The Aseret Yomei Tsuvah are the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Fast of Gedalia, a minor (day) fast, comes on the 3rd of Tishrei, right after Rosh HaShanah. Tsuvah, Teffilah and Tzedakah. Tsuvah, our return to our true essence is associated with fasting in the prayer book. Tefillah is our prayers, especially for forgiveness. And Tzedakah is the giving of money to those in need. Each of these are the tools we have before us so that what is written on Rosh HaShanah and sealed on Yom Kippur will be our continued presence in The Book of Life. On Yom Kippur we forego our limited understanding and focus on trusting Gd and accepting His continued involvement in our lives and His purpose in creating us. What we need to do now is to drop our burdens and just stand before Gd. (1)
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe ascended the mountain a second time and pleaded with Gd for forgiveness for the people's sin in making the golden calf. He stayed for 40 days and on the 10th of Tishrei, Yom Kippur, he brought down the second set of Tablets. Yom Kippur is a perennial reminder to us of Gd's divine compassion and forgiveness.
Yom Kippur is the Holy of Holies of the year, the Shabbat of Shabbats. It is the day when the Jewish people transcend their physical limitations and devote themselves entirely to Gd. (2) On Yom Kippur we are forbidden to eat, drink, have marital relations, wash and annoit ourselves or wear leather shoes. We seemingly abandon the body and it's needs to devote ourselves to spiritual activities, in truth, on a fast day vitality comes from the body itself from energy already stored. On other days it is the energy of an outside force (food and drink) which keeps body and soul together, on a fast day the union of the body and soul derives from the body itself. This is a taste of the World to Come, when matter and spirit will not require any outside sources to sustain it. (3)
On the holiest day of the year the Cohen HaGadol enters the holiest place on earth (the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem) to intercede before Gd on our behalf, as Moses did. This reenactment happens for us during Musaf.
Part of this service involves the selection of the (e)scapegoat offering. Two identical he goats are placed before the Cohen HaGadol (the High Prest), from lots one is chosen for Gd the other for Azazel, a powerful force that rules over desolate places. The (e)scapegoat offering is taken out into the wilderness. The choice is made on a level beyond human understanding. (4)
There are 5 prayer services on Yom Kippur: Maariv, Shacharit, Musaf, Mincha and Neilah, the most there are on any day of the Jewish calendar. They correspond to the five levels of soul: nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaye and yechidah. It is during the final service that we reach the level of unity with Gd and from there we draw down forgiveness. (5) We cannot undo the wrongs we have done, we cannot change the past but we can change the future. The Book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur. In it the message that Jonah and we too need to take away is one of compassion. Justice is not enough, without Gd's compassion we could not exist. (6)
It is a mitzvah to eat and drink before the fast. Yhartzeit candles are lit as well as a Ner Neshama for each family. Tips for an easy fast: Take frequent drinks of water throughout the day before the fast begins. Do not overeat before the fast. Do not have salty or sweet foods, they will make you thirsty. Your last meal before the fast should include complex carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, pasta and whole grain bread. When breaking the fast start with a non-carbonated drink and a slice of bread or dry cake. Wait a bit before enjoying a full meal. (7)
As we show compassion for others so may we have compassion for ourselves. May our true potential surface and set us once again on the path of our soul's true purpose in creating a perfect world.
'Yonah' papercut by Martin Farren and Joan Benjamin-Farren from 'Seasons of Joy' by Arthur I Waskow, the Book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur during the Mincha service
Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, Tiferes Yisroel, Baltimore, MD from an Elul Sermon, 1999 (1)
Eliezer Shore for 'A Still Small Voice' Yom Kippur Holiday Supplement 1988 (2,4 and 5)
Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace, The Week in Review, Yom Kippur 5758 (1997) (3)
Rabbi David Fohrman of the Hoffberger Institute in Baltimore, from a lecture on Jonah Elul 2000 (6)
'Tips for an Easy Fast on Yom Kippur from Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center' Dr Elliot Berry, Head of Clinical Nutrition, Sept 19, 1997 (7)
Rav Aron 'The Rabbi's Notebook' Vayelech and Yom Kippur 1998 (RavAron@aol.com)
Rabbi Menachem Goldberger 'Minhagim of Congregation Tiferes Yisroel' Baltimore 2000