Rabbi Avraham Bukspan once shared an insight into Yom Kippur -The Day of Atonement. "Atonement" is a conjunctive of "At One-ment" - of reconnecting, strengthening the relationship with the Almighty, the reconciliation of the Almighty with each of us. Yom Kippur is our opportunity to reunite our spiritual essence - our soul - with the Almighty.
Intuitively, each of us knows that we have a soul - that part of us which contains our conscience and drive to do the right thing. The Torah tells us, "... and He blew into his (Adam, the first human being) nostrils the soul of life ..." (Genesis 2:7). If we realize that our essence is spiritual - and eternal - it places a whole different perspective on life.
We need to be concerned about our bodies and our health and make every effort to sustain them, but the real importance is the soul, because that is our true self. Yom Kippur is about the soul.
Throughout the year we either bring merit to the soul or sully the soul through our actions and behavior. The 613 mitzvot of the Torah are there to help each of us develop our soul and perfect it. From the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul through Yom Kippur (40 days) we introspect, review the year and our interactions with the Almighty and our fellow human beings. We work on repairing what needs repairing. Yom Kippur is the culmination.
The Torah gives us special mitzvot, commandments, for Yom Kippur to help us see more clearly that we are souls and to help us relate to life on a soul level. The Torah states, "This shall be an eternal decree: In the seventh month [counting from the month of Nissan] on the tenth of the month you shall afflict yourselves and all manner of work you shall not do, neither the native born nor the convert amongst you ... before the Almighty you shall be purified" (Leviticus 16:29-30).
These "afflictions" are ways for us to minimize the body's control over our lives. What are they? There are five "afflictions" on Yom Kippur (from before sunset Friday, September 17th until nighttime - when the stars come out -Saturday evening, September 18th) - we are prohibited from: eating/drinking, wearing leather shoes, marital relations, anointing the skin with salves and oils, and washing for pleasure.
By negating the body, we give preeminence to the soul. Life is a constant battle - between the yetzer tov (the desire to do the right thing, which is identified with the soul) and yetzer hora (the desire to follow your desires, which corresponds with the body). The Talmud compares the body to a horse and the soul to a rider. It is always better to have the rider on top of the horse - to have the rider controlling the horse and not the horse controlling where the rider is going!
Jewish tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur the yetzer hora, the desire to follow your desires, is dead. If we follow our desires, it is only out of habit. On Yom Kippur we can break our habits! Here are three questions to think about on Yom Kippur to help you develop your life plan:
- Am I eating to live or living to eat?
- If I am eating to live, then what am I living for?
- What would I like written in my obituary or on my tombstone?
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the anniversary of the day Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the second set of Ten Commandments. This signified that the Almighty forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Almighty. Transgressions against our fellow human being require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If one took from another person, it is not enough to regret and ask the Almighty for forgiveness; first, one must return what was taken and ask for forgiveness from the person and then ask for forgiveness from the Almighty.
In the prayer service we say the Viduy, a confession, and the Al Chet, a list of transgressions between man and God and between man and man. It is interesting to note two things. First, the transgressions are listed in alphabetical order (in Hebrew). This not only makes a comprehensive list, but gives a framework to include whatever transgression you wish to include under the proper letter.
Secondly, the Viduy and Al Chet are stated in the plural. This teaches us that we are one people and that we are responsible for each other. Even if we did not commit a particular offense, we carry a certain measure of responsibility for those who transgressed - especially if we could have prevented the transgression.
The Rambam, Maimonides, teaches that each individual's life is always on a balance - like the old-time scales where the weights were put on one side and the produce on the other side - and that each of us should think before doing an action that this transgression or that this mitzvah (commandment) could tip the scales.
Likewise, Rambam teaches that each community, each country and ultimately the world is judged in the same manner. Thus, an individual should not only think that his transgression or fulfillment of a mitzvah tips the scale for him alone, but may very well tip the scale for all of mankind!
On Yom Kippur we read the Book of Jonah. The lesson from the story is that God readily accepts the repentance of anyone who sincerely desires to do Teshuva, to return to the Almighty and to the path of the Torah - just as He did with the people of Ninveh.
By the way, if you wish to keep focused that you are a soul and not a body, train yourself to say "My body is hungry" and not "I am hungry"! May you have a meaningful Yom Kippur and a sweet and healthy year!
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