Yom Kippur: A Day of Purification

“For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to purify you; from all your sins before God shall you be purified.” – Leviticus 16:30

Our sins veil us from God. They create obstructions in our body of spiritual centers and block out the flow of Spirit and energy. They cut us off from God’s Love and Light.

How do we cleanse ourselves of these obstructions? How do we clear away the negative effects of our wrongdoings and misdeeds?

In Temple times, the Temple service provided the vehicle for this process of purification and transformation. The service on Yom Kippur reached its climax when the High priest emerged from the Holy of Holies and blessed the people pronouncing the Ineffable Name of God. In that moment, all the people in the Temple were cleansed of all their sins.

This great process of purification could take place, the Hasidic Master Klonimus Kalman of Cracow teaches, because on Yom Kippur the people of Israel received the energy of keter, the crown center, the energy of the Will of God. The conjunction of the holiest day (Yom Kippur), with the holiest place (the Holy of Holies), and the purest of human vessels (the High Priest) initiated a tremendous influx of Divine energy from the Kingdom of Heaven. When this great spiritual force poured out upon all those who were standing in the Temple courtyard, all of the dross and blockages in their centers was cleared away. In this manner, Yom Kippur truly became a day of purification and renewal.

 “Who may ascend unto the mountain of the Lord?

Who may stand within His holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

He who strives not after vanity and swears not deceitfully.”

– Psalm 24:3-5

Yom Kippur is not an isolated event; it is the culminating moment of a long process of inner purification. This work of purification begins during the month of Ellul, and continues on throughout Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance leading up to Yom Kippur. It is this inner work that forms the vessel to receive the downpour of Divine Grace on Yom Kippur day. If we have prepared a large well-shaped vessel, then we will receive an abundance of Divine blessing. But if we come before God with only a small poorly-formed vessel, then we will receive just the barest of spiritual benefit.

As Yom Kippur approached in Temple times, people would ascend to Jerusalem from all over the Land of Israel. This pilgrimage to the Holy City was not just a random event; it followed a carefully orchestrated Divine pattern. Of those who came up to Jerusalem, only those who had laboured to prepare themselves beforehand found themselves in the Temple courtyard on Yom Kippur day. And of those that entered the Temple, only those individuals who were ready to receive the full impact of the incoming energy were cleansed of all their sins when the High Priest pronounced the Ineffable Name of God.

We cannot enter lightly through the gateway into God’s Temple. Before we ascend unto the House of the Lord, we need to reflect on our deeds and examine our hearts.

When we first become interested in the spiritual life, there is an initial moment of great expansion and spiritual awakening. As a result of this experience we have visions of a grand spiritual mission. Yet we make no changes in our lifestyle and attempt no transformation in our personality. We assume that we can serve God just as we were before.

This illusion does not last for long. God soon points out to us with searing clarity the harmful effects of the wanton desires that fill our hearts and the negative thoughts that linger in our minds. We quickly come to recognize that we can go no further forward in our spiritual evolution without undertaking the difficult work of self-transformation. If we want to be an instrument of God, then we need to have a vehicle that is worthy of such a lofty task.

The Children of Israel underwent a similar process in the desert. After Mount Sinai, the people thought that they could return to a life just like that of every other nation. So when Moses disappeared up the mountain for forty days, they worshipped God in the physical manner which they had learned in Egypt. When Moses came down from the mountain and smashed the Tablets of the Covenant, the Children of Israel were jarred out of their spiritual complacency. Suddenly they understood that it was not enough for them to have left the physical bondage of Egypt; they had to overcome the spiritual bondage of Egypt as well. Despite the miracles they had witnessed during the Exodus and the awe-inspiring revelation on Mount Sinai, in order to fulfill the spiritual mission that God had offered them at Sinai, they had to first purify their hearts and sanctify their lives.

This is why God only gave the Children of Israel the command to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, after the episode of the Golden Calf. It was only after the disaster of the Golden Calf that the people of Israel understood the true meaning of the Divine proclamation: “Let them make me a Mikdash – a Temple so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25, 7) They realized that this command was first and foremost a Divine exhortation to transform themselves into fitting vessels for God’s living presence. They understood that God does not dwell in a physical structure but inside the human heart.

According to the tradition, Moses received the second Luchot haBrit, the second set of Tablets with the Ten Commandments, on Yom Kippur. The Second Tablets represented more than just a replacement of the originals; they symbolized a way to transform the human condition. The Second Luchot showed the people a way to both live in the world and at the same time rise above it. They offered Israel a path of purity and holiness, a path that would sanctify every moment from birth to death. The Luchot outlined a way to hold on to God in every place and under all circumstances, to praise the Lord in joy and victory as well as sorrow and defeat.

The Second Luchot were given on Yom Kippur, because on Yom Kippur this path of purity and holiness reaches its highest expression. On Yom Kippur, we spend the whole day in prayer and contemplation. We do not eat or drink or engage in other mundane activities. Our only concern is our spiritual life. Our only desire is to be with God. In such an elevated state, the grace that we can receive is extraordinary.

If we have undertaken the difficult work of self-transformation during the rest of the year, if we have examined our hearts and cleansed our minds during the time period leading up to Yom Kippur, then we will be ready to receive the great blessing that is bestowed on this day. If we have converted our heart into a living temple, then we will truly spend the day resting in God’s Presence, and we will leave Yom Kippur purified of all of our sins.

 

copyright © 2010, by Yoel Glick


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