According to Kabbalah, Rosh Hashanah lasts for 22 days, from Rosh Hashanah until Simhat Torah, and it is actually a process which has three stages and its purpose is renewing our soul and life. The first stage of this process is known as Ten Days of Penitence but also defines in the book “Song of Songs” as “His left arm is under my head …”, which indicates that the work we do during that period is a Tikun of our left column which is our desire to receive – our spiritual vessel. Hence is the name “Ten Days of Penitence”, of Teshuvah, from the root LaShuv (to return in Hebrew), meaning returning to our true self.
Yom Kippurim – Why in plural?
Our world, the world of confusion, pain, hunger and sufferings is a world of physical illusion. The essence of life reaches us from the upper world, the true world, the metaphysical world of bliss and abundance. The Ari explains that when we behave in a spiritual way, in joy, unconditional love and altruism, the abundance flows with no interruption into our lives in this physical world. However, if we act differently this flow is being blocked and cannot reach us.
Yom Kippur is mentioned in the Bible as Yom HaKippurim (Leviticus 23, 27), in plural. The Ari explains that on Yom Kippur, a direct connection between our world (Sefirat Malkhut) and the upper world – the source of abundance (Sefirat Bina) – is being made. All three dimensions – the world of illusion, the channels of spiritual abundance, and the world of truth – connect together, and that is why Kippurim is in plural.
Why do we need to “afflict our souls” on Yom Kippur?
The Wisdom of Kabbalah teaches us that the soul has five levels: Nefesh, Ruah, Neshama, Haya, Yehida. The lowest level is Nefesh and it is responsible for our basic needs, such as food, sleep, sex, security and body’s pleasures. Each level represents a different Sefira: Nefesh – Sefirat Malkhut – the material world, Ruah – Zeir Anpin – the connection that brings us the spiritual abundance; and Neshama – Sefirat Bina – the true world, the source life and abundance.
According to the Biblical law there are five prohibitions on Yom Kippur: eating and drinking, bathing, anointing, wearing leather shoes and having sexual relations. In order to reach SefiratBina on Yom Kippur we need to shut down Nefesh – the body and physical consciousness, since this frame of the body’s needs blocks us from receiving abundance directly from Sefirat Bina. On the paragraph “… and ye shall afflict your souls” the word “afflict” לענות is from the root עני (poor), meaning we have to make our Nefesh – Malkhut, our materialistic, limiting consciousness, poor. We ground the “body” part of our consciousness with those limitations – avoiding the abovementioned body needs. This is not in order to suffer but to enjoy the connection to SefiratBina, which is the true world, a world of unlimited abundance.
As opposed to the other days of the year, Yom Kippur has five prayers. According to Kabbalah, the role of those prayers is not to convince God to treat us differently, but to elevate our consciousness to the true world – the “Tree of Life”.
Those five prayers elevate us, step by step, to the peak of Yom Kippur – the prayer called Neila. Each prayer elevates us to a different level in the Tree of the Sefirot: Arvit – Sefirat Malkhut; Shaharit – Sefirat Zeir Anpin; Musaf – Sefirat Bina; Minha – Sefirat Hokhma; Neila – Sefirat Keter.
The Ari teaches us that those prayers are a mean to draw abundance directly from the source to our lives to the year to come, and these are the intentions – Kavanah, we should concentrate on during those prayers.
What so special about this prayer that so many people go to the synagogue for it? And how come we need to annul our vows once again after we already did it on Rosh HaShana’s eve?
On the moment of Creation – The Tsimtsum, that brought us to this world, a law of action-reaction was made. This law is a “cosmic vow” saying that every action we make that hurts our fellow man or our environment will cause a reaction that will come back at us in the future. That is why on Yom Kippur’s eve we say “Kol Nidrei” after taking out all of the Torah scrolls from The Ark, in order to allow us to go to the upper worlds and abort every negative power that is about to hurt us as a result of our past deeds. Only at that time we have the ability to abort this “cosmic vow”.
Viduy (=Confirmation, ≠Confession)
Another important prayer on Yom Kippur is the Viduy. According to tradition, on Yom Kippur we try to change the creator’s view by requesting forgiveness that expressed in the most significant way on the Viduy prayer. However, this view is a bit childish. Can we imagine a criminal at court asking the judge for forgiveness and being released because of this with no charges?
Kabbalah teaches that according to the laws of life, sufferings in our world derive from our selfish desire to receive only for ourselves. Therefore, and in order to change the record of our negative actions, we should go back to ourselves, to our pure soul within and disconnect from all pain and blindness that caused us harm and to others.
The word Viduy וידוי in Hebrew means “to make certain”, to confirm, meaning the moment we make sure that our selfish behavior will not repeat itself and instead we bring consideration, compassion and love into our lives, than the effect of all our bad deeds to come will be annulled.
Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to start over without the burden of our past mistakes.
To listen to deeper study and lectures about Yom Kippur: