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   by Jacob Solomon

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On this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before G-d you will be cleansed of all your sins (16:30).

The opening section of Acharei Mot details the elaborate procedures of the once-a-year occasion when the Kohen Gadol entered the innermost, holiest sanctuary. It finishes by specifying that the annual occasion is on Yom Kippur, that Yom Kippur is the day on which G-d forgives, and that the Israelites are required to afflict themselves though fasting and by observing the other abstinences of that day. It does not refer to Yom Kippur by name, but instead as Shabbat Shabbaton, a Sabbath of complete rest.

"Before G-d you will be cleansed of all your sins". R. Elazar ben Azariah explains that teshuva and the observance of Yom Kippur atone for sins that are 'before G-d' only, sins that have not harmed other people (Yoma 85b). The Kli Yakar explains that the world lifnei means before in the sense of time. The time to do teshuva is now. It is not something to leave on the back burner for attention just on Yom Kippur. It is the doing of teshuva through the year that effects the atonement granted by Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is not merely a day detached in time. Its position is at the climax of the daily process of striving towards self-improvement within the Torah-defined framework.

This use of lifnei to mean 'before' in the sense of time, as well as 'before' in the sense of 'in the presence of' occurs elsewhere. Lifeni seiva takum - stand up before an old person (19:32). The Kli Yakar adds an alternative translation: 'work on self-improvement before your old age'. Get up from illusions of self-satisfaction now, before you yourself become an old person.

R. Elazar ben Azariah continues: "Yom Kippur does not atone for sins that harm other people until forgiveness has been sought and granted by those other people". The Kli Yakar derives this from ve-al kol am hakhal ye-chaper - he shall bring atonement on all the people of the congregation (16:33). "Ve-al kol am hakhal" is expressed in the singular, meaning when people feel at one with each other. This happens as individuals forgive one another, sink their differences, and feel themselves part of a united congregation.

Indeed, the sensing of achdut and reut, closeness and friendship, in doing things together is very much part of the Yom Kippur experience in many kehillot even today. These feelings should not evaporate the moment the fast is over: the Kli Yakar emphasizes the Torah precedent that it was immediately after Yom Kippur when Moses assembled the Israelites for the purpose of building the Tabernacle (Rashi to Ex. 35a). And today, some of those elements are captured in the widespread custom in Israel of concluding the Yom Kippur proceedings with an additional mitzvah: going outside into the fresh air together and reciting kiddush levana.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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