The ABCs of Yom Kippur

It's the holiest day of the Jewish year. Might as well know what we're doing and get it right!

Angel for a Day

What are "angels?" Angels are completely spiritual beings, whose sole focus is to serve their Creator.

On Yom Kippur, every Jew becomes like an angel. As the Maharal of Prague explains:

"All of the mitzvot that God commanded us on [Yom Kippur] are designed to remove, as much as possible, a person's relationship to physicality, until he is completely like an angel."


Just as angels (so to speak) stand upright, so too we spend most of Yom Kippur standing in the synagogue. And just as angels (so to speak) wear white, so too we are accustomed to wear white on Yom Kippur. Just as angels do not eat or drink, so too, we do not eat or drink.

Five Aspects

There are five areas of physical involvement which we remove ourselves from on Yom Kippur. They are:

1. Eating and Drinking
2. Washing
3. Applying oils or lotions to the skin
4. Marital Relations
5. Wearing Leather Shoes


Throughout the year, many people spend their days focusing on food, work, superficial material possessions (symbolized by shoes) and superficial pleasures (symbolized by anointing). These Yom Kippur fasting rules restore our priorities to what really counts in life.


As Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes:

"On Yom Kippur, the power of the evil inclination is muted. Therefore, one's yearning for spiritual elevation reasserts itself, after having lain dormant as a result of sin's deadening effect on the soul. This rejuvenation of purpose entitles a person to special consideration and forgiveness."

Teshuvah and Forgiveness

Following the Golden Calf, Moses pleaded with God to forgive the people. Finally on Yom Kippur, atonement was achieved and Moses brought the second set of Tablets down from Mount Sinai.

From that day forward, every Yom Kippur has carried with it a special power to cleanse the mistakes of Jews (both individually and collectively) and to wipe the slate clean. Though while Yom Kippur atones for transgressions against God, this does not include wrongs committed against other human beings. It is therefore the universal Jewish custom - some time before Yom Kippur -- to apologize and seek forgiveness from any friends, relative, or acquaintances whom we may have harmed or insulted over the past year.


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Related Topics: Faiths, Judaism, Yom Kippur, High Holidays
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