Yom Kippur 2020

According to the Jewish mystics, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is an internal world within us longing for healing, connection, purpose and repair. These internal yearnings are satiated by expanding our consciousness so that we may clearly see and take measures to heal anything that is torn or broken.

It’s customary to fast for 25 hours on Yom Kippur, if medically advisable, although the Torah does not command nor exhort us to fast. The Torah tells us to to ”afflict our souls,” not our physical bodies.

Each blast of the Shofar we hear on Yom Kippur has a special meaning individually and collectively.

1. Tekiah — one solid note signifying wholeness.

2. Shvarim — a broken and wailing blast representing our inner cries, our pain and our yearning to connect. “Shvarim” means “fractured” in Hebrew. 

3. Teruah — a robust series of nine staccato sounds, symbolizing a wake-up call to tikkun neshama (soul-repair).

4. Tekiah Gedolah — the Big Tekiah. We began with Tekiah, but this time it’s one, solid note extended out as far as it can go, emphatically calling for our return to wholeness, bringing us full circle. 

During the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we take a full accounting (cheshbon) of our behavior over the past year. Before Yom Kippur commences, we are to ask forgiveness and make amends directly to anyone we have hurt with or without intent.

In Jewish teachings, God does not forgive us for person-to-person sins — we must do that work ourselves, person-to-person.

During out introspection and self-reflection (“afflicting our souls”) we must face Truths about ourselves and all our relationships.

The etymology of the word atonement is at-one-meant, calling upon us to be ”at-one-makers.” How can you be more at-one with yourself and the world around you?

In the Torah God tells us:

I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, so you and your offspring may live.


In what ways can you choose and exemplify behavior that prioritizes quality of life?

On Yom Kippur we make a choice between business as usual or a new way of being in the world.

Yom Kippur 2020 falls on the year of a pandemic and an onslaught of distressing news.

A famous story about Rabbi Israel Salanter provides an execellent example of at-one-ment at work:

During the 1848 cholera epidemic in Russia, Rabbi Israel Salanter (founder of the Mussar movement) declared that Yom Kippur to be a day when Jews would work to provide for the sick and eat to preserve their strength, instead of fasting.

Legend has it, Rabbi Salanter stood on the bimah, while his congregation eagerly waited to hear a Yom Kippur message from this great and pious holy man…

To everyone’s surprise he proclaimed, “With the permission of God and community, we hereby permit people to eat and to drink today.” Whereupon he made the Kiddush and ate and drank in front of his congregation. 

Whether truth or legend, the story was told for a reason, as stories are.

The moral of the story: Fortifying the body (sh’mirat haguf) and working to provide for the sick during an epidemic was a greater mitzvah than fasting or praying without doing.

Respect your own body as the receptacle, messenger, and instrument of the spirit.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

The message in the Rabbi Israel Salanter story emphasizes a healthy approach to self-care and tangible acts of tikkun (repair), over fasting and praying alone.

May we each be Divinely restored by acts of tikkun in 5781.

©️2020 All Rights Reserved 🖖


32 thoughts on “Yom Kippur 2020

  1. I have never heard the connection between Yom Kippur and shmirat haguf, but I like it. I am really not into the overemphasis on fasting on a conceptual level – I think it encourages reckless, unhealthy behavior, shames people who cannot fast, making fasting the single most important mitzvah of the day is the exact opposite of what Isaiah is telling the people to do in the Haftarah read YK morning, etc. (I may write my own post on this sometime…) I think we need to focus on other elements aside from the self-affliction!

  2. Another interesting and informative post, Abi. I particularly like the concept of reaching out to others asking for forgiveness for any hurts, as well as trying to make amendments, which is equally as important. Means that there is at least one day a year for some deep thinking and introspection on our behaviour toward others. Critical in these times.

    • Thanks for your presence and reflections, Len!! We’re supposed to take a “cheshbon” — an “accounting” of all our behaviors during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In what ways have I made the world better? In what ways have I made it worse? How do I affect the lives of others? Are their lives easier or harder because of my behavior?

      It is said that GD does not forgive us for person-to-person sins on Yom Kippur, unless we have sought forgiveness and made amends directly to anyone we have hurt knowingly or accidentally.

      I hope our crisis will be over soon and there will be better times ahead.

    • Thanks, Joy! Glad to hear you found it interesting and meaningful. Hopefully our meetings will resume soon.

  3. If I am not mistaken, the Kittle that is worn on Yom Kippur has the same reflection and is directly connected to the Ladies who wore the white dresses. It is a time of purity and forgiveness. I totally concur with your admonition that we turn this time from a day of fasting into a celebration considering what trials and tribulations we have already experienced this year. We should consider this day a festive day because it should be celebrated that G-d forgave us on this day for the sin of the golden calf, Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of Luchot (tablets). Therefore, G-d established this day Yom Kippur as a day of forgiveness, something to be celebrated and we should follow the example of Rabbi Salanter and the ladies of Jerusalem in celebration of our Atonement before G-d!

    • Maybe I’ll post about the Kittel. Good topic! Traditionally, a Jewish man wears a Kittel for the first time on his wedding day. After that, on Yom Kippur as well as Pesach and Rosh Hashanah is some communities. In the end, a person’s Kittel becomes their burial shroud…completing the circle from marriage to grave.

      I would like to see Yom Kippur incorporate more joyous elements, while keeping our obligation to atone directly to anyone we have hurt knowingly or unknowingly.

      Many thanks for your readership and your reflections on the posts 🤩

  4. I am so jazzed about your beautiful and informative D’rash. My dad said, to my mom every Shabbat, the proverb, ” A woman of valor who can find her prices is far above rubies. It ends with charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who reveres the Lord she shall be praised. I love this proverb. It comforts me and reminds me of our family tradition. I really love what you share because there is enough T’suras in the world that I do not need to create more. During a precarious time of a pandemic, you cleverly give words of encouragement. Your Parshot are conducive to joy and delight. I just really need to sooth my Nishamah. The soul is more important than superficial stuff and aesthetics,, which dissipate. I love you, dear Abi, my precious Rebi.

        • Hiya-

          I would be very curious to have your thoughts on the extended exchange that I’ve been having with my friend Peter B. in the comments section of this post: https://skepticskaddish.com/2020/09/25/keyboard-judaism/ (you have to scroll all the way down because the exchange is broken up a bit between different comments)

          I would appreciate your perspective, if you’re willing to share it. Feel free to comment on that same post, or wherever you want.

          All best,

          • I looked through the thread and will throw my two cents into the hat. Jews from heterodox denominations do not know that the concepts of Heaven and Hell exist in Judaism and often disseminate that misconception.

            • Wow, Abi (may I call you that?), I’m very glad that I asked for your opinion. I am not aware that Judaism has a heaven and a hell. I know of something akin to purgatory. Is that what you are referring to?

                    • I’m not so sure that ‘Sheol’ is a “thing” in the Orthodox community either. I’ve only read about it in the context of a Torah era believe system that doesn’t really exist nowadays… Have you heard Orthodox religious leaders or scholars speak about it as something that they believe in?

                      Gehenom, yes – but, as you wrote, that’s popularly thought of as the purgatory that I was referring to. (agree to disagree 😉 )

                    • Hell is a hot topic (pun intended) of inquiry, which Chasidic rabbis frequently address. When studying Kabbalah, Sheol was described as “the lowest level of purgatory.”

                      Gehinnom was described by Jewish Sages as a place of fire and torment, but it got upgraded to “purgatory” where souls go to be “cleansed” before their debut in Heaven.

                      My goal was to simply impart the knowledge, since so many Jews never learn it in mainstream Judaism. We have beliefs in the Afterlife, as all religions do. It’s theology for heaven’s sake. 😁 (Another pun intended). It goes with the territory.

    • Abundant thanks and gratitude for the wisdom of your reflections! I love the drashot you share through your comments. I don’t connect to the superficial aesthetics either (love the way you expressed that) — I need substance that will lift my spirit and carry me through the harsh reality of this present moment, not more tsuris. I’m honored to know that you think of me as your Rebbe. 🥰

  5. Once again, you take something and hold it like a piece of glass that you turn into a prism. “At-one-meant” — the reflected and refracted light from this one phrase alone has sent me into this day with new commitment and new joy in the journey. Somehow holding in one part of my soul the need for my own atonement along with the sensory delights in being alive in another part of my soul — and trying to see how those two sides of soul can be transformed into “shalom” — wholeness. Thank you, and to you and yours, May your names be written in indelible ink in The Book of Light — Jane

    • You bless me with your presence and reflections, Jane.

      “Somehow holding in one part of my soul the need for my own atonement along with the sensory delights in being alive in another part of my soul — and trying to see how those two sides of soul can be transformed into “shalom” — wholeness.”

      Amein, amein!! I absolutely love your input and the wisdom you share. 🥰

      L’chayim! 🥂 Here’s to better times ahead in 2021/5781.

    • Thank you so much for your feedback, Silk Cords. Glad you’re here on this journey. Imparting new knowledge makes me a happy camper. Abundant blessings!

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