Shalom, everyone! The biblical holiday of Yom HaKippurim (Day of Atonement) is observed each year on the 10th day of the Seventh Month (10 of Tishrei/Ethanim). The holiday is one of The Almighty‘s mo’edim (appointed times) which He commanded B’nei Yisrael to commemorate as a sacred solemn occasion with the affliction of the soul (fasting from food, drink, and pleasurable activities), a special offering by fire and a day of rest. Yom HaKippurim is a day of solemn rest, work is expressly forbidden.
Yom HaKippurim is often described as the most sacred day of the Hebrew calendar. We are warned that whoever does not practice self-denial on this day will be cut off from among his/her family (Leviticus 23:29), and whoever does work on this day will be cut off from the Nation itself (Leviticus 23:30). Yom HaKippurim is a perpetual ordinance, to be observed by B’nei Yisrael forever, wherever we may be.
Yom HaKippurim ends the ten-day period of penitence from Yom Teruah known as the Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”). During this ten-day period, B’nei Yisrael perform self-examination, seek forgiveness from The Almighty and our fellow man for our transgressions, and recite special penitential prayers beseeching The Almighty for mercy and a favorable judgment for past deeds performed during the year. The Almighty‘s Judgment is initially written on Yom Teruah, whether reward or punishment. On Yom HaKippurim, however, this Judgment is sealed and cannot be postponed or altered.
According to tradition, Yom Ha Kippurim is also the day that Moshe returned to the camp of the B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness with a second set of two stone tablets upon which he wrote the Ten Words (The Decalogue, The Ten Commandments). These new stone tablets were the replacement for the original ones written by The Almighty Himself but broken by Moshe in anger once he witnessed the Nation‘s sin with the Golden Calf.
In ancient times, B’nei Yisrael would mark Yom HaKippurim with abstaining from work, eating, drinking, marital relations and other pleasurable activities for at least 25 hours, beginning in the late afternoon of the 9th day of the Seventh Month (Ethanim) through the 10th day of the Seventh Month (Ethanim). There was a sacred convocation involving the following offerings administered by the Cohen Hagadol (High Priest):
Personal Offerings by Cohen HaGadol on behalf of his family (Leviticus 16:2-3):
- Burnt Offering: One ram
- Sin offering: One bull
Communal Offerings (Numbers 29:7-11):
- Burnt offering: One bull, one ram, and seven male yearling lambs;
- Sin offering: One male yearling goat
- Meal offering: Three-tenths of a measure for a bull, two-tenths for a ram and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs
The ceremony of the communal sin-offering (Leviticus 16:1-34) involved bringing two male goats to stand before The Almighty at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and later the Holy Temple. The Cohen HaGadol would then cast lots on the two goats to determine which goat would be for The Almighty and which one would be for Azazel. The goat designated by lots for The Almighty was sacrificed as the communal sin offering. The Cohen HaGadol took the blood from both his personal burnt (ram) and sin (bull) offerings and the communal sin offering (goat) in bowls into the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant (Ark) resided. This he did alone and only once a year. While inside, the Cohen HaGadol made expiation on behalf of himself and his family and on behalf of the entire Nation of Israel; he then sprinkled the blood from these offerings over and in front of the cover of the Ark, thereby purging this Shrine of the sins of the entire Nation. The Cohen HaGadol, if still alive after entering the Holy of Holies, took the remainder of the blood and sprinkled the Tent of Meeting, applied some to the horns of the altar, and sprinkled the rest on the altar itself using his finger. By this act was the Tent of Meeting and altar cleansed of the sins of the Nation and consecrated.
The goat designated for Azazel remained alive. The Cohen HaGadol laid hands on this goat and confessed the sins of the Nation, placing these sins on the goat’s head. This goat was then lead into the wilderness by a designated individual and then released, symbolically carrying away these sins from the Nation. In modern times, this goat is often referred to as the “scapegoat.”
Nowadays on Yom HaKippurim, as B’nei Yisrael we continue to afflict our souls by abstaining from work, eating, drinking, bathing, and marital relations for at least 25 hours, beginning in the late afternoon of the 9th day of the Seventh Month through the 10th day of the Seventh Month. Yom HaKippurim is a day of solemn rest, work is expressly forbidden. Prior to the beginning of the fast, it is our custom to bathe, dress in white, and have a festive meal so that we can endure the 25+ hour fast. On the day of the fast, we have a sacred convocation during which we recite penitential prayers and psalms beseeching The Almighty for His Forgiveness, and for His Mercy on the sealing of His Judgment initially written on Yom Teruah. It is incumbent on each individual in the Nation to seek forgiveness for and repent of past transgressions, and re-commit to the way of Torah righteousness. Immediately after the conclusion of the fast, it is our custom to have a light meal to facilitate easy recovery.
For more information on Yom HaKippurim, please watch our video, WATCH: Mo’edim: Yom HaKippurim – Day of Atonements – Mar 03 2020.