Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is one of the two High Holy Days in the Jewish faith. Coming ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur represents the day in which Jews seeks to reconcile their relationship with others and with G-d. While some think of the occasion as a solemn one, it is one of the holiest and one of the most important holidays for Jews.
Origin of the Day
Yom Kippur is first mentioned in the Torah Mosheh 3 in the Chapter of Leviticus. In that Chapter, G-d directs Moses and the children of Israel that [a]lso on the tenth [day] of this seventh month [there shall be] a Yom Kippur: it shall be a Mikra Kodesh unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by eish (fire) unto YHWH. As the story of Yom Kippur is told, Moses had descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of stone tablets and found the Israelite worshiping a golden calf. Yom Kippur arose as a showing to G-d of the Jewish people’s repentance for their lapse of faith. It is a day that G-d has set as the way for his people to seek absolution for their sins.
As many believe, Yom Kippur is that day that G-d decides the fate of each human being. In order to be found worthy of G-d’s continued blessings, the Jewish people engross themselves in Teshuvah (repentance), prayer, and fasting.
The Traditions and Significance
Dating back to ancient times, the rites and traditions of Yom Kippur are designed to expiate the sins of the people. The ten days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jews are to seek out those they have offended and ask for forgiveness. Additionally, Jews are fufil an important mitzvah by giving charity (tzedekah). By doing these things, Jews begin the new year with a fresh slate. The Jewish people then pray asking for forgiveness of sins (Al Khet). The Book of Jonah is read as a reminder of G-d’s willingness to forgive, even acts of outright disobedience. At the close of the day, the Ne’ilah prayers are offered. These ask that G-d not shut the people out from his presence.
Every aspect of the Day is an expression of deepest desire to reconnect with G-d. After all, acts of the previous year are being judged and the Jewish people are on spiritual trial. Abstentions from eating, bathing, drinking, sexual relations and wearing leather are all aspects of the observance. Even additional prayers are offered in the synagogue.
When the day ends, the shofar is sounded. Sometimes referred to as the Sabbath of Sabbaths”, Yom Kippur ends with the Jewish person feeling physically and spiritually cleansed and closer to G-d.
On the 10th day of the month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur begins. From the setting of the sun and the reciting of the Kol Nidre to the sounding of the shofar, it is the most revered day in the life of a Jew. The Day is important because it is an opportunity for spiritual cleansing, for atonement, and for finding peace and closeness with G-d.