What is Kippur in the Torah?
Is there any example in the Torah of someone undoing the past? I don’t think there is. The best anyone seems to be able to do is try to find a constructive way forward.
If this is true, does it tell us that we, ourselves, can never undo something we have done, or unsay something we have said?
If this is the case, if we can never undo what we have done, then what is the meaning of Yom Kippur?
Perhaps we can look in the Torah to see what clues are found in the text.
The root word for kippur is found with the tar coating that Noach uses to insulate the inside of the ark from the water:
make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch (kippur).
Kippur seems to be an insulation, making it possible for two incompatible forces (the killing water and the living within the ark) to come very close to one another without conflict!
What if Kippur, when applied to the relationship between G-d and man, means the same thing? What if a Kippur is a protective coating that allows G-d and man to be close to one another without man being extinguished merely through proximity? After all, man and G-d cannot fully coexist in the same space, but perhaps there are times when we can get closer than others?
If this is true, then isn’t kippur a way not to undo the past, but to protect us from the past (the sins that otherwise stain us beyond forgiveness) so that we might be able to approach G-d more closely than at any other time?
Does the text support this meaning? Pinchas stabs Cosbi and Zimri, and the Torah tells us:
וַיְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
And [Pinchas] kippured on the children of Israel
As a result, G-d stopped punishing the people! Did Pinchas give the people a protective layer, making it possible to get closer to G-d without retribution for our sins!?
Pinchas’ acts surely did not undo the sins of the people, any more than doing teshuvah undoes the harm we have done in our lives. But isn’t it possible that kippur is not meant to undo the past at all, that what kippur is really about is finding a way to move on, to grow and move forward in our relationship with G-d?
When the Cohen Gadol has done his service, is the result as if the lid of the Aron is over each of us, allowing us to get closer to the Divine Presence than at any other time of year? Is that what kippur means?
If so, how might this change the way we think about our prayers on Yom Kippur? Does it change the meanings or intentions of our teshuvah, our prayer while we seek kippur?
But Why Do We Need Kaparah?
Consider the avodah, the service, of the Cohen Gadol, the high priest. At the pinnacle moment of the day of Yom Kippur, the High Priest goes into the Holy of Holies, G-d’s house.
A mere 5 days later, G-d reciprocates: He comes into our house, the Sukkah.
Is there really a connection?
The Gemara in Sukkah tells us that the height of the schach of a sukkah is connected to the height of the kapores of the Aron and/or the height of the wings, the sochechim of the keruvim. In other words, is the Gemara suggesting that the cover of the Sukkah, our abode for seven days, is analogous to the cover of G-d’s abode?
Might this suggest that the Gemarah is telling us that there is indeed a linkage between the High Priest on Yom Kippur, and G-d on Sukkos?
Let’s assume that angels are G-d’s way of controlling the natural world, so angels provide the life energy to plants and animals: Perhaps we can explore the symbolic links?
The Holy of Holies has angels, keruvim, with their sochechim (wings) over the Ark, along with a kaporet (same root as kippur) over the Ark.
- The Sukkah has the schach (same root word as sochechim), over our heads. A mirror image?
The angels, the keruvim, in the Holy of Holies, are made by us of gold, using our knowhow.
- The angels in the living schach were made by G-d, using nature, G-d’s knowhow.
The cover, kaparah, in the Holy of Holies protects the High Priest from being so close to the divine presence.
- Is it possible that the schach of a Sukkah performs the same function?
If the above is correct, does it suggest that Yom Kippur is not a standalone holiday, that it is in fact a necessary preparatory step for Sukkos to occur? That the kapparah of Yom Kippur is to enable a closer relationship between man and G-d, despite the vast differences between us?
Of course, aren’t there opinions that G-d creates the angels on earth, but it is man that creates angels in heaven? We create angels as a result of our words and deeds: those angels plead our case, they echo us in our praise of G-d, they crown G-d during kedusha. While the angels on earth are created by G-d: they run the natural world, and are the buffer, the tzimtzum, between man and G-d?
Are there other symbolic links showing that Yom Kippur is the necessary precursor for Sukkos?
Why The Specific Offerings?
On Yom Kippur, two goats are offered for the people, and a bull is offered for Aharon.
Why these specific offerings? Might they relate to sins that happened in the Torah, but that were never made right?
After all, a bull is a grown up egel – and Aharon, pushed and threatened by the mob, helped create the egel. Is there a connection?
Similarly, Yaakov deceived Isaac (and deprived Esau) with two baby goats. While Jacob ended up reconciling with Esau, the text does not tell us that Jacob ever made things right with his father for the deception.
So is it possible that on a day when we remember the things we have done wrong, that, in addition to individual reflection and teshuvah, the offerings are there to remind us of wrongdoing committed by our ancestors?
P.S. Of course, these earlier events are described using different words: the younger forms of the animals. A calf for a bull, and two kids versus two goats. Does using different words mean the thesis is nonsense? Or might it suggest that the earlier errors were less “mature” because both Aharon and Jacob were under duress when they acted?
This parsha question sheet takes the approach of reading the Chumash very closely. It is assumed that every letter and word has meaning, and all questions can be answered (at least every one we have come up so far!) So you’ll find the questions offered every week are deeply textual, seeking relevance to our lives today from the foundational document for Judaism and indeed all of Western Civilization.
This sheet is distributed with the general approval of Rabbi Rose.
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