting prayers and blessings?
31. For the mistakes we committed before You with haughty eyes.
The Talmud says that a person's eyes are the "window to the soul." An arrogant person is therefore referred to as having "haughty eyes."
Do I communicate warmth and care to people with my eyes?
Have I avoided interacting with certain people because I felt they were too unimportant for me?
Have my career and relationships suffered because my ego is over-inflated?
32. For the mistakes we committed before You with a strong forehead (brazenness).
The Talmud says there are three traits which characterize Jews: kindness, compassion and shame. "Shame" means feeling embarrassed and remorseful when doing something wrong.
Do I examine the moral consequences before making tough decisions?
Do I appreciate how my moral behavior defines me as a human being?
Have I studied what Judaism says about conscience and morality?
33. For the mistakes we committed before You in throwing off the yoke (i.e. refusing to accept responsibility).
Judaism defines greatness as having more responsibility. Deep down this is what every human being wants -- hence the excitement over a promotion or raising a family.
Have I accepted family responsibilities, and gladly assisted whenever needed?
Do I keep my commitments to friends?
Do I show up on time?
Would my colleagues describe me as "reliable and dependable?"
Have I taken responsibility for the problems in my community?
Have I accepted my unique responsibilities in this world as a Jew?
34. For the mistakes we committed before You in judgment.
The Torah tells us it is a mitzvah to be dan li-kaf zechus -- to judge people favorably. This means, for example, that when someone shows up an hour late, rather than assume they were irresponsible, I should rather try to get all the facts, and in the meantime, imagine that perhaps they were delayed by uncontrollable circumstances.
Am I in the habit of judging people favorably?
Do I wait to make any determination until I have all the information?
Do I sometimes "judge" God unfairly?
35. For the mistakes we committed before You in entrapping a friend.
Have I violated the trust of people who have confidence in me?
Have I divulged confidential information?
Have I taken advantage of family and friends by manipulating them into doing me favors?
36. For the mistakes we committed before You through jealousy (lit: "a begrudging eye").
Someone who has a "good eye" will sincerely celebrate the success of others, while someone with an "evil eye" will begrudge the success of others.
Do I experience resentment at the success of others, or do I experience genuine joy?
Do I feel that others are undeserving of their success?
Do I secretly wish to have my neighbor's things for myself?
37. For the mistakes we committed before You through light-headedness.
Sometimes we can forget that life is serious. We're born, and we die. What have we made of our lives? Have we been focused on meaningful goals, or are we steeped in trivial pursuits?
Do I spend time reading unimportant sections of the newspaper, or listening to frivolity on the radio?
Do I spend time with friends and colleagues discussing inconsequential details of sports and entertainment?
Do I waste countless hours on the Internet with no goal or purpose in mind?
Do I act with proper reverence when in a synagogue or learning Torah?
Do I speak about Biblical personalities and our Jewish Sages with the proper respect?
38. For the mistakes we committed before You by being stiff-necked.
In the Torah, God refers to the Jewish people as "stiff-necked." This is a positive attribute in the sense that we are not easily swayed by fad and fashion. Yet on the negative side, we can also be unreasonably stubborn.
When I'm involved in a disagreement, am I frequently anxious and upset, rather than calm and rational?
Do I think that I'm always right? Do I usually let the other person speak first, or do I always want to speak first?
Do I listen attentively to the other side?
Have I been single-minded and lost my objectivity just because I really wanted something?
39. For the mistakes we committed before You by running to do evil.
When I transgressed the Torah, did I do so eagerly?
Did I run to do mitzvot with the same enthusiasm?
Did I slow down when reciting blessings and prayers?
After completing a certain obligation, do I run out as fast as possible?
40. For the mistakes we committed before You by telling people what others said about them.
Have I encouraged contention, and turned people against each other?
Did I reveal secrets?
Have I studied the Jewish laws prohibiting such speech?
41. For the mistakes we committed before You through vain oath taking.
One of the Ten Commandments is "not to take God's Name in vain." Integral to our relationship with God is the degree to which we show Him proper respect.
Have I been careful not to utter God's Name casually? (Or worse yet: "I swear to G--!”)
When I use God's Name in a blessing or prayer, do I concentrate on the deeper meaning of His Name?
Have I sworn or promised falsely while invoking God's Name?
42. For the mistakes we committed before You through baseless hatred.
The Talmud tells us that more than any other factor, hatred among Jews has been the cause of our long and bitter exile. Conversely, Jewish unity and true love between us is what will hasten our redemption.
Was I disrespectful toward Jews who are not exactly like me in practice or philosophy?
When I disagree with someone on an issue, have I let it degrade into a dislike for the person himself?
When I saw a fellow Jew do evil, did I hate only the deed, or did it extend into a hatred for the person himself?
When someone wronged me, was I eager to take revenge?
When someone wronged me, did I bear a grudge?
43. For the mistakes we committed before You in extending the hand.
Have I withheld from touching things that don't belong to me?
Have I stretched forth my hand to the poor and the needy?
Have I joined hands with wicked people?
Have I extended my hand to help in community projects?
44. For the mistakes we committed before You through confusion of the heart.
The Sages tell us that ultimately all mistakes stem from a confusion of the heart. This is why on Yom Kippur we tap our chest as we go through this list of "Al Chet's."
Have I not worked out issues because of laziness?
Have I made mistakes because I emotionally did not want to accept what I logically knew to be correct?
Have I properly developed my priorities and life goals?
Am I continually focused on them?
Who can Eat on Yom Kippur?
In the past the onset of this solemn, awesome day often brought with it intense religious, emotional upheaval in which all normal human needs and worries fell away. How, wonders Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo, were our forefathers able to achieve this state of mind and heart?
In dealing with this issue, Rabbi Cardozo cites the thinking of the mystical Rav A.Y. Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel. Rav Kook analyzes a cryptic phrase at the end of the confessional prayer, “My God, before I was formed I was of no worth; and now that I have been formed it is as if I was not formed.” The first part is understandable. Before one is born one is of no worth since one did not exist. But what does it mean that once created one’s existence is as if he never had been formed? Is not his very existence proof enough that his life is of immense importance?
Rav Kook explains that that the fact that one has not yet been born means that there was no need for one to exist. But being born means that there must be a reason for one’s existence, a mission to fulfill that can only he is able to accomplish. That mission is unique to the individual, based on his/her given abilities and skills, that need to be employed in a creative, productive way.
“Consequently, my existence is of importance not only for myself but for all of mankind and the entire universe.” What a person is confessing on Yom Kippur is that he has not been living up to that mission or failed to accomplish it. If that is so, one’s whole existence is called into question. One’s life is of no value, just as in the prenatal condition!
A story cited by Rabbi Avi Weiss makes this very point: Reb Zusha was on his death bed, and tears were streaming down his face. “Why are you crying?” asked his disciples. “If God asks me why I wasn’t like Moses or Maimonides,” answered Reb Zusha, “I’ll say, I wasn’t blessed with that kind of leadership ability and wisdom.” But I’m afraid of another question,” continued Reb Zusha, “what if God asks, ‘Reb Zusha, why weren’t you like Reb Zusha? Why didn’t you find your inner being and realize your inner potential? Why didn’t you find yourself?’ That is why I am crying.”
It is this fear of not rising to the challenge of fulfilling one’s destiny that brought on the trembling as Yom Kippur approached. “If I fail in my mission, why have I been created?” This feeling of inadequacy was acutely felt in the lives of our forefathers. But we apparently have lost that feeling, and don’t appreciate the uniqueness of the day. We are not haunted by the question of what we have done and are doing with our lives.
But Rabbi Cardozo remains confident that with a little more thought, we can achieve the religious authenticity of our forefathers. We have the ability to, as they did, tremble before God yet be optimistic that we can turn our lives around and will be able to say that “yes I was created and yes I am worthy”.
Eating is prohibited on Yom Kippur. Who needs to eat? How is it possible to eat or even think about eating when one struggles with his own profound, meaningful issue of “and now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed”?
What Does the Word “Kippur” Mean?
Traditionally we think of this day as a Day of Atonement when we are granted forgiveness for the transgressions committed in the previous year.
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag documents that when the root word k-p-r appears in many places in the Torah its meaning is Protection:
Noah coated the gopher wood of his ark with k-p-r, a protective covering.
Yaakov sent a gift to his brother Esau, so that perhaps “a k-p-r a panav”, so that he would be protected from his brother’s anger.
In the Tabernacle the Ark was covered with a gold cover with two keruvem called a kaporet [k-p-r root] that served as a protective cover for the luchot.
A kapara [k-p-r root] procedure was necessary to protect the priests because encountering the schinah (Divine Presence) in the Tabernacle/Holy Temple required not only preparation but also protection from getting too close to God, much as the nation was warned to not get too close at the theophany at Mt. Sinai
The last day of the eight day dedication ceremony of the Tabernacle included a kapara procedure for the inner altar upon which incense was brought because that altar, with its smoking incense, served as protection by creating a smoke/cloud buffer between the Holy of Holies and the altar in the courtyard. Rabbi Leibtag theorizes that this annual kapara ritual was probably performed on Yom Kippur because it was on this tenth day of the month of Tishrei that the Israelites were forgiven for their sin of the Golden Calf. On that day Moshe came down with the second set of tablets and on that day God interjected Mercy into His Covenant with the nation, allowing His Presence to remain with them even though they may not have been worthy.
Yom Kippur becomes a special day in that it links to the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. We are privy to a special relationship with God that can result in forgiveness. We need protection from both the punishment we deserve and from the danger of getting too close to Him.
In dealing with the question of why Yom Kippur is considered a day of fear and awe (since it should be a day when we are promised forgiveness for our sins) Rabbi Fohrman turns to the Torah reading for Yom Kippur. The reading opens with God’s warning to Aharon the high priest that he is prohibited from entering the inner sanctum (Holy of Holies; other side of the parochet, curtain) any time he wants lest he die. Because/When, says God, “I appear in a cloud”.
The only time the High Priest may enter is on Yom Kippur, when performing the elaborate Yom Kippur service (see below). At the end of this long of list of procedures the Torah states that all this is to happen on the tenth day of the seventh month when we are to fast and to not do any work, for on this day we will be forgiven and we will be purified by God “for all of your sins you will be purified”.
Since the highlight of the day is our being forgiven and purified, shouldn’t this have been stated at the very beginning of the parsha before launching into a detailed description of the required Temple procedures necessary to achieve this forgiveness? To answer this question Rabbi Fohrman re-directs our attention to the opening verses of the parsha which state that God’s communication with Aharon took place after the death of two of his sons who, in their unbridled enthusiasm to come close to God, brought unacceptable incense into the Holy of Holies.
God manifests Himself in a cloud. There is the cloud hovering over the Ark (containing the Ten Commandments) in the Holy of Holies. Clouds covered Mt. Sinai when the glory of God descended to communicate the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. And now God gives us the opportunity to “approach” the cloud every year without risk of dying. We are given the opportunity to recreate the Mt Sinai experience. How? By Aharon’s taking the (acceptable) incense, putting a fire on it and creating his own cloud of smoke from the incense in the Holy of Holies. This man-made cloud of incense covers the kaporet (on the Ark).
When this man-made cloud merges with the divine clouds, says Rabbi Fohrman, it could be the most dangerous moment (because one could die), unless done following the prescribed method. It is this wanting to have a connection with God every year, this urge to re-create the Mt. Sinai experience, that creates an awesome moment, awe being defined as “a sense of being so small in the presence so large, so overwhelming”. Yom Kippur is the time that we encounter God and become enveloped by His presence which, as a by-product, purifies us and cleanses us.
The Yom Kippur Temple Service
(according to Rashi, as presented in the Gutnick Edition of the Torah)
The High Priest is the only one to conduct the service. He alternates five times between wearing four white linen garments (for services connected with the Holy of Holies) and his regular golden garments (for the other services). With each change of clothing he washes his hands and feet before and after and immerses his whole body in a mikvah. He prepares himself seven days before by living apart in a special section of the Temple and by being taught and by reviewing the rules and regulations for Yom Kippur.
Daily Temple Activities (wearing gold garments)
• Tamid (morning communal offering)
• Burning of incense on inner altar
• Meal offerings and wine libations
High Priest’s sin-offering bull (wearing white garments, confessing his sins in seeking atonement for impurity of temple and offerings caused by the priests)
• A bull is brought from his own property
• Confession for himself and for priests
• Slaughtering the bull
• Sprinkling of the blood on kapores (lid on Holy Ark) in the Holy of Holies (once with his index finger towards the top and seven times towards the lower part)
• Sprinkling the blood from inside the holy area towards the Paroches that separates the holy from the Holy of Holies
• Later placing some of the blood (mixed together with the male goat’s blood) on the horns of the golden (inner) altar all around then sprinkling the blood on top of the altar with his finger seven times
• Disposing of the bull by bringing it outside the camp where its skin, flesh and waste matter is burned
People’s sin offering (to atone for impurity of the Temple and sacrifices caused by the nation; wearing white)
• Two communal goats are brought to the entrance of the Ohel Moed
• Two lots are prepared, placed and mixed up in a small box. On one is written “for God” and on the other is written “LaAzazayl”
• The two goats are placed side by side, and then the High priest puts both his hands in the receptacle. The lot in his right hand is placed on the goat to the right and the lot in his left hand is placed on the goat to the left.
• The goat “for God”, designated a sin-offering, is slaughtered and its blood sprinkled (like the bull’s) towards the top and then bottom ends of the kapores; towards the paroches; on the horns of the golden altar all around; sprinkling with his index finger seven times on the top of the golden altar
• Disposing of the goat by bringing it outside the camp where its skin, flesh and waste matter is burned
Scapegoat “LaAzazayl” to atone for all other sins of the nation (white garments)
• Aharon leans both of his hands on the second goat and confesses all the iniquities (crookedness, willful departure from God’s law); transgressions (rebellion); and sins (unintentional deviation from the right path) of the nation
• A pre-designated priest leads the goat, laden with all the sins, to an uninhabited land in the desert where he pushes the goat backward over a cliff.
Incense in the Holy of Holies for the spiritual elevation of the people (wearing white)
• A full pan of burning coals is taken from the outer altar
• A double handful of extra finely round incense is brought
• Inside the Holy of Holies, the High Priest burns the incense by placing it on the fire in the pan
• The resulting cloud of the incense covering the kapores creates a screen preventing the High Priest from gazing at or getting too close to the Holy Presence
Further Yom Kippur offerings (Gold garments, because these are not connected to the Holy of Holies)
• High Priest’s ram for a burnt offering
• Nation's ram for a burnt offering
• Festival offerings
• Burning remains of the sin offering
Removal of spoon and shovel from Holy of Holies (white garments) …
• …That were used to burn the incense
• Linen garments are stored away
Completion of festival and daily temple procedure (gold garments)
• Remainder of festival offerings brought
• Tamid (afternoon communal sacrifice)
• Burning incense on golden(inner) altar
• Lighting menorah
What is Azazayl?
Name of a known mountain
Strong, hard rocky cliff
The one to be sent away
Ancient technical term for removal of sin and guilt of the community
Scapegoat (goat driven or escaping into the wilderness)
Personification of demon in the wilderness regarded as a focus of impurity
A Divinely-created force, Satan, who serves as prosecutor in the court of God
Sending Away the Goat to Azazayl
“The High Priest fastened a scarlet woolen thread to the head of the goat "for Azazel"; and laying his hands upon it again, recited the following confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness: "O Lord, I have acted iniquitously, trespassed, sinned before Thee: I, my household, and the sons of Aaron—Thy holy ones. O Lord, forgive the iniquities, transgressions, and sins that I, my household, and Aaron's children—Thy holy people—committed before Thee, as is written in the law of Moses, Thy servant, 'for on this day He will forgive you, to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord; ye shall be clean.'" This prayer was responded to by the congregation present.
A man was selected, preferably a priest, to take the goat to the precipice in the wilderness; and he was accompanied part of the way by the most eminent men of Jerusalem. Ten booths had been constructed at intervals along the road leading from Jerusalem to the steep mountain. At each one of these the man leading the goat was formally offered food and drink, which he, however, refused. When he reached the tenth booth those who accompanied him proceeded no further, but watched the ceremony from a distance. When he came to the precipice he divided the scarlet thread into two parts, one of which he tied to the rock and the other to the goat's horns, and then pushed the goat down. The cliff was so high and rugged that before the goat had traversed half the distance to the plain below, its limbs were utterly shattered. Men were stationed at intervals along the way, and as soon as the goat was thrown down the precipice, they signaled to one another by means of kerchiefs or flags, until the information reached the high priest, whereat he proceeded with the other parts of the ritual.
The Talmud states that during the forty years that Simeon the Just was High Priest of Israel, the thread actually turned white as soon as the goat was thrown over the precipice: a sign that the sins of the people were forgiven. In later times the change to white was not invariable: a proof of the people's moral and spiritual deterioration, that was gradually on the increase, until forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple, when the change of color was no longer observed.”(Jewish Encyclopedia)
Because sins cannot be taken off one’s head and transferred elsewhere, Rambam views these ceremonies as symbolic in nature, designed to foster the process of repentance. Just as renunciation of one’s past behavior sets the individual free, the nation symbolically is set free from the offenses contracted in its desert life within the domain of the pagan deity of the desert. Removal of these sins to a far-off location left the nation feeling cleansed.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that sins leave stains on the character of those who commit them, and these need to be cleansed before one can undergo catharsis. The sacrificed goat represents kapparah, atonement. The goat sent away symbolizes teharah, cleansing of the moral stain. The two goats, identical in appearance yet opposite in fate represent the duality of forces within us. We have two inclinations, one good (yetser tov), one bad (yetser hara). We have two minds, one emotional, one rational. We do not deny our sins. We confess them then let go of them. Our sins, that might have led us into exile, are themselves exiled. We symbolically send our yetser hara into the wilderness where it belongs and where it will meet a violent death. Now we are ready to start anew.