Yom Kippur is considered the holiest of all the days in the Jewish calendar. One of the high holidays, this very special day in the month of Elul is dedicated to the spirit of all the high holidays and the days surrounding it. The notion must be taken in its entirety and not eliminated to just one day.
The notion of the high holidays encompasses more than could ever be written in a mere article. Volumes upon volumes have been written and have yet to cover the sanctity of this time in the Jewish year. The high holiday encompass the ideas and devotions of beginning anew, significant atonement, the separation of one’s ego from the world, and the focus on the basics which makes every Jew the best Jew they can be.
With Judaism ranging from orthodox to highly progressive, this article covers theories with a few basic traditions that some Jews follow and others choose not to. The basis of Judaism is representative to every individual Jew, a sanctimonious relationship between Hashem and the self and thus can only be determined by Hashem and the self whether the chosen practice of Judaism is appropriate for that individual Jew. Not all will agree with that statement.
There are basic elements of the physical world which a Jew often removes him or herself from in the celebration of Yom Kippur (which is pronounced, by the way, kip-pour, not kip-per) in order to attempt to remove him or herself from the ego driven world. First, fasting is done to purify the soul and remove the elements of the physical needs. Fasting can only be done by those who are healthy enough to undergo a period without food and children are only encouraged to fast until they are uncomfortable. The elderly should refrain from fasting.
The washing of the body is forbidden in Orthodox Judaism, and some increasingly progressive Jews choose to follow this. This also is to remove the physical self from the ego oriented world and to encourage humility. Marital relations, the wearing of leather shoes, and the application of oils or lotions to the skin are also deemed inappropriate. All of these are designed to remove the ego from the body and to feel the sensations provided by the soul’s powerful connection with Hashem.
The ideation of angels is very dear to the celebration of Yom Kippur. Children crane their necks to see a slit that leads directly up to Heaven to see the angels. Becoming angelic rather than physical is a goal of the Jew on this very holy holiday, and one that is taken very seriously by many. The refocusing of life’s attention on the holiness of living, the beauty of the presence of angels in our lives, and the priorities that make a true difference in the quality of living all culminate on this precious day.
The religious background associated with this holiday is attuned with atonement. It is said that on this day Moses followed the Golden Calf and begged the Holy One to forgive his people. It was on Yom Kippur that Hashem forgave his people and sent to Moses the second set of tablets from Mount Sinai. Thus this day marks the day of forgiveness and purification for the Jews throughout the world.
This is a day to atone for the sins committed against the Holy One, but not to seek atonement from the humans that we have wronged. To care for those around us, it is customary for atonement to be sought amongst the people we have wronged during the period just before the holiday, although usually not on any other holiday or religious day. This is an honest apology to those we have hurt or wronged, whether intentionally or accidentally, in the hopes of being granted forgiveness. In the spirit of the Jewish custom, most transgressions are forgiven.
The afternoon before Yom Kippur it is customary to eat a large festive meal before the fast. The holiday lasts for 25 hours, beginning at sundown the evening before and lasting an hour past sundown the day of. Throughout the high holidays, personal growth, family priorities, and the relationship that each individual Jew has with Hashem takes total and complete center stage while the pursuit of self knowledge and growth becomes a secondary consequence to these actions and thoughts. Above all, Yom Kippur is about universal spiritual knowledge in an attempt to become an egoless blessing in the presence of the Holy One.