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).

How Does Yom Kippur Work?
DIY Soul Repair
Only you can fix yourself. What does a particular day of the year have to offer?
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.”
A Yom Kippur Love Story
How to listen to the voice of your own heart—advice from a meditation of the Alter Rebbe.
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.
Acharei Mot
We all have layers that cover up the “real me.” There’s the image that we want to present to the world, the talents and traits we want others to recognize. And then there’s even the image that we want to project to ourselves, those layers that hide and distract from our core inner selves.
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 . . .
The Miraculous Sound of Disappearing Sin
We were just confirmed "sinless" moments prior. So, why do we now recite the blessing of Selach lanu, wherein we ask G‑d to "forgive us for we have sinned""?
Forgiveness Begins at Home
As hard as forgiveness can be between acquaintances, it's still child's play compared to the guts and humility it takes to drive the two-way street between ourselves and those closest to us.
Is Suffering Normal?
The comfort and security that life today affords has somehow convinced us that suffering is abnormal, and that we must do everything in our power to avoid it or negate it, run away from it or erase it. The catch is that life is still full of suffering...
A Soul of Linen or Gold
Doesn't it seem strange that the High Priest wouldn't dress in his finest gold garments for his meeting with the Almighty in the Holy of Holies?
You Matter
Can't I just forget about the past and move on?
I think that if I focus on this past year I will only feel guilty and depressed. Can't I just forget about the past and move on?
Getting Going
A Yom Kippur machzor (prayerbook) is a one-day tool; unlike the standard siddur or Rosh Hashanah machzor, there is no second day use for this prayer book.
Time is Relative
What happened in the past is behind us in the rearview mirror. The future looms ahead, just beyond the horizon. Is there any way to circumvent this seeming unavoidable truth?
Enter the Holy of Holies
Every Jewish person is a potential temple for G‑d, and every individual is the serving high priest in his or her personal temple. The goal of the Yom Kippur prayer service is to access the Holy of Holies of this temple...
The Gift of Forgiveness
From my perspective as a family therapist, the greatest treasure in our Torah-inheritance is the instruction to free ourselves of anger and resentment...
The Blame Game
The stress of the morning reached its crescendo, and I proceeded to lay down my royal flush of emotional cards in my epic battle to win the "blame game" with my husband...
How to Change the Past
We are physical beings, and the laws of physics (at least as they stand now) dictate that time runs in one direction only. Yet for some reason, we just won't let go. We continue to feel responsible for what was, continue to regard our past as something that still "belongs" to us and which we can somehow "fix"
The Nusach Ari Synagogue
A forgotten synagogue, with forgotten people, who were themselves from a forgotten time and a forgotten land . . .
At Onement
On Yom Kippur we embrace. Our harmony is no longer a harmony of "should", but a harmony of "is". All is forgiven. At onement
Yom Kippur Online
My soul is like a hard drive, slow and sluggish from accumulated data. Once a year I run the Yom Kippur program, and cull the extraneous files...
Temper Your Ecstasy
The Yom Kippur Torah reading begins with the words: "The L-rd spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the L-rd, and they died." What bearing does this prefatory verse have on our personal Yom Kippur service?
The Benefits of Bankruptcy
A person must be given the ability to have a new start, because it is virtually impossible to put together the broken pieces of what was hitherto a mismanaged financial ledger while burdened by unbearable debt. The same is true in a spiritual sense...
The Story of Your Life
You are Jonah. The real you, for “Jonah”—in Kabbalistic parlance—is another name for the soul. Hence, the story of Jonah is the story of a soul’s journey here on earth.
Finishing Strong
When Neilah, the final prayer of the long day starts we may find ourselves out of gas. Drained, back hurting, the guy next to me has bad breath and I have nothing left to give...
Day One
How can we possibly imagine that in the conglomerate of cells, organs and limbs we call our "body", extending across the hills and valleys of the terrain we call "time", there resides a single and singular "I"?
Repentance Is a Scam
There are far better ways to spend Yom Kippur than being sucked into a black hole.
Why waste the holiest day of the year dwelling on everything you messed up?
The Joy of Sin?
I find Yom Kippur depressing. Why spend a day focusing on our sins and failures? Do we need to be reminded how far we are from being perfect?
The Ultimate Yom Kippur Jew
What motivates these people to come to synagogue on Yom Kippur? If they believe in G‑d and seek atonement, if their Judaism is meaningful to them, where are they the rest of the year?
Relationship Management vs. Transformative Remorse
Once I've made a mistake, can it ever be retroactively un-done?
Everything we do takes time, but the greater the quality of our endeavor, the less the quantity of time it consumes. Yom Kippur, which brings us in touch with our deepest, most essential self, occupies less than 0.3 percent of the year.
Time Travel
Imagine you could go back in time... What would you do differently, now that you have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and the added maturity and wisdom which comes with age and experience?
At a certain point we have lived long enough to see that every choice we made was made in ignorance.
My Body and I
A Fasting Meditation
I understand that fasting on Yom Kippur is supposed to make me focus on my soul rather than my body. But by around lunch time I am so hungry that for the rest of the day all I can think about is food. Doesn't this defeat the purpose?
The Whole Is the Sum of Its Parts
In order for the body of the Jewish people to function, individuals have to realize that each individual is part of the whole.
The reason why repentance is always acceptable is that G-d is truly our merciful Father, always ready to receive His straying children.
13 Giant Questions (and a Few Little Answers) for the High Holidays
The High Holidays take us on a journey to the deepest places. Here are some questions to ask along the way.
18 Uplifting Contemplations for Yom Kippur
Take a different view of what this day is about
Sit still and contemplate this day. Perhaps it is not what they tell you it is.
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