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Yom Kippur -- An Eternal Opportunity to Repent
A Torah Thought for Teens -- Yom Kippur
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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After the Torah lists the various segments of the avodah (service) of Yom Kippur, we are informed that the observance of Yom Kippur was not intended to be a one-time occurrence, but rather a yearly event. (Vayikra 16:29) “V’hoysa lachem l’chukkas olam (This shall remain for you an eternal decree) ”. The Torah notes that Yom Kippur will be observed at a set time each year, on the tenth day of the seventh month [Tishrei] in perpetuity.

This is an important declaration, because a reading of the pesukim until that point could lead us to believe that the avodah of Yom Kippur was limited to that particular year, or perhaps only during the lifetime of Aharon.

A careful reading of the next five pesukim (Vayikra 16, 30-34) reveals that the phrase ‘chukas olam (an eternal decree)’ is, in fact, mentioned an additional two times in the same context – informing us that Yom Kippur is to be observed each year. This seems to be redundant. Why would we need to be informed of this fact three times, when once would seem to suffice?

The Sforno (Rabbi Ovadia Sforno) takes note of this repetition and posits that each of the three times that the Torah mentions ‘chukas olam teaches us a specific lesson about the observance of Yom Kippur.

  • The first listing of ‘chukas olam’ (16:29) informs us that during the years that the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) was standing, Yom Kippur must be observed.
  • The second one (16:31) teaches us that Yom Kippur must be observed even after the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.
  • The third listing (16:34) informs us of the teaching of the Gemorah (Yuma 86a) that when one repents properly, his or her sins tefilos (prayers) are accepted, as the actual passing of the Yom Kippur day facilitates the process of teshuvah.


These are all important lessons for us to learn and internalize. Each generation has its opportunities – and challenges.

Those who had the good fortune to live in the era in which the Beis Hamikdash was functioning in its full glory, had the fortune to bask in its glow and be inspired by its holiness. Three times each year they traveled to Yerushalayim and participated in the service of Hashem with countless numbers of their fellow Jews.

During that time period, however, one might have felt that in the presence of such holiness, his or her prayers might be insignificant and therefore unnecessary. The Torah informs us otherwise. Yom Kippur – and the participation of each and every Jew – took place at that glorious time in our history. There are no ‘free lunches.’ We cannot rely exclusively on the efforts of others. Each person needs to make a contributory effort, regardless of how inconsequential it may seem to him or her.

Conversely, after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, one might feel as if Yom Kippur was lacking in significance – without the service of the kohen gadol and the presence of Hashem in the Beis Hamikdash. Here too, the Torah has an important lesson for us. Repentance and forgiveness is offered regardless of the setting and the void left by the absence of the kohen gadol’s avodah. As long as a Jew directs his heart to Hashem, his prayers will be answered.

Finally, the Torah informs us that in His love for each of His children, Hashem offers us a once-a-year gift – Yom Kippur – whereby we have the opportunity to ask for and receive forgiveness. The great tzaddik (righteous person) Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, was fond of saying that if Yom Kippur came along once in 70 years people would give each other a bracha (blessing) to live to reach that glorious day – when their sins would be forgiven!

It is interesting to note that in a similar vein, the exact location and timing of Kabbolas HaTorah is shrouded in mystery. Where exactly is Mount Sinai? Even the date is subject to discussion in the gemarah. Was it on the sixth day of Sivan or the seventh? This may serve to teach us an important lesson, one that will serve us well as we pass through adolescence.

Were the Torah to specify a precise time and location of the acceptance of the Torah, we might be tempted to offer a reason why that time and that place were ‘just right’ for spiritual growth. The Torah is teaching us otherwise. The time is now and the place is wherever you are at that time! One needs to grow in the spiritual realm regardless of his or her challenges.

So, too, Yom Kippur has the ability to offer repentance regardless of the status of the Beis Hamikdash. As a loving Father, Hashem reaches out to us in a special way each year and offers His understanding and forgiveness – provided that we accept our responsibility and sincerely attempt to correct our errant ways.

Hashem offers us a perpetual and eternal gift. It is our obligation to accept it – and embrace His love for each of us.

Best wishes for a g’mar chasima tova.

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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