Yom Kippur, also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year for the people of Israel. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in the Hebrew Bible as the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im ("Days of Awe"). Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the month of Tishrei. According to Jewish tradition, HaShem inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the verdict. During the Days of Awe, We seek to amend our behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against G-d (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui).
Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are ten days, known as the Aseret Yemei Teshuva (ten days of repentance). During this time it is "exceedingly appropriate" for Jews to practice "Teshuvah", which is examining one’s deeds and repenting for sins committed against both G-d and one’s fellow man in anticipation of Yom Kippur. This repentance can take the form of additional supplications, confessing one’s deeds before G-d, fasting, and self-reflection.
Forgiveness of Sin. Although the korban of Rabbeinu Yeshua atones for a good portion of our sins, those transgressions between man and his fellow man are not forgiven unless we ask our friend to forgive us first. This should be a priority on everyone’s list as we come to Yom Kippur, because we want to achieve the best atonement possible and we need to be forgiven by those we may have wronged. It is a proper custom to ask all of our friends’ forgiveness before the holiday and to say we forgive them when asked by them.
The haunting climax of the High Holidays occurs with that heartfelt end-of-Yom Kippur request: "At the time when the gates of favor are to be opened" (Piyut on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)
The beautiful song of "Et Shaarei Rason / When the Gates of Acceptance" is sung on Rosh Hashanah before blowing the shofar and before Minhah (afternoon prayer) on Yom Kippur. The gate that we sing about is the gate of teshuvah. It is open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and closed at Ne’ilah at the end of Yom Kippur. This gate is our lifeline to HaShem. One might think that this gate is only open to the fully repenting individual. However, the word gate – "shaar" – has the same letters as "rasha" – the wicked. What connection does the wicked have with the gate?
One Yom Kippur, a famous Rabbi, was walking home from services on Yom Kippur night. The hour was late and the streets of Jerusalem were completely silent. Such is the nature of Yom Kippur in Israel. There is not a car on the street, not a coffee shop that is open. He was walking near Kikar Davidka (Davidka Square). Suddenly he heard a group of people making noise. He was shocked. Curious as to what was going on, he inched closer. He saw a crowd of non-religious Israelis, the type of gang one would expect to see hanging out at a coffee shop. As the group sat around, their leader stood before them. In a chanting voice he began "Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol haleilot? (Why is this night different from all other nights?) On all other nights of the year we eat and drink but on this night we don’t. Why?" At this point everyone joined in unison, "Ki hayom Yom Kippurim. (Because today is Yom Kippur.)"
The Rabbi watched, his eyes transfixed on the incredible scene unfolding before him. And then again the leader would begin to enumerate one sin after another that they would normally commit and then they would proclaim that it is Yom Kippur. On this night they would not dance; they would not eat un-kosher food. They would not talk inappropriately. Because they knew Yom Kippur is different. They understood that even if during the rest of the year they may commit acts befitting a "rasha," on Yom Kippur, they can stand by the gate.
The gate is open for everyone on Yom Kippur. Yes, the Yom Kippur gates will close at the end of the day, but Jewish tradition teaches that the gates of prayer and the gates of repentance, in fact all gates, re-open each day. In life, there are always gates to open, at all ages, at all moments. We are the gate-keepers; will we open them and walk through or will they remain shut? Will we open the gate of compassion? The gate of righteousness? The gate of goodness? The gate of giving? The gate of forgiving? The gate of listening? The gate of sharing? The gate of commitment to our synagogue? The gate of Torah study? The gate of prayer? The gate of healing? The gate of risking to love more deeply the people we say we love? The gate of courage? The gate of action?
The Holy One opens the gates of heaven for us, but will we also open our gates to G-d? As the Hasidic saying goes, “Where do we find G-d? Wherever we let G-d in.” It is up to us to open our own gates, to let down our barriers, to let the Holy One in.
In addition, many synagogues have instituted that before Kol Nidre it is announced that everyone should forgive each other and everyone should say that they have forgiven. This creates a tremendous force of atonement in Heaven and will affect a Divine Pardon by HaShem to all His people.
Tizku Leshanim Rabot (May you merit [a life of] many years). May we merit to see the return of King Messiah return this new year! Amen, ken yehi ratzon (May it be HaShem’s will).
Tags: central themes, day of atonement, day of the year, days of awe, fellow man, HaShem, hebrew bible, High Holy Days, holy day, jewish tradition, korban, repentance, rosh hashanah, rosh hashanah and yom kippur, self reflection, Supplications, synagogue services, tishrei, yamim nora, yom kippur
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