Yom Kippur: The Sabbath of Sabbaths

Question

I am planning to fast on this Yom Kippur for the first time and would like to have a better understanding of the essence of the day. Rabbi, how would you explain the idea of Yom Kippur so that I can hopefully have a more meaningful experience? Thanks.

11 months

Answers

  1. The Torah designates the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei) as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is a day of atonement from sins, a holy day, that we now call Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

    “In the seventh month on the tenth of the month you shall afflict yourselves and you shall not do any work, neither the native-born Jew nor the convert who dwells among you. For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to purify you, from all your sins before God you shall be purified. … It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you and you shall afflict your souls on the ninth of the month in the evening from evening to evening you shall observe the Sabbath.”

    We see from the above Biblical passages that Yom Kippur is described as the holiest day of the year because it combines the Sabbath prohibition against work, atonement from sin and the obligation to fast, described in the Bible as “affliction.” We ignore our physical needs and desires on this day and relate to God as if we were completely spiritual beings. On this day, God gives us the opportunity to be cleansed of our sins and to correct the past.

    Contrary to most people’s perception of the day as very sad, the Sages describe Yom Kippur as one of the happiest days of the year. In a beautiful passage in the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva states:

    “Happy are you, Israel (i.e. the Jewish people)! Before Whom are you purified and Who purifies you? Your Father in heaven! As it says, “And I will cast upon you waters of purity and you will be purified.” And it says, “God is the hope (mikveh) of Israel. Just as a mikveh purifies the impure, so the Holy One Blessed is He, purifies Israel.

    Although Yom Kippur is certainly a solemn day of self-reflection, it is also a day of happiness. This is the time when we can become free of the shackles of our past, when God gives us a special opportunity and ability to repent and change ourselves for the better. While on Rosh Hashana we look forward to and pray for a good new year and commit ourselves to being better people, Yom Kippur focuses us on our past and gives as a chance to “turn back the clock,” to actually change our past. This process is called teshuva, repentance, or literally, return.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team