Mitzvah/Concept 94 Yom Kippur Part One
“You Shall Afflict Yourselfon Yom Kippur”
“But on the tenth day of this month it is a day of atonement; there shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict yourselves.”1
“This shall remain for you an eternal decree: In the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and you shall not do any work, neither the native nor the proselyte who dwells among you.”2
Besides the commandment to rest from work on Yom Kippur, it is also a positive commandment to refrain from eating and drinking. Similarly, our tradition teaches us that just as eating and drinking are forbidden on Yom Kippur, so too are washing, anointing oneself, wearing leather shoes and engaging in marital relations. This is derived from the seemingly repetitive phrase, Shabbat Shabbaton; Shabbat alludes to refraining from eating, while Shabbaton alludes to refraining from the above mentioned activities.3
Body and Soul
On Yom Kippur, by fasting, we are breaking down our physical bodies which constrain our souls.4 The body and soul are in a constant state of battle; if the soul prevails, it not only elevates itself, but elevates the body as well, and the individual thereby attains his destined perfection. If he allows the physical to prevail, on the other hand, then besides lowering his body, he also debases his soul. Such an individual makes himself unworthy of perfection, and thus divorces himself from God. He still has the ability, however, to subjugate the physical to his soul and intellect, and thereby achieve perfection.5 On Yom Kippur we want to return to God and we have to subjugate our physical needs to our souls. When we afflict ourselves through fasting and the additional afflictions, we are asserting the power of the soul over the body and attaching ourselves to God.
The soul, which is associated with the body, is darkened and dimmed. Through the good deeds that one has done, the soul might have earned in itself perfection and excellence, but this cannot be expressed. The soul cannot shine with radiance appropriate to the excellence that it actually attains, but it all remains concealed in the soul’s essence until the time comes for it to be revealed.6 On Yom Kippur we have the opportunity to break down the barriers the body has imposed on the soul, and to allow our souls to shine with the full radiance of all they have achieved. All of us should experience more of God’s light simply because of all the good deeds we have done. But we don’t feel all that we have accomplished. We do not experience the full power of all the good we have done. Our spiritual lives often feel stifled. We wonder whether we have achieved enough. But it is our physical life that is constraining our souls. Yom Kippur is an opportunity to experience our full spiritual radiance if we are able to break through the walls that our bodies have imposed. We withdraw from our physical lives and focus only on our souls so that they can shine and return to God and cross the chasms that we have created with our sins.
God decreed a period of separation and repair for the body and soul. The soul enters the Soul World to experience all of its radiance. The body must decompose to break down its connection to the physical world and to prepare it to be rejoined with the fully radiant soul which will perfect the body according to its achievements in this world.7 We act out this separation of body and soul on Yom Kippur. We even wear a Kittel, the white coat in which we are dressed before burial. We are pleading with God to allow us to achieve the necessary separation, repair and eventual rejoining and perfection, on Yom Kippur, when He grants us purification.
We ask that what we have given up of our bodies should be considered an offering on the altar of the Temple.8
1 Leviticus 23:27 This is the source verse according to Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 278
2 ibid 16:29 This is the source verse according to Maimonides; Laws of Resting on the Tenth of Tishrei 1:4
3 Maimonides ibid 1:4-5
4 Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 278
5 Ramchal, The Way of God 1:3:2
6 ibid paragraph 12
7 ibid paragraph 11
8 Meshech Chochmah Leviticus 23:28