Ten days after Rosh HaShanah, “on the 10th day of the seventh month, is Yom Kippur; you are to have a holy convocation, you are to deny yourselves, and you are to bring an offering made by fire to Adonai,” we are told in Leviticus 23:27. It continues to tell us that we must treat this day as we would Shabbat in regards to work; it will be a day of rest where no work will be performed.
And so the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) tells us of the birth of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, also known as the Day of Atonement. It is called the Day of Atonement because it is the one day of the year when G-d purifies our souls and frees us from our sins if we truly show repentance (Teshuva) and a promise to follow his ways. (Leviticus 16:30). Even though this is the most solemn day of the year, we are also in a happy mood because we trust that G-d will accept our effort to repent.
During these Days of Awe, it is believed that G-d will write our name in the Book of Life which will then be sealed on Yom Kippur with the names that will make it to the World to Come, or will stay in this world.
The 10 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe, in which we atone our sins with the other people. Yom Kippur is the day we reconcile personally with G-d, but the Ten Days of Awe are when we need to take the time to talk to those we may have wronged and ask for their forgiveness as well as forgive others who ask us to pardon them.
How Do We Observe Yom Kippur?
- We eat a festive meal on the eve before Yom Kippur, at which time we initiate a fast until the end of Yom Kippur.
- Since the day is to be treated as a Shabbat, candles are lit, or…
- …We go to the synagogue service called Kol Nidre (all vows) where candles are lit.
- The main purpose of the service is to say the prayer Kol Nidre, a prayer in Aramaic, in which we break loose from our past year’s entanglements.
- We don’t wear anything that is made of leather.
- It is traditional to wear all white on Yom Kippur.
- During the time Yom Kippur lasts, we hold a fast which represents the times of affliction we are commanded to endure by the Torah.
- During the day, we attend several significant services.
- The Book of Jonah is read.
After the last service, we, at Temple Beth Israel, gather around the table in the temple to break the fast and enjoy the company of all present for the last service of the day.
The days before Yom Kippur we greet people by wishing them to “have an easy fast,” or a “Tzom Kal.”