Following a detailed description of the Yom Kippur temple service, we encounter the following verse: “For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to purify you; from all your sins before Hashem shall you be purified.” (Leviticus 16:30)
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik points out this verse highlights the two primary functions of Yom Kippur; atonement and purification.
Sin affects the transgressor in two ways; it compels a consequence and stains the personality. Every civil law is matched by a proportional consequence for disobeying it.
A sin works similarly. In fact, the severity of a sin is evaluated by the severity of its consequence, something we call onesh, which is generally translated as punishment.
But a sin also affects the transgressor on a much deeper and personal level. Our personalities are shaped by our actions.
When we sin, our personalities are left stained. The first time a child lies, the child loses some of their innocence. Similarly, we change when we sin. We regress from materialising our human potential, and from the original and natural majestic beauty of our humanity.
Tumah or what we call impurity, is the point we are lead to by sin.
If sin causes onesh and tumah, then the healing process must address them both. This is the basis for the atonement and purification of Yom Kippur.
Atonement liberates the sinner from the onesh. Purification reverses the process, which had resulted in tumah.
But where atonement is a technical process, achieved by ritual service, purification is a process of personal improvement and spiritual empowerment. Real and genuine repentance is a lifelong, rigorous process of purification. Constant critical self-reflection, which generates personal improvement, is the only accurate definition of repentance.
The ability to embark on such a journey is what intrinsically makes
- Rabbi Boudilovsky is rabbi of Young Israel of North Netanya