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PARSHAT ACHAREI MOT – UNDERSTANDING YOM KIPPUR AND REPENTANCE

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PARSHAT ACHAREI MOT 5784

Introduction to the blog: Understanding Yom Kippur and Repentance

Discover the profound significance of Yom Kippur and the essence of repentance in Jewish tradition. Explore the themes of forgiveness, atonement, and the importance of approaching G-d with sincerity and humility.

This parasha is highlighted by Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday symbolizing reconciliation.

Introduction to Parshat Acharei Mot and the Significance of Yom Kippur

Some Jewish holidays have universal significance, Yom Kippur is not one of them. We can deduce this from Mishna Rosh HaShanah 1:2, which does not mention Yom Kippur but does reference Rosh HaShana as the annual day of overall judgment for non-Jews.

At four times of the year the world is judged: On Passover judgment is passed concerning grain; on Shavuot concerning fruits that grow on a tree; on Rosh HaShana, all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: “He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds” (Psalms 33:15); and on the festival of Sukkot they are judged concerning water, i.e., the rainfall of the coming year.

However, non-Jews can learn important lessons from Yom Kippur, including repentance, forgiveness, atonement, and the fact that no intermediaries are necessary for atonement. This also applies to Parshat Acharei Mot, lets look to Leviticus 16:2:


Hashem said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover.
 וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה דַּבֵּר֮ אֶל־אַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִיךָ֒ וְאַל־יָבֹ֤א בְכָל־עֵת֙ אֶל־הַקֹּ֔דֶשׁ מִבֵּ֖ית לַפָּרֹ֑כֶת אֶל־פְּנֵ֨י הַכַּפֹּ֜רֶת אֲשֶׁ֤ר עַל־הָאָרֹן֙ וְלֹ֣א יָמ֔וּת כִּ֚י בֶּֽעָנָ֔ן אֵרָאֶ֖ה עַל־הַכַּפֹּֽרֶת׃

Background of the Parasha and the Role of the High Priest

It is impossible to experience G-d without adequate preparation. But when one merits a G-dly revelation, the “cloud” that usually conceals G-d becomes one’s own “cloud of glory.” Conceptually, this “cloud of glory” is the sukkah, which commemorates the Clouds of Glory that accompanied the Jews in the desert (Likutey Halakhot II, p. 243a). A person who repents can merit the Clouds of Glory/sukkah throughout the entire year, not only on Yom Kippur.

Lessons of Yom Kippur for Everyone

When we approach G-d to ask for forgiveness, adequate preparation is important. We see this with the High Priest, who enters the Holy of Holies wearing simpler clothing than usual. Come as you are, speak to G-d in your own words. Avoid verbosity, prayers of others, or rituals. Be humble and simple, knowing before Whom you stand.

Practical Application of Repentance and Forgiveness

Sometimes we find it difficult to find the right words and we seek examples of how others do it. Without making it a ritual or a fixed practice, one could use the following prayer:

A Prayer of the Repentant

A daily confessional by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet:

O G-d, I have erred, sinned and willfully transgressed before You, and I have done that which is evil in Your eyes, especially with the sin(s) of … (state the specific sins or errors).

I am sincerely ashamed of my sins, and I repent and firmly undertake not to do so again.

Please G-d, in Your infinite grace and compassion, forgive my sins and transgressions and grant me atonement, as it is written: “Let the wicked abandon his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts; let him return to G-d, and He will have compassion upon him, and [let him return] to our G-d, for He will pardon abundantly.” [Isaiah. 55:7] And it is written: “Do I desire at all that the wicked should die, says the L-rd, G-d; it is rather that he return from his ways and live!” [Ezekiel 18:23][1]

In the above prayer, we see a few important points that we can also use when we want to pray in our own words.

We must audibly acknowledge our mistakes to G-d with our words. We must genuinely regret what we have done wrong and promise not to do it again. Not repeating the same actions requires us to banish thoughts and behaviors that lead us to sin.

G-d’s Grace and Forgiveness

We also see from the example prayer that G-d is merciful and forgives. The idea that G-d wants to forgive us sometimes contradicts our logic. If it’s hard for us to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, why would G-d do it? After all, didn’t G-d create the world with a logical system of punishment and reward?

When G-d accepts our repentance, He must override the logical system of reward and punishment, which He can do, making His grace to us all the greater.

We see this idea reflected in the drawing of “the lot” over the two goats during Yom Kippur. The two goats look completely alike, but one will be sacrificed in the sanctuary while the other will be sent into the desert to die. Drawing “the lot” over the goats teaches us that Divine intervention, revelation, is necessary to receive forgiveness.[2]

These two goats also teach us that it’s sometimes very difficult for us to distinguish between right and wrong.

Deeper Meanings of Yom Kippur Rituals

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between good and evil, just as there is no distinguish between the tow goats. We sometimes do things that seem good, but are actually driven by wrong motives. For example, doing volunteer work to impress others rather than out of genuine concern for the needy. Conversely, something that seems bad may actually have good intentions. For instance, someone stealing to feed their family, due to a deep-rooted desire to care for loved ones.

Since it’s challenging to sincerely evaluate our own actions, it’s beneficial to leave them to G-d. G-d can judge what is right and wrong and help us gain insight into our behavior.

The Importance of a Sincere Heart

When we sincerely approach G-d in this way, we deserve to experience the “Clouds of Glory” or the “sukkah” throughout the entire year, not just on Yom Kippur. In other words, showing repentance enables someone to experience G-d’s presence and feel His protection throughout the entire year when one sincerely approaches Him.

Learning Points:

1. Approach G-d with Sincerity, Humility, and Genuine Regret: Pray with genuine remorse, humility, and a sincere commitment not to repeat mistakes.

2. G-d’s Mercy Transcends Human Logic: Despite our difficulties in forgiving ourselves, G-d’s grace surpasses human logic, offering forgiveness and compassion.

3. Divine Intervention in Forgiveness: Divine intervention, represented by the drawing of lots over the two goats on Yom Kippur, is necessary for true forgiveness.

4. Difficulty in Distinguishing Good from Evil: Sometimes, distinguishing between good and evil is challenging, as actions may seem good but be driven by wrong motives.

5. Leave Judgment to G-d: Since it’s difficult to assess our own actions objectively, we should trust G-d to judge what is right and wrong and help us gain insight into our behavior.

6. Experience G-d’s Presence through Repentance: Sincere repentance enables us to experience G-d’s presence and feel His protection throughout the year, not just on Yom Kippur.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources

[1] Article AskNoah: What prayers are appropriate for repentance by individuals?
[2] Kehot Chumash: Parsaht Acharei Mot, Chasidic insights p. 129
Likutey Halachot V, p. 179a
Text: Sefaria.org

See also the blog: YOM KIPPUR, REPENTANCE, FORGIVENESS AND NOAHIDES

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