Yom Kippur: The Zionist Holiday You Never Knew – Algemeiner

Posted By on September 16, 2021

A better understanding of the central, unifying themes of each of the Jewish holidays and their unique, separate liturgies can be like throwing open the doors and windows of a dark and stuffy room and this is especially true when it comes to Yom Kippur, the holiday that has the most remarkably different prayer service of them all.

With this understanding, one comes to realize what a jumble of half-digested ideas we normally face when we recite the Amidah/Shemoneh Esrei, the standing, silent devotional that is at the center of every Jewish prayer service, and also the other prayers. We sort of understand davening and tefilot, though we secretly think theres a little more to it than that. Some of us even think theres some sort of connection between the random ideas in the prayers, the calendar, and Jewish history, but we fail to hear such thoughts from the vast majority of pulpit rabbis, and cant recall learning these things from the teachers we had in our youth.

Keeping the Beit HaMikdash (the ancient Holy Temple constructed in Jerusalem by King Solomon, son of King David) at the center of our consciousness during prayer brings a flood of light and a breath of fresh air to Yom Kippur and shows us that there is a dazzling clarity to the structure of the liturgy that the ancient rabbis developed it is breathtaking when we suddenly see it. And if we do not see it, we dont know the first thing about what Jewish prayer is, who we are as a Jewish People, where we come from, and where our destiny lies.

The Beit HaMikdash is unique: God has indicated just one place on earth for the construction of His Holy Temple. Put another way, God has chosen just one nation [one people], to have a special, unique responsibility to worship Him with ritual sacrifice on His Holy Mountain in the Holy City of Jerusalem in His Holy Land.

September 15, 2021 12:21 pm

It was not for some haphazard reason that the ancient rabbis who composed the text of the weekday Amidah selected to include the insertions for Rosh Chodesh, Chol HaMoed Pesach, and Chol HaMoed Sukkot in the bracha (blessing) that begins Look with favor, L-rd our God, on Your people Israel and pay heed to their prayer; restore the service to Your Sanctuary and accept with love and favor Israels fire-offerings and prayer; and may the service of Your people Israel always find favor, and afterwards concludes May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy. Blessed are You, L-rd, who restores His Divine Presence to Zion.

The Jewish holidays are all inextricably bound to the Beit HaMikdash.

All of the distinguishing components of the liturgy of the holiday of Yom Kippur from Kol Nidrei, and including Yizkor, the once a year recitation of unique shemoneh esreis (and their Piyuts, [poems]) the reading of the Book of Jonah, the Neilah service, up to and especially including the sounding of the shofar at Neilahs conclusion form a tapestry that can, and should, be seen as one long love song to Hashem, thanking Him for granting the Jewish People the privilege of having the Land of Israel, the City of Jerusalem, and especially the Temple Mount (adjacent to the Western Wall), and the sacrificial offerings that were made there and that the ancient Prophets proclaim will be made again.

Make no mistake about it, these things and places are the exclusive heritage and property of the Jewish People. Yom Kippur should remind us of this.

Yom Kippur is too often seen in a limited way as just the Day of Atonement for an individual as an individual (which it undeniably is at its unique core), but in addition to that, this holiday, as with all others in the Torah, simultaneously contain within them both historical commemorations as well as a component of national obligations and national aspirations. One facet is in no way exclusive in such a way as to negate the others. All elements work together in harmony to create a whole.

What we in America refer to as the High Holiday season is thought by many to begin with the daily Selichot services, and that itself is preceded by the twice daily recitation (in the Ashkenaz tradition) of Psalm 27 many weeks before. Psalm 27 uses the words Sanctuary, Shelter, and Tent while speaking about offerings and makes no outright references to penitence or atonement.

In the Selichot we implore God to remember the Land (of Israel) and to bring us to (His) Holy Mountain (the Temple Mount) so that we may make offerings on the Altar, and we also make reference to the visit there by Abraham and Isaac, when Abraham demonstrated he was prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God. But on Yom Kippur, these topics are not just in the background of the liturgy; they make up its forefront from the very beginning.

We begin Yom Kippur with Kol Nidrei, and due to its inspiring melody and dignity with which the physical setting is conducted in, complete with Torahs and talesim at night (the one time a year), we instinctively know something that transcends the ordinary is going on.

After the Maariv shemoneh esrei there is a unique Selichot service this being the only instance of the entire year when there is a lengthy additional section of prayers after shemoneh esrei. Here we request of God that He bring us to Your Holy Mountain. The next day at Yizkor, an emotional highlight of the day for many, we speak of God dwelling in Zion that is on the Temple Mount, in the Beit HaMikdash. The Mussaf shemoneh esrei is the longest prayer service of the year. And the larger part of that is the Chazzans repetition. Within this section more time is devoted to a highly detailed and vivid description of the High Priests sacrificial service in the Holy Temples Holy of Holies the only time of the year any human stepped foot inside. Included in this section is the lament that Since our Temple was destroyed we have no choice to recite words in place of the High Priests offering sacrifices, and we explain how we are like orphans without the Temple and we beg God to bring the Temple back among us.

During the afternoon Mincha service, the entire Book of Jonah is recited the only time of the year that it is. And in the universally recognized episode of the whale (or more correctly, the large fish) Jonah cries to God his prayer came to You, to Your Holy Temple.

And Neilah is the only day of the entire year when we add a fifth shemoneh esrei. At the conclusion of this one-time-a-year event, we mark the end of the Yom Kippur by saying: Next Year in Jerusalem! In reality, this means Next Year on the Temple Mount in the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple, where the Yom Kippur offerings will be made in Messianic times.

This focus on Jerusalem, on the Holy Temple, and on the Holy of Holies, is the essence of Yom Kippur. It is what our ancestors dreamed, and prayed for during the nearly 2,000 year nightmare of exile. This Dream of Zion is the engine that created the available momentum that was harnessed by the modern Zionism of Herzls time, and used to create the modern State of Israel.

Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a US delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020. His views are his own.

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Yom Kippur: The Zionist Holiday You Never Knew - Algemeiner

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