Machon Daniel Torah Weekly
“To Stir the Mind and to Light up the Shabbos and the Holidays
The Source of Yom Kippur to Atone and Purify
“כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם” (ויקרא טז:ל)
“For on this day He will bring you atonement to purify you from all your unintentional sins” (Vayikra 16:30)
How powerful is the day of Yom Kippur, as it brings atonement upon the person and purifies him and uproots his unintentional sins from his heart as though had he never sinned!
What is the source Yom Kippur’s great power?
We can learn the secret of Yom Kippur’s strength from that which is written regarding the punishment allotted to the people of Sedom and Amora. There it states “וה’ המטיר על סדום… גפרית ואש מאת ה'” / “And Hashem rained on Sedom… fire from Hashem” (Bereishis 19:24). Now, the name G-d mentioned in this posuk refers to His characteristic of mercy, meaning that the punishment of the people of Sedom was meeted out with this Name. From here we learn that so great were the sins of Sedom and Amora that they altered the characteristic of mercy to that of strict law and punishment.
Now, the sages have taught us that Hashem rewards a person for his good deeds in a much greater degree than he meets out punishment to those who transgress His word. Now, on Yom Kippur, a Jew not only guards himself not to transgress any of Hashem’s commandments and looks to fulfill the positive commandments he is obligated to perform, but as well he refrains from all work and submits his personal interests before the holy work of the day of Yom Kippur. In addition, he prevents himself from partaking of the most basic pleasures and even necessities such as eating and drinking, and takes upon himself to repent for all his sins and to return to Hashem with a full heart and a full soul. All this leads to a complete submission to Hashem’s will, reducing the standing of the individual to no more than a dedicated servant – without self-interests and almost without a self!
Through all the above, the Jewish people reach such a lofty spiritual level where they impact the decisions of the heavenly court – until they cause the characteristic of strict judgment to turn into mercy, bringing upon themselves atonement and purification!
Three Stages of Atonement and Purification on Yom Kippur
“כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאותיכם לפני ה’ תטהרו” (ויקרא טז:ל)
“For on this day He will bring you atonement to purify you from all your unintentional sins; you shall be purified before Hashem” (Vayikra 16:30)
From the wording of the posuk it appears that there are three stages in the process of purification on Yom Kippur: (1) “יכפר עליכם” / “He will bring atonement upon you” (2) “לטהר אתכם” / “to purify you” and (3) “לפני ה’ תטהרו” / “you shall be purified before Hashem”.
(1) “יכפר עליכם” / “He will bring atonement upon you”. The idea of atonement is to remove from the person the responsibility for the sinful act. And so explains Rashi (Yishaya 47:11) that the meaning of כפרה / atonement in all places is removal. And here we suggest that we are referring to the removal of the sin until it is no longer associated with that person.
(2) “לטהר אתכם” – to purify you”. Here we are dealing with the removal of the actual stain which penetrated a person’s heart and soul as a result of his sin. This is the idea of purification as it states “מי יתן טהור מטמא” / “Who will create pure from impure” (Eyov 14:4) and in our case we are dealing with the removal of the impure effects of the sin, revealing the pure soul man was created with.
(3) “לפני ה’ תטהרו” – “you shall be purified before Hashem”. The wording teaches us that at this stage Hashem returns the person to his original state of closeness to Hashem in which he stood before he sinned. That is the meaning of “לפני ה‘” / “before Hashem”. With this last stage, the purification process is complete!
Upon examination of the order of the service of the high priest on Yom Kippur, it appears that there as well there are three main stages of service which correspond to the three stages of purification mentioned above.
In the first stage, the high priest he enters the Holy of Holies and the posuk reads“ונתן את הקטרת על האש לפני ה’ וכסה ענן הקטרת את הכפרת… ולקח מדם הפר והזה באצבעו על פני הכפרת קדמה”” / “And he places the incense on the fire… and the cloud is smoke covered the Kapores…” (Vayikra 16:13-14). “כפרת” / “Kapores” means as well atonement and this is parallel to “יכפר עליכם” / “He will bring you atonement”.
The high priest then exits the Holy of Holies (after a second offering) and sprinkles blood on the curtain in the Hechal. In the Heichal stands the Menorah which the Torah calls “את המנורה הטהורה” / “the holy Menorah” (Shemos 39:37) and this is parallel to the second stage of purification “לטהר אתכם” / “to purify you”.
The third stage of the service on Yom Kippur is to send the designated goat which carries on its back all the unintentional sins of the Jewish people to its demise from the heights of a steep mountain in the desert. The sages explain in the Mishna (Shabbos 9:3) from where do we know that we are obligated to tie a reddish-dyed ribbon on the head of the sent-goat? For the Navi (Yishaya 1:18) says “אם יהיו חטאיכם כשנים כשלג ילבינו” / “If your sins are red, they will whiten as (the color of) snow”. The Rav Bartenura explains that they would tie half of the red ribbon to the head of the goat and the other half to the rock from which he was thrown, and when the goat was thrown below the ribbon on the rock would turn white and they would know that their sins were atoned for! This is parallel to the third stage of purification “לפני ה’ תטהרו” / “you shall become purified before Hashem”. With this, the process of purification was completed and all the sins of the Jewish people were erased and they became once again the beloved children of Hashem. Regarding this the posuk states “בנים אתם לה’ אלקיכם” / “You are children of the L-rd your G-d” (Devorim 14:1).
The Mitzvah of Teshuva
There are different opinions regarding the number of stages in the Teshuva process, but in essence all agree to the fundamental stages of Teshuva.
The Vilna Gaon explains on the posuk “מְכַסֶּה פְשָׁעָיו לֹא יַצְלִיחַ וּמוֹדֶה וְעֹזֵב יְרֻחָם” / “One who covers over his sins will not be successful; one who admits (to them) and leaves them will receive Hashem’s mercy” (Mishle 28:13) that there are four stages in the Teshuva process:
(1) עזיבת החטא – the leaving of the sin (2) וידוי – oral confession (3) חרטה – regret (4) וקבלה שלא לעשות עוד – accepting upon oneself never to repeat his sin. The Gra learns the above four stages from the following posuk “שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ. קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל ה’… אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ יְרֻחַם יָתוֹם” (Hoshea 14:2-4).
(1) “שובה ישראל“ – The first stage is to leave the sin just as one returns an item which he has stolen. The second stage is “עד ה‘” which refers to regret as it states in the Zohar that the heart, from which regret stems, is closer than all to Hashem. The third stage is oral confession as it states “קחו עמכם דברים” and the fourth stage is accepting upon oneself never to repeat the sin again. Against this last stage the posuk says “שובו אל ה‘”. After completing this process, the person will merit that which is stated at the end of the posuk “אשר בך ירוחם יתום” – meaning that Hashem will have mercy upon you as one has mercy on an orphan.
Rebbeinu Yona says there are three stages in the Teshuva process, and all three stages are included in the posuk “ומודה ועוזב ירוחם” / “one who admits and leaves (his sin) will receive Hashem’s mercy”. The stages are 1. Regret 2. Oral confession 3. A lasting leaving of the sin. The first two stages are included in the word “מודה” for one who admits shows remorse and regret.
From the wording of the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (2:2-3) it appears that he lists five stages of Teshuva: 1. To leave the sin 2. To remove it from one’s thoughts 3. To decide in his heart never to repeat the sin 4. To show regret for his sin and 5. To orally state that which he has decided in his heart.
Now, the first two stages of regret and oral confession are relatively easy to fulfill. The third stage of accepting upon oneself never to repeat his sin is quite a difficult chore. To accomplish this one needs to gather all his strength and push off all negative forces in his life and declare with a complete heart that he will never repeat this sin as long as he lives.
If this is impossible, one should accept upon himself this obligation for a limited time period and when that period is completed he should receive the obligation upon himself for another few months, for example, and so on until he gains the strength to completely uproot his desire to sin.
The Imrei Yechezkel advises that this approach can be used even if one is not ready to completely remove himself from the sin. For instance, if he has trouble controlling his eyes, he can try and exercise control over them for a couple of times a day and repeat this process daily until he eventually reaches the stage where he is in complete control of his eyes.
Wishing you an easy fast and may all our sins be atoned for and may Hashem in His mercy purify our souls and bring us close to Him “as in the days of old”!