Yom Kippur: When a Nation Repents

September 27, 2020

by: Ilse Strauss

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Prayers tucked into the clefts of the Western Wall

Sunday, 27 September 2020 | Sunset this evening ushers in Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the holiest day of the year for the people of Israel.

Yom Kippur is a day like no other, held in sacred regard and even called the Sabbath of Sabbaths. The reason for the special reference is found in Leviticus 23:26–27, which teaches that this biblical festival is first and foremost holy to God. “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls…’” 

Today, thousands of years after God gave Moses these instructions, the people of Israel are once again preparing for God’s appointed time as per His directives: by afflicting their souls. This entails abstaining from all fleshly pleasures, including food and drink, and fasting and praying for a 25-hour period.

The purpose of Yom Kippur is explained in Leviticus 23:28, “… for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.” 

In biblical times, this was the only day per year on which the high priest was to enter the Holy of Holies to call upon the name of God, offering a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins on behalf of the people of Israel. Yom Kippur is thus a special day of repentance.

Leviticus 16:30 describes Yom Kippur as an atonement to purify the soul. The Hebrew word for atone is kaparah, explains Rabbi Moshe Kempinski. “The meaning entails ‘to cover.’ In Jewish thought, on Yom Kippur, there is a covering of sin. Who is the sin covered from? From God? Nothing is covered from God! It’s covered from ourselves. Why? The problem isn’t sin keeping God away from man; it keeps man away from God. So He introduced a solution: a day where the sin flooding us with shame and driving us from God, is covered.”

Throughout the ages, Yom Kippur has acted as a unifying and regenerating factor for the Jewish people. Regardless of physical location, conviction or belief, the Day of Atonement stirs a spark in the heart of many a Jew.

The same holds true today. Despite the severity of the fast—with complete abstinence from any food or liquids for 25 hours—the majority of Israelis choose to observe Yom Kippur. 

Although the day is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, it is also infused with an element of joyous expectation. In fact, some in Israel refer to it as the happiest day of the year. The reason is simple. On Yom Kippur, the Almighty grants atonement to His people.

However, just like Yom Kippur is a day like no other, this Yom Kippur will be a Yom Kippur like no other.

In a bid to stem the tide of surging coronavirus cases, Israel imposed a second national lockdown to shutter Israelis in the safety and isolation of their homes during the course of the feast days. The vast majority of the private sector, the education system, restaurants, gyms, malls and many other businesses locked their doors on Friday afternoon and will only open them again after Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah) on Sunday, October 11 at the earliest. Israelis may venture not more than 1 km from their homes and are not allowed to visit others.

On Yom Kippur, synagogues throughout Israel are usually filled to capacity, and snatches of prayers can be heard drifting through the quiet streets all day. Right before sundown, thousands will also normally flock to the Western Wall to mark the end of the day together in prayer as the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) pierces air.

However, for this Yom Kippur, the Western Wall will be all but deserted. Coronavirus regulations also prevent any indoor prayers, effectually shuttering synagogues. Outdoor services are limited to 20 people praying together in capsules.

Regardless of the restrictions and the threat of a pandemic, Israel will observe this day with the awe and reverence due a day sacred to the people and the God of Israel.

As the people of Israel prepare to afflict their souls according to the instructions their ancestors received from God Himself, Bridges for Peace joins our hearts with the Jewish people as a nation repents.

Please note that our offices will be closed tomorrow. We will, however, resume normal operations, including news, on Tuesday, 29 September 2020.

Posted on September 27, 2020

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 27 September, 2020)

Photo Credit: