Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Yom Kippur: A Torah Explanation

 

I like to explain everything using only the words in the Torah. The following is a modified excerpt from my upcoming book. It is, oddly enough, libertarian in the sense of taking responsibility for one’s own actions. But otherwise, this is pure biblical exegesis, which obviously will not appeal to many. But it might interest a few of you.. so enjoy!

Consider the Yom Kippur offering, the famous “two goats.” One is consigned to Azazel and thrown down a cliff, and the other one meets a holy end as a sacrifice to G-d. Like many other commandments in the Torah, the twin goats of Yom Kippur can be very difficult to understand.

I believe that Jonathan Joy brilliantly explains this by noting that the idea of twin goats comes up much earlier in the Torah – Rebekah tells Jacob to go and get two young goats from the flock, to serve to their father.

The parallelism, once noted, opens us up to an entirely new understanding of Yom Kippur!

To review the story: Rebekah tells Jacob to take the two goats, and to honor his father with them – make delicacies for Isaac’s enjoyment. But the act gets twisted. Jacob and Rebekah plot to do more than merely serve Isaac his favorite food. Instead, they use the skins of those very same goats to both cloak Jacob and deceive his father. One mitzvah turns out to have a forked outcome; the two goats serve both holy and unholy purposes.

The outcome is near disaster. Jacob ends up fleeing for his life, and the fate of the Jewish people hangs in the balance until he returns to Israel many years later. Rebekah, as some commentators have noted, suffers the consequence of not seeing her beloved son for the rest of her life. Jacob, for the pain he causes his mother, loses his own son, Joseph, for the same number of years. And while he ends up making it up to Esau, Jacob is never called to task for the act of deception against his blind father, and for the sin he committed in G-d’s eyes by taking an opportunity to serve his father, and then perverting it.

The Yom Kippur goats are our way of nationally accepting this founding sin of Judaism, through an act of tikkun, correction. Instead of taking two goats and using them for good and evil, we take two goats, and acknowledge the error of Jacob in using them for evil as well as good. And instead of cloaking ourselves in their skins, and using the cover of those same goats to deceive our Father (as Jacob did), we use the goats to cover ourselves, to achieve a national kaporoh. In so doing, we both acknowledge wrongdoing, and seek to be protected from the consequences that still hang over the Jewish people.

Note the key difference between the pairs of goats: In our nation’s infancy, Jacob killed two young goats, but the goats we sacrifice on Yom Kippur are no longer kids; they are all grown up.

When Yaakov sinned, he did so because his mother told him to. He was unsure of himself enough to do what he was pushed into doing. His sin was, in a sense, less mature, less developed than it would have been had he hatched the plan himself. But ultimately, he was responsible for his actions.

So, every Yom Kippur, we have the opportunity to relive a founding national experience – but instead of having it cripple us, we use the sacrifice as a way to both acknowledge our sins and to secure G-d’s blessings for another year – despite our failings. We gain mercy, because we “own up” to our wrongdoing

The sin of Aaron the High Priest was quite similar; the Golden Calf, like the slaughtered goats, also started with good intentions – the nation wanted an intermediary to replace Moses as the go-between to G-d. When the nation petitioned Aaron, events spun out of control, and he ended up making the Golden Calf. Like Jacob, Aaron was unable to stand up against the pressure, and so he folded. The Golden Calf was also a disaster, and one for which Aaron, like Jacob, was also never punished.

Just as the twin young goats of Jacob’s youth translate into fully grown goats for the nation, so too Aaron’s sin with the calf translates into his own kaporoh requiring a fully-grown bull. We are grown up now; we take full responsibility.

Jacob and Aaron’s acts both changed history forever. They both almost led to the destruction of the Jewish people, and as such, simple repentance, teshuvah, is not possible. We do teshuvah to correct mistakes we have made, but the sins that change the course of history cannot be simply forgiven and forgotten.

It is fitting that on Yom Kippur, the day we ask G-d to come close to us despite the sins we have committed, the Children of Jacob, as well as the Children of Aaron, gain G-d’s grace by acknowledging even those unforgivable moments of weakness, and ask Him to refrain from punishing us for the times in which we yielded to the pressure to do wrong. We take the bull and goats, tokens of our sins, and use them solely for good. Instead of using them to try to fool G-d, we limit ourselves to trying to do what Jacob and Rebekah first set out to do: please Him.

The goal of Yom Kippur is thus NOT atonement. It is to establish a buffer zone between ourselves and divine justice. The “kaporoh” (covering) of tar that insulated the ark from the water is analogous to the kaporoh we ask for on Yom Kippur. We cannot undo or counter G-d’s will, but we can ride out the storm if we gain a protective layer. And both the ark and the kaporoh of Yom Kippur require positive action on our part – we can create it in words and deeds. And that covering, kaporoh, allows us to move forward with our lives.

There are 27 comments.

  1. Profile Photo Member

    As ever, iWc, this informs, challenges and encourages me today. I eagerly await the book…A blessed and fruitful Yom Kippur, to you and yours!

    • #1
    • September 30, 2014, at 10:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Will there be a version of the published book with sticky notes from Spengler, Kay, etc? ;)

    I very much look forward to it!

    • #2
    • September 30, 2014, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. Jules PA Member

    Thank you. I enjoyed this, and feel enlightened.

    • #3
    • September 30, 2014, at 9:00 PM PDT
    • Like
  4. Jules PA Member

    iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    • #4
    • October 2, 2014, at 5:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Julia PA:iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    Enormous amounts. Most famous single example is, of course: Kol Nidre. The recording is VERY early, but try

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tssy0rAQ9Q for the first music in a Talkie.

    And perhaps the second most famous piece, sung on both days, is

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBbElDYVGtU (this is a friend of mine). The words are about how, on Rosh Hashanah, the fate of each person is written – and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

    Tomorrow night I will lead Kol Nidre in the synagogue we have in our home every High Holiday. I also have sung for 2 decades in choirs like the one in the second video.

    The best chazan is the one whose soul connects, both above and to all around him. Simon Cohen is wonderful.

    • #5
    • October 2, 2014, at 6:40 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Words to the second: On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is signed:

    How many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die; who shall attain the measure of man’s days and who shall not attain it; who shall perish by fire and who by water; who by sword, and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by earthquake and who by plague; who by strangling and who by stoning; who shall have rest and who shall go wandering; who shall be tranquil and who shall be disturbed; who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted; who shall become poor and who shall wax rich; who shall be brought low, and who shall be exalted.

    • #6
    • October 2, 2014, at 6:43 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Masked Man Member

    Thank you. A meaningful lead-in to the holiday. How do we identify your book?

    • #7
    • October 2, 2014, at 7:13 PM PDT
    • Like
  8. Sandy Inactive

    Thank you for this and for the links to the clip from “The Jazz Singer” and the beautiful singing of Rabbi Cohen. Amazing, is it not, that the first “talkie” contains a rabbi singing the Kol Nidre?

    • #8
    • October 2, 2014, at 7:40 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. Jules PA Member

    iWc: Tomorrow night I will lead Kol Nidre in the synagogue we have in our home every High Holiday.

    Both of the pieces you shared are beautiful and touching. They also reminded me of the ‘shofar’ quality from the clips you shared on Rosh Hashanah.

    Sing well, and may your gift of “breath” resonate with the spark in the soul of your guests and family.

    • #9
    • October 2, 2014, at 7:51 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Masked Man:Thank you. A meaningful lead-in to the holiday.How do we identify your book?

    I will promote it heavily on this site when it comes. It is named: “The Torah Manifesto”.

    • #10
    • October 2, 2014, at 8:40 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Julia PA: Sing well, and may your gift of “breath” resonate with the spark in the soul of your guests and family.

    What a beautiful blessing. Thank you!!!

    • #11
    • October 2, 2014, at 8:43 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Manny Member

    Excellent. I was captivated. Thanks.

    • #12
    • October 3, 2014, at 4:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Son of Spengler Contributor

    A couple of musical notes:

    The day is referred to in the Torah as “Sabbath of Sabbaths”. There is no work done, nowhere to go, not even any meals to prepare and eat. So post-exile, absent the Temple, the synagogue service is the central activity of the day. The evening (Kol Nidre) service can last 2+ hours. The next morning, services typically start at 8:00 or 8:30 am and continue to 3:00 pm or so, with only a 1-2 hour break before resuming with the afternoon and concluding services (some place the break later, between the afternoon and concluding services). The concluding services are timed to end with the onset of darkness. Even though typically a second or third cantor may lead different parts of the service, the day is a cantorial marathon. It is also the time when the cantor has the most latitude to take his time with the liturgy and use more expressive musical ideas.

    Separately, Kol Nidre was famously the inspiration for a cello & orchestra piece by Bruch:

    The piece not only works over the melodic motifs of Kol Nidre, it also uses Kol Nidre’s formal structure. In the synagogue, Kol Nidre is sung three times, first quietly, and then ascending in volume each time. Bruch’s original dynamic markings indicate the same increasing intensity.

    • #13
    • October 3, 2014, at 6:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Sandy Inactive

    Thanks,SoS, for the DuPre clip. The Bruch is almost too beautiful to bear, and this is a particularly wonderful performance of it.

    • #14
    • October 3, 2014, at 6:59 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Patrick McClure Coolidge

    This is what I like about Ricochet and what makes it worth the money. Thanks for the education.

    • #15
    • October 3, 2014, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Patrickb63:This is what I like about Ricochet and what makes it worth the money. Thanks for the education.

    I am honored, thank you.

    • #16
    • October 3, 2014, at 8:19 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Liz Member
    Liz

    My girls and I have been reading the Jacob story every morning this week in our homeschool, so this explanation was particularly interesting to me. Thanks for sharing it, and for the great links.

    I love the DuPre clip, too, SoS.

    • #17
    • October 3, 2014, at 8:19 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Julia PA:iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    Indeed. You might start here. Specific, and perhaps one day traditional.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preludes-Days-Hashana-Atonement-Kippur/dp/B0000CT4YG/ref=la_B00JKDQWOG_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412350337&sr=1-7

    • #18
    • October 3, 2014, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. Jules PA Member

    Son of Spengler:A couple of musical notes:

    The day is referred to in the Torah as “Sabbath of Sabbaths”. There is no work done, nowhere to go, not even any meals to prepare and eat. So post-exile, absent the Temple, the synagogue service is the central activity of the day. The evening (Kol Nidre) service can last 2+ hours. The next morning, services typically start at 8:00 or 8:30 am and continue to 3:00 pm or so, with only a 1-2 hour break before resuming with the afternoon and concluding services (some place the break later, between the afternoon and concluding services). The concluding services are timed to end with the onset of darkness. Even though typically a second or third cantor may lead different parts of the service, the day is a cantorial marathon. It is also the time when the cantor has the most latitude to take his time with the liturgy and use more expressive musical ideas.

    Separately, Kol Nidre was famously the inspiration for a cello & orchestra piece by Bruch:

    The piece not only works over the melodic motifs of Kol Nidre, it also uses Kol Nidre’s formal structure. In the synagogue, Kol Nidre is sung three times, first quietly, and then ascending in volume each time. Bruch’s original dynamic markings indicate the same increasing intensity.

    I listened to this very recording by Jacqueline Du Pres this morning.

    An easy fast to you and yours.

    • #19
    • October 3, 2014, at 7:02 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. Jules PA Member

    Claire Berlinski:

    Julia PA:iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    Indeed. You might start here. Specific, and perhaps one day traditional.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preludes-Days-Hashana-Atonement-Kippur/dp/B0000CT4YG/ref=la_B00JKDQWOG_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412350337&sr=1-7

    claire, thanks. the link showed it unavailable, but is Herman Berlinski a relative?

    • #20
    • October 3, 2014, at 7:08 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. Sandy Inactive

    Claire Berlinski:

    Julia PA:iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    Indeed. You might start here. Specific, and perhaps one day traditional.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preludes-Days-Hashana-Atonement-Kippur/dp/B0000CT4YG/ref=la_B00JKDQWOG_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412350337&sr=1-7

    Or perhaps here. You have an illustrious family, Claire.

    • #21
    • October 3, 2014, at 8:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. Jules PA Member

    Thanks Sandy!

    • #22
    • October 4, 2014, at 3:48 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Annika Hernroth-Rothstein Contributor

    G’mar chatima Tova, my friend. Beautifully written.

    • #23
    • October 4, 2014, at 1:11 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein:G’mar chatima Tova, my friend. Beautifully written.

    Thank you so much. If you liked this, you’ll love the book. :-)

    When are you coming to visit? The guest room is ready!

    • #24
    • October 4, 2014, at 7:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Sandy:

    Claire Berlinski:

    Julia PA:iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    Indeed. You might start here. Specific, and perhaps one day traditional.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preludes-Days-Hashana-Atonement-Kippur/dp/B0000CT4YG/ref=la_B00JKDQWOG_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412350337&sr=1-7

    Or perhaps here. You have an illustrious family, Claire.

    Thank you. I didn’t know that was on the Internet.

    • #25
    • October 5, 2014, at 8:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Julia PA:

    Claire Berlinski:

    Julia PA:iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    Indeed. You might start here. Specific, and perhaps one day traditional.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preludes-Days-Hashana-Atonement-Kippur/dp/B0000CT4YG/ref=la_B00JKDQWOG_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412350337&sr=1-7

    claire, thanks. the link showed it unavailable, but is Herman Berlinski a relative?

    Yes, my grandfather.

    Not only was he a great composer, but a wonderful writer, a gregarious and generous spirit with a joie de vivre rivalled by no man, an utterly doting father and grandfather, and a devoted husband: he was married for 70 years, until death did them part. Oh, and he killed a lot of Nazis.

    His was a great life.

    • #26
    • October 5, 2014, at 8:08 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Jules PA Member

    Claire Berlinski:

    Julia PA:

    Claire Berlinski:

    Julia PA:iWc, is there any specific or traditional music used in the observance of Yom Kippur?

    Indeed. You might start here. Specific, and perhaps one day traditional.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preludes-Days-Hashana-Atonement-Kippur/dp/B0000CT4YG/ref=la_B00JKDQWOG_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412350337&sr=1-7

    claire, thanks. the link showed it unavailable, but is Herman Berlinski a relative?

    Yes, my grandfather.

    Not only was he a great composer, but a wonderful writer, a gregarious and generous spirit with a joie de vivre rivalled by no man, an utterly doting father and grandfather, and a devoted husband: he was married for 70 years, until death did them part. Oh, and he killed a lot of Nazis.

    His was a great life.

    I read his bio, He was a great man, and I guessed from his age he was your grandfather. I was not able to find a recording of the Yom Kippur selection, but I did hear a recording of the Rosh Hashana, and I liked it very much. I could hear the shofar in real life, then imitated in the voice and other instruments.

    What a blessing your grandfather was, to make something beautiful from a life that had such challenge and heartbreak.

    • #27
    • October 5, 2014, at 1:26 PM PDT
    • Like