Parshat Acharei Mot
Yom Kippur’s Twin Attainments
In this week’s parsha we read a description of the holiest day of the Jewish year — the day of forgiveness, Yom Kippur. Two objectives are achieved on this day — kappara (atonement) and tahara (purification). Kappara signifies a covering up — it is a day on which we are “covered” and protected against the consequences of past sin. The effect of this is tahara — purity, the restoration of moral freedom which was compromised by sin.
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But just as the immutable laws of nature can be changed by
The two aspects of Yom Kippur — kappara and tahara — relate to the external and internal effects of sin. Kappara protects against destruction of the sinner, and tahara restores life to the soul. There are two corresponding prohibitions on Yom Kippur: we refrain from creative activity (just as we do on the Sabbath), and we refrain from eating and drinking. The prohibition against creative work signifies that once we have sinned we no longer have any right to master the world around us. And the prohibition against eating and drinking signifies that by having abused our sensual nature we have compromised our right as creatures to sustain ourselves physically with food and drink.
The prohibition against creative work parallels kappara and the external dimension: we have sinned against the world and brought some destruction to society. We express our contrition by displaying our loss of creative capacity — control and influence — in the world on this day. We cannot effectively redress the negative impact. We are limited to the natural and spiritual order. Only kappara from
The prohibition against eating and drinking parallels tahara and the internal dimension: we have dulled our souls by surrendering to sensuality. In response we refrain from physical pleasure and recognize that tahara can be accomplished only, as the verse states, before HASHEM. (Vayikra 17:30) Freedom from the bonds of sensuality can be attained only with recognition of
§ Sources: Commentary, Vayikra 17:30