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Yom Kippur 5767

Yom Kippur (Leviticus ch. 16 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! Yom Kippur begins Sunday evening October 1. The story is told of a house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A voice comes from Heaven and decrees, "Repaint, repaint ... and thin no more!"

There are many prayer services and many prayers in each service where we ask for forgiveness - where we need to focus on what we have done wrong this past year and on what we can improve. It is difficult to keep focused and to concentrate in every prayer. Concentrate where you can concentrate!

In preparation for Yom Kippur, we should ask ourselves, "What can I do to improve my relationship with the Almighty and my observance of His commandments?"

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!


In Leviticus 16:29-30, the Torah writes:

"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. For this day, he [the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest] shall atone for you to purify you from all of your transgressions - before the Almighty you shall be purified."

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 man 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.

On Yom Kippur we read the Book of Jonah (i.e.. "Jonah and the Whale" - though, it was a fish and not a whale...). The essence of 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.

As mentioned above, the Torah states that we shall "afflict ourselves" on Yom Kippur. There are five "afflictions" on Yom Kippur (from before sunset Sunday, October 1st until nighttime - when the stars come out - Monday evening, October 2nd) - we are prohibited from: eating and drinking, wearing leather shoes, marital relations, anointing the skin with salves and oils, and washing for pleasure.

The essence of these prohibitions is to cause affliction to the body, thus negating it and giving preeminence to the soul. From a Jewish perspective a human being is comprised of a yetzer tov (the desire to do the right thing, which is identified with the soul) and a yetzer hora (the desire to follow your desires, which corresponds with the body). Our challenge in life is to get our bodies in line with the yetzer tov. A comparison is made in the Talmud to a horse (the body) and a rider (the soul). Better to have the rider on top of the horse!

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:

  1. Am I eating to live or living to eat?
  2. If you're eating to live, then what are you living for?
  3. What would I like written in my obituary or on my tombstone?

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(1) Take pleasure! You made an important decision to attend. Don't regret it.

(2) You are not there to be entertained. You are there to accomplish something on a spiritual level - to come closer to the Almighty, to introspect, to set yourself on a better path in life.

(3) Don't blame the service or the rabbi or the prayerbook. If you want to you can prepare in advance - read the machzor (the special prayerbook for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) to understand the ideas and the words. Read the Rosh Hashana Yom Kippur Survival Kit by Shimon Apisdorf (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). Make a list of what deeds or behaviors you regret, would like to correct and would like the Almighty to forgive.

(4) The mind seems to have 2 tracks - a person can talk and think about what he wants to say next; he can read and think about something else; he can pray and think about a million other things. When reading a silent prayer, concentrate on what you're reading. When listening to the chazan (the person leading the service) focus on a spiritual thought -"Almighty, I love You" "Almighty forgive me." "Almighty help me." It prevents thinking about the score of the game, bills due, repairs needed at home. Most people will not understand the Hebrew liturgy being chanted. However, even if the mind can't understand it, the heart and soul can take nourishment from the words, the tune, the atmosphere. Relax and listen to the essence.

(5) Make the best use of your time. Look at the commentary on the prayers.

Bring something about Rosh HaShana/Yom Kippur to read. And if you are really suffering, then just ask, "Almighty, please accept all of my suffering for being in synagogue as an atonement for my transgressions."

Many people complain each year, "How can my synagogue charge so much for tickets for High Holiday services? It's a sin to have to pay to pray!" Actually, you don't have to pay to pray; you can stay home and pray. Unfortunately, only 25% of all Jews in the U.S.A. belong to anything Jewish -and possibly most belong to Jewish Community Centers. This means that for the synagogue to stay solvent all year for the "twice a year" Jew to attend, they have get support where and when they can. I believe that people were paying a lot more for tickets to the Olympic games than most synagogues charge for High Holiday tickets - and the people were glad to be able to get tickets. Believe me, you will get more out of synagogue on Yom Kippur than watching people run around a track!

CANDLE LIGHTING - September 22
(or Go to

Jerusalem 6:01
Guatemala 5:40 - Hong Kong 6:02 - Honolulu 6:09
J'Burg 5:45 - London 6:41 - Los Angeles 6:33
Melbourne 5:58 - Mexico City 7:14 - Miami 7:01

New York 6:37 - Singapore 6:43 - Toronto 6:58


The person who makes no mistakes
usually doesn't make anything

In Loving Memory of
Emmanuel Moreno
Who Died for the Jewish People
in Lebanon


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