Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
Based on ancient Jewish Sages, September 20, 2023
1. Soul searching. Yom Kippur is observed on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei(September 25, 2023). It is called the Super Sabbath (Shabbat Shabbaton in Hebrew), concluding 10 days of soul-searching and spiritual self-awareness and self-enhancement, which begins on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish year.
According to Leviticus 23:26-32: “The Lord said to Moses, that the tenth day of the seventh month [Tishrei] is the Day of Atonement…. Do not do any work on that day…. This is a lasting ordinance for generations to come….”
Yom Kippur commemorates the day of divine forgiveness for the sin of worshipping the golden calf idol. It cautions against the temptation to sacrifice spiritual values on the altar of materialism and convenience.
2. Social responsibility. Asking forgiveness of fellow human-beings is a major feature of Yom Kippur, transferring human behavior from acrimony and vindictiveness to forgiveness and peaceful coexistence. It is consistent with the philosophy of Hillel the Elder, a leading 1st century BCE Jewish Sage: “The essence of the Torah is: do not do unto your fellow person that which is hateful to you; the rest [of the Torah] is commentary.”
3. No ill-speaking. According to Judaism, the tongue can be a lethal weapon, and therefore, ill-speaking of other people (“evil tongue” in Hebrew) may not be forgiven. Yom Kippur is a reminder that words are controllable while inside one’s mouth, but they become uncontrollable once they are uttered out.
4. Behavioral enhancement. Yom Kippur highlights magnanimity, humility, genuine-repentance, compassion, consideration, forgiveness, responsibility, optimism and faith. It recognizes one’s fallibilities, emphasizes learning from one’s mistakes, minimizing future missteps, elevating morality and enhancing family and community cohesion.
Criminals and sinners are invited to participate in Yom Kippur services.
5. Fasting is a key feature of Yom Kippur, reducing material pleasure, in order to focus on one’s soul-searching, and enhancing empathy with the needy. The Hebrew spelling of fasting [צומ] is the root of the Hebrew word for reducing/focusing ((צמצומ.
There are six annual Jewish fasting days: (a) the 10th day of the month of Tishrei is Yom Kippur; (b) the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet commemorates the beginning of the 586-589 BCE siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar; (c) the 17th day of the month of Tammuz commemorates the 586 BCE and 69 CE breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by the Babylonian and Roman Empires, as well as the breaking of the Tablets by Moses upon confronting the golden calf lapse of faith; (d) the 9th day of the month of Av is the most calamitous day in Jewish history, commemorating the destruction of the 1st (586 BCE) and 2nd (70 CE) Jerusalem Temples by the Babylonian and Roman Empires and the ensuing exile; the Ten Spies’ bankruptcy of faith; the crushing of the 132-135 CE Bar Kokhbah Revolt by the Roman Emperor Adrianus (600,000 Jewish fatalities); the pogroms of the First Crusade (1096-1099) in Germany, France, Italy and Britain; the expulsion of the Jews from Britain (1290) and Spain (1492); the eruption of the First World War (1914); and the beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp; (e) the 3rd day of the month of Tishrei commemorates the murder of the Jewish Governor of Jerusalem, Gedalyah Ben Achikam, by another Jew, Yishmael Ben Netanyah (586 BCE); (f) The 13th day of the month of Adar is the Fast of Queen Esther – one day before the Purim holiday, commemorating Queen Esther’s three-day-fast prior to her appeal to the Persian King Ahasuerus to refrain from exterminating the Jews (around 480 BCE).
6. Kippur. The Hebrew word Kippur [כיפור] means atonement/repentance – a derivative of the Biblical word Kaporet [כפורת], which was the dome/cover of the Holy Ark in the Sanctuary, and the word Kopher [כופר], which was the cover/dome of Noah’s Ark and the Holy Altar in the Jerusalem Temple.
Yom Kippur resembles a spiritual cover/dome, which separates between spiritualism and materialism/mundane. The Kippah [ [כיפהis the skullcap – a spiritual dome – which covers one’s head during prayers.
7. Venus/Noga. The astrological sign of Tishrei is Libra (♎), which symbolizes the scales of justice, truth, optimism, humility and tolerance. Libra is ruled by the planet Venus (Noga in Hebrew – נגה– which is the name of my oldest granddaughter). Venus/Noga represents divine light and compassion.
8. Shofar. Yom Kippur is concluded by blowing theShofar (a ritual ram’s horn), which represents a moral-wakeup-call, optimism, determination, humility, and peace-through-strength.
The Hebrew word Shofar שופר]] means “to enhance,” “top quality,” glory and spiritual pleasure [שפר, שופרא].
The blowing of the Shofar commemorates the saving of Isaac by a ram’s horns; the receipt of the (second) Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai; the re-entry to the Land of Israel and the conquest of Jericho by Joshua; as well as Gideon’s victory over the much larger Midianite military.
9. Jonah. The Biblical Scroll of Jonah – which is the fifth book in The Twelve Prophets – is read on Yom Kippur, underscoring the four universal pillars of Yom Kippur: repentance, prayer/faith, justice, and forgiveness.
The Prophet Jonah (“dove” in Hebrew), son of Amitai (“truth” in Hebrew and the name of my – so far – youngest grandson) sailed to a faraway land and transformed a sinful society into a pious society; thus, displaying social responsibility.
10. Parents. A Memorial Candle in memory of one’s parents is lit on Yom Kippur, reaffirming “Honor thy father and mother,” providing an opportunity to ask forgiveness of one’s parent(s).