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Yom Kippur Essays

Essays on the Holiday's Themes

A selection of essays that shed light on the nature of Yom Kippur, and its dominant theme -- teshuvah (repentance).

Five Steps to a Higher Teshuvah
Learning how to live in the world with G-d
Here are five simple principles embodied by five verses from the Torah, each beginning with another letter of the word teshuvah, “return” or “repentance.”
Understanding the Yud Gimel Midot Harachamim
The 13 Attributes of Mercy have been known to bring salvation and forgiveness to the Jewish people throughout the generations.
Understanding the Asarah Harugay Malchut
One of the most moving narratives to emerge from our history of martyrdom is the account of the Ten Martyrs—the heart-rending narrative describing in graphic detail the deaths of 10 Mishnaic-era Torah luminaries who were slaughtered on the altar of senseless hatred.
Five Generations of Shema Yisrael
The Shema Yisrael of our time is unique even among the billions of Shema Yisraels that have been sung and shouted throughout our unfathomable history.
The 120-Day Version
It’s all there: the underpinnings of creation, the saga of human struggle, and the ultimate triumph which arises from the imperfections and failings of man—all played out in a four-month period . . .
Labels are for Suits
Orthodox. Conservative. Reform. Reconstructionist. Secular. Religious... Where did all these labels come from? Did Moses organize the people around Mt Sinai in accordance with their denominational affiliations?
Sin in Four Dimensions
What is sin? The Midrash records a “panel discussion” featuring a philosopher, a prophet, the Torah and G-d.
Reverse Biology
Why do we fast on Yom Kippur? A common perception is that it’s to de-emphasize our physicality on the most spiritual day of the year. According to chassidic teaching, the very opposite is the case.
When a person brings his animal self to the Temple of G-d and offers what is best and finest in it upon the altar, there is still the “foul odor”...
One Day
When a person transgresses a Divine command, a deeper bond with G-d comes to light. His inner equilibrium is disturbed; his soul finds no peace and is driven to compensate for its devastated identity...
Dispatching the Goat
There are two ways to view human life, as mutually exclusive as they are fundamental. Our existence is either a result of intention, or of accident. And the corollary follows directly: Either our lives are meaningful, or they are not...
Uncle Irv
We don’t do anything. There's something in the atmosphere and experience that takes away the ability to concentrate or focus. One’s greatest desire is simply to not be there, to not be doing this, and to have it be over with as quickly as possible . . .
The Fifth Dimension
The unifying power of Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur holds within it the very essence of the universe and of who we are. It brings together space, time and soul in one indivisible point that paradoxically contains every detail of existence. Yom Kippur is the “fifth dimension” that courses through both the expanse of the universe and deep within us. By paying attention to the way the day itself works, we can gain insight into this transcendent dimension of creation . . .
The Day of Essences
On Yom Kippur, we set aside the external trappings of what it means to be a human being and we return to the essence of who we are
Are You a Baal Teshuvah?
Every Jew is moving along a continuum, approaching ever closer to G‑d.
The Stolen Prayer
This Midrash raises more questions than it answers.
Above the Rules
Yom Kippur
We have messed up, time and time again. We are too far. There is no hope . . . checkmate . . .
Laughter, Bliss & Yom Kippur
“There is nothing beyond bliss,” states the ancient Book of Formation (2:7). Bliss is the origin of all being, the source of all life, the meaning behind all that occurs.
The Day Is Almost Over, and You Still Haven’t Repented!
As we watch the sun start to set, rather than the stirrings of our soul, we hear the strong grumblings of our stomach . . .
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