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Yom Kippur: Repenting and Preparing for the Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement

“It is taught that even G-d will repent, Hashem will repent for exiling us, even though He (obviously) committed no sin. The lesson in this is that we, too, should not be ashamed to repent. Indeed, if He (G-d) who was not on the wrong path promises to change His ways, then certainly we can and should leave a path which is wrong.” -R’ Yochanan Luria z”l.

Judaism: Yom Kippur prayer of repentance. West African Jews of the Diaspora

Rav Aqiva said, that seven things preceded the universe; Torah, Teshuvah (repentance), Gan Eden (paradise), Gehinom (fire of purification), Kise’HaKevod (Throne of Glory) and the name of Mashiah. -BT Mas. Pesahim 54a.

“Take these words with you and return to YHWH. Say to Him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips (as bulls).” –Hosea 14,2.

Without the Torah, how can we repent and without understanding how can we be righteous?  Hillel used to say: “An ignoramus man cannot fear sin; an ignorant man cannot be pious..” –Mishna Pirqe Avoth 2,6

“This is what YHWH says: ‘If I have not made my covenant with day and night, established the laws of heaven and earth wouldn’t be” –Jeremiah 33,25.

It is only through the Torah that we learn what is right and what is wrong. It is through Torah that we have the commandment to repent:

…and when you and your children return to YHWH your G-d and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then YHWH your G-d will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.

-Devarim/Deuteronomy 30,2-3.


African Jews gather to pray and repent on Yom Kippur, day of atonement.

We are now within the ten days of repentance, aka Yammim Nora’im (days of awe), which are the days between Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur. This is a time when we should take stock of our deeds, scrutinize and self-reflect. We should be more conscientious of the poor, and our duty to miswoth (G-d’s commandments).

We must to be careful of Lashon Hara (gossip & slander) and study Mishle/Proverbs, Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes, and Mussar (Jewish ethics).

We must be more conscientious of prayer and Kawanna (our intentions)… And practice using kind words of encouragement and strength.We must also remember while we ask for forgiveness, we must also forgive. We are taught however, that G-d can not forgive us of sins perpetrated upon an individual, only that individual can forgive you.  Therefore we have a duty to seek forgiveness whenever possible. It is not a good practice to say to another, ‘If I offended you’, but rather ask, ‘how may I have offended you?’

Couple engaged in conversation: man and woman talking out problems

Some even have the custom of visiting the grave of one who has passed before forgiveness could be requested. The offender  brings three witnesses to accompany the them. Even though the person is not alive, the body of the one against whom the offense was made, deserves the apology. When praying for forgiveness we ask G-d to remember the merits of our righteous forefathers, as we are not qualified for our own merits.

Most Jews have the custom of eating a large meal during the afternoon before the eve of Yom Kippur.  Even though it is a custom, it is not necessarily an obligation. Since it is not a ‘miswah’, there is no berakha (blessing) to be said, if one decides to take part in this custom of eating before the Yom Tov.

On Yom Kippur, we afflict ourselves by fasting. We do not wash ourselves, or wear leather on this day. However, it is our custom to take showers, and to put on deodorant before the eve of Yom Kippur. We may brush our teeth, and use mouth wash. If one suffers from a medical disease which is regulated through eating, then that person may be exempt from fasting. Children under eight years of age should not fast and children eight years old and over should practice fasting for at least apart of the day.

Yom Kippur Morning Readings:

  • WaYiqra/Leviticus16, 1-34
  •  BaMidbar/Numbers 29, 7-11
  • Yeshayahu/Isaiah57,14-58,14

Yom Kippur Afternoon Readings:

  • WaYiqra/Leviticus 18,1-30
  • The entire book of Yona/Jonah.Most of all, we must make this day, a beginning of higher refinement, and self spiritual elevation. It is taught that when the Heavenly Court offers forgiveness on this day, our slate has been cleaned. We become as infants, or as Christians would say, we are ‘born again’.

Let us not wait for Yom Kippur to come around before we began to evaluate ourselves, but let it be a daily evaluation and refinement. Let us make the most of our lives by walking on spiritual egg shells, and let us be a blessing as G-d in heaven be a blessing unto us.

Have a safe fast & may we be found written in the book of Life, prosperity and peace,


Please consult your personal rabbi concerning these and other details…

Yehudah BenLewi  ©2011

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