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Yom Kippur
Why do we wear white on Yom Kippur? Print E-mail
Monday, 03 October 2022


Sponsored by Vicky Wu in loving memory of JJ Greenberg z”l, may his love for Israel and the Jewish People continue to shine in the future 

The Rama comments on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 610:4: There are those who wrote that it is customary to dress in clean, white clothes on Yom Kippur, analogous to the ministering angels, and likewise it is customary to wear a kittel which is white and clean, and it is also the clothing of the dead (the shroud), and therefore the heart of a man is humbled and broken (Hagahot Maimoniot).

On Yom Kippur we are similar to the angels as we don’t eat or drink but rather focus on spirituality. The angels are described as wearing linen (which was white) in Yechezkel 9:2 and Daniel 12:6.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov tells the following story in the Book of our Heritage:

A righteous person told his congregation on Yom Kippur: Children of Israel! Take to heart that it is in white garments like these we are wearing now, that we shall ascend to the World to Come to be judged and give accounting before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed is He. Let us then imagine that we are standing in this clothing before the Throne of Glory to be judged and give our final accounting. We should have true remorse, for one who stands before the Throne of Glory is truly remorseful...

In Yishayahu 1:18, we see the power of Tshuva (repentance):

Come, let us reach an understanding,—says the LORD. Be your sins like crimson, they can turn snow-white; be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece.

White is symbolic of erasing our sins and starting anew.

The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) wore white linen on Yom Kippur. By wearing white, we are emulating him as we see in Vayikra 16:4:

He shall be dressed in a sacral linen tunic, with linen breeches next to his flesh, and be girt with a linen sash, and he shall wear a linen turban. They are sacral vestments; he shall bathe his body in water and then put them on.—

In the Talmud, Shabbat 119a, Rav Hamnuna said: we honor Shabbat with food and drink but how will we honor Yom Kippur since we don’t eat or drink? The Torah said to honor it with a clean garment.        

In the Mishna, Taanit 4a, we learn that Yom Kippur was one of the days that the women went out wearing white:

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur, as on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes…And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards.

The Talmud, Taanit 30b explains why Yom Kippur is a happy day:

Yom Kippur is a day of joy because it has the elements of pardon and forgiveness, and moreover, it is the day on which the last pair of tablets were given.

We see from here that by wearing white we humble ourselves yet at the same time we are festive and happy, hoping that all of our sins will be forgiven and that we will be starting off the new year with a clean slate. 

What does Queen Ester have to do with the High Holidays? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 September 2017

In each of the High Holiday prayer services, we recite the word “u’vchen”, “and so…”

Avudraham points out that the word “u’vchen” was also used by Queen Ester as she prepared to go to go before King Achashverosh in Megillat Ester, 4:15-16:

Then Ester said to reply to Mordechai: “Go assemble all the Jews that are to be found in Shushan, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day: And I, with my maids will fast also, and so (u’vchen) I will go to the king, though it is against the law: and if I perish, I perish.”

As we stand before God, the Supreme king of kings, we begin with the same word that Ester uttered before standing before the human king, Achashverosh.

The Siddur, Magid Tzedek explains that if Ester who had fasted for three days in penitence and prayer in preparation for her appearance before the king was still terribly frightened, then we too should remember the sacrifices that Ester made and tremble in awe in the presence of God.

Rabbi Abraham Besdin adapted Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s teachings in the book Reflections of the Rav. In the section called “The Dual Character of Purim”, the Rav teaches that “Purim is also a day of introspection and prayerful meditation. The Megillah is both a Book of Distress and Petition. The narrative relates two stories, of a people in a terrifying predicament and also their great exhilaration at their sudden deliverance.”

The Rav goes on to say that Taanit Ester which is commemorated the day before Purim through fasting, Slichot and the recitation of the Avinu Malkeinu prayer sets the mood of solemn penitence. It reflects the fear of the Jews on the 13th of Adar as they fought their enemies. Purim day celebrates the victory and the sudden miraculous salvation of the Jewish people.

The Rav concludes: “Perhaps the feature common to both Purim and Yom Kippur is that aspect of Purim which is a call for Divine compassion and intercession, a mood of petition arising from great distress.”

Let us hope and pray that just as God answered the prayers of the Jewish people in the days of Ester, so too will He listen to our Yom Kippur prayers and seal us in the Book of Life.

You Can’t Run Away from God Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 September 2015

Sponsored by Vicky Wu in loving memory of J.J. Greenberg, a great teacher and a dear friend. His love of life, tolerance of differences, brightness of courage and kindness of heart continue to shine and guide my path.


One of the messages of the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) is that we can’t escape from God. This message is taught in the Book of Jonah which is read during the Yom Kippur Mincha service.  


The Book of Jonah begins with God asking Jonah the Prophet to go to Ninveh and cry out to her to try to get the wicked people there to repent.


Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Ninveh?


According to Rashi, Jonah did not want the people of Ninveh to repent as they were not Jewish and he was afraid that they would listen to him and repent while the Jewish people never listened to the prophets when they were told to repent. Jonah didn’t want the Jews to look bad.


Instead of trying to refuse God’s command to prophesize he decided to disappear.


In Jonah 1:3 we read: “Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from before God’s Presence. He went down to Yafo and found a Tarshish-bound ship; he paid its fare and boarded it to travel with them to Tarshish from before God’s Presence. ”


Jonah could not actually run away from God. However, Yehuda HaLevi taught in Sefer HaKuzari that Jonah was hoping to be able to run away from the Shechina (Divine Presence) and God’s prophecies. According to Yehuda HaLevi, all prophecy either takes place in the Land of Israel or is concerning the Land of Israel. As it says in Dvarim 11:12: “The eyes of God are always upon it (The Land of Israel).”


The Talmud, Nedarim 38a states that Jonah did not only pay his own fare, he paid for the hire of the entire ship (four thousand dinars of gold) in order to get out of the Land of Israel as quickly as possible. Ben Yehoyada adds that Jonah refused to wait several days until the ship collected a full load of passengers and cargo. He therefore paid the hire of the entire ship and had the crew sail immediately.


We all know what happens next. A storm hits, Jonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard, Jonah is swallowed by a large fish and gets spit onto dry land (back in the Land of Israel) after praying in the fish for three days.


This time when God commands Jonah to go to Nivnveh he goes!


True repentance according to the Rambam is when you are put in the same situation yet you don’t transgress a second time.


We see from here that there is no escaping God. God was with Jonah on the boat, God was with him when he was thrown into the water and God was with him in the fish (it otherwise would have been impossible for him to live in the fish for three days without oxygen).


The concept of Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) means that God is with each of us, wherever we may be, in the good times as well as in the bad times.


This Yom Kippur, let’s keep in mind that we can’t escape from God so we may as well enjoy the fact that God is looking out for us and use it as an opportunity to get closer to Him.

The Power of the Avinu Malkenu Prayer Print E-mail
Friday, 03 October 2014

The Avinu Malkenu (Our Father our King) prayer was first said in the Talmud, Taanit 25b. Rabbi Eliezer led the Shmoneh Esrei including six special blessings for fasts enacted during a drought yet his prayers were not answered, it did not rain. His student, Rabbi Akiva then recited: “Avinu Malkenu, we have no King but You! Avinu Malkenu for Your sake Have compassion on us!” and the rains fell.


Since Rabbi Akiva’s prayers were answered, his formula of “Avinu Makenu” was used in the prayers for fasts and other times of trajedy including the Ten Days of Repentance.


Over the past ten days we have been saying Avinu Malkenu twice a day (at Shacharit and Mincha) aside from Shabbat since Shabbat is not the time to pray for communal distress or to make requests.


We will not say Avinu Malkenu on Yom Kippur this year until the end of the Neilah service since this year Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat.


Why are we permitted to recite Avinu Malkenu during Neilah?


The RaN comments at the end of Masechet Rosh HaShana that Neilah is the time that God makes his final decree so “If not now then when?”


According to the Levush, by the time we get to Neilah Shabbat is officially over so there is no issue.


The words “Avinu” and “Malkenu” were used in the TaNaCh but they were not used together until Rabbi Akiva’s prayer.


The Maharsha explains that the word “Avinu” is taken from Yishayahu 63:16 “For You are our Father; though Avraham may not know us and Israel may not recognize us, You HaShem are our Father; our Eternal Redeemer is Your name.”


“Avinu” is also taken from Yishayahu 64:7: “So now HaShem, You are our Father. We are the clay and You are our Potter, and we are all Your handiwork.”


The word “Malkenu” comes from Devarim, Parshat Haazinu 33:5: “And He became King over Yeshurun when the numbers of the nation gathered- the tribes of Israel in unity”.


As we gear up for the last “Avinu Malkenu” of the High Holiday season, let’s try to add extra Kavana (intent) as Rabbi Akiva did and hope that all of our prayers are answered favorably.


Wishing you a Gmar Chatima Tova from Yerushalayim!

Why Fasting is Not Enough Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 September 2013


Sponsored by Isaac and Amy Halickman in Honor of Their Children

Allison, Daniel, Jonathan (Yoni), Elizabeth and Jennifer



On Yom Kippur we read the Haftara which comes from Yishayahu 57:14-58:14. The Haftara is appropriate for Yom Kippur as it teaches us the proper way to do Teshuva  (repent). Yishayahu makes it very clear that fasting and prayer are not enough. Rather, we must change our ways and help those who are less fortunate.


In sentences 58:6-12 we are told the proper way to behave as well as how we will be rewarded:


“Surely this is the fast I choose: open the bonds of wickedness, dissolve the groups that pervert justice, let the oppressed go free and annul all perverted justice. Surely you should divide your bread with the hungry and bring the moaning poor to your home; when you see the naked, cover him and do not ignore your kin. Then your light will burst forth like the dawn and your healing will speedily sprout; then your righteous deed will precede you and glory of God will gather you in. Then you will call and God will respond, you will cry out and He will say ‘Here I am!’ if you remove from your midst perversion, finger-pointing and evil speech. And if you offer your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light will shine in the darkness and the deepest gloom will be like noon. Then God will guide you always, sate your soul in times of drought and strengthen your bones; and you will be like a well watered garden and a spring whose waters never fail. Age old ruins will be rebuilt through you, you will erect generations old foundations and they will call you ‘repairer of the breach, restorer of paths of habitation.’”


Unfortunately, even in the modern State of Israel, we still have to work on many of the points on this list. We still have to deal with the perversion of justice. The government does not do enough for the poor so each of us must make an effort to help feed the hungry and clothe the poor. The challenge of not speaking Lashon Hara (Evil Speech) is also something that still needs to be worked on.


We learn from here that the message of Yom Kippur is not just about fasting. The message is about changing our ways and making a commitment to help others not just during the High Holiday season, but throughout the year. By doing so, we will bring blessings upon ourselves, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.


No Shabbat This Week Print E-mail
Monday, 27 September 2010

In Israel, our weekend consists of only one day, Shabbat. Children go to school on Fridays and many adults work. Sunday is a regular work and school day for everyone, the equivalent to Monday in the rest of the world.


This week, there is no Shabbat either. With Yom Kippur being Friday night and Saturday, we will have no Shabbat and no day of recuperation that the rest of the world will have on Sunday.


In Vayikra 23:32, Yom Kippur is called “Shabbat Shabbaton hu lachem”, a day of complete rest for you, as Rabbi Saadya Gaon puts it, a day that is like Shabbat for you.


Chizkuni points out that “a day of complete rest for you” is an interesting concept since a regular Shabbat is not called a Shabbat for Yisrael, but rather a Shabbat for HaShem as it says in Vayikra 23:3 “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is a Shabbat of solemn rest…it is a Shabbat for HaShem”.


Ibn Ezra explains that the concept of a regular Shabbat being for God comes from the book of Breisheet 2:3 (the words that we say in Kiddush each week) “Vayivarech Elokim et Yom HaShvii Vayikadesh oto ki vo Shabbat mikol milachto asher bara Elokim La’asot”, “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because in it He rested from all his work which God had created and performed”.


Although we don’t have a traditional Shabbat this week (with food), we have a mitzvah to eat before the fast and that way on the holiday of Yom Kippur we will be able to concentrate on ourselves.

The Message of Yom Kippur is Responsibility Print E-mail
Monday, 24 September 2007

Many of the prayers in the Yom Kippur Machzor are stated in the plural. Let’s take the Vidui (confession) prayer for example: Ashamnu, we have become guilty, Bagadnu, we have betrayed, Gazalnu, we have robbed, Dibarnu Dofi, we have spoken slander…

Rav Moshe Chagiz asks the question: Why do we confess on Yom Kippur for many transgressions that we did not commit? The answer is that “kol Yisrael arevin zeh lazeh” all Jews are responsible for one another. Even if we didn’t commit a specific transgression, we are responsible for those who did. In Bamidbar 5:7, it says in the plural: “they shall confess the transgression that they committed”. The whole rest of that parsha is written in the singular (5:6): “A man or a woman who commits any of man’s transgressions…” (5:7) “He shall make restitution for his guilt…”

We learn from here that if one person commits a transgression, everyone has to confess since we are all responsible for one another.

When other Jews are in danger or in trouble, we can’t sit idly by. We must take action and speak up and say “your problems are our problems”.

This coming week, immediately following Yom Kippur, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be visiting New York.

In his translation of a speech to the "World Without Zionism" conference held for students in October 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying:

“Our dear Imam (referring to Ayatollah Khomeini) said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine. Is it possible to create a new front in the heart of an old front? This would be a defeat and whoever accepts the legitimacy of this regime has in fact, signed the defeat of the Islamic world. Our dear Imam targeted the heart of the world oppressor in his struggle, meaning the occupying regime. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world.”

Ahmadinejad is bent on the destruction of the State of Israel. Our brothers and sisters all around the world must not remain silent. Raise your voices now, later may be too late.

Gmar Chatima Tova!