Yom Kippur, the holiest and most somber day on the Jewish calendar, begins at sundown today, with the observant fasting and seeking forgiveness for their sins.
According to Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur is the day on which Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of commandment tablets and announced God’s pardon of the people.
A primary image of the season is of God inscribing and sealing the names of the righteous in the Book of Life during the period of the High Holy Days, the 10-day span between Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
For that reason, the traditional greeting among Jews on Yom Kippur is G’mar tov or G’mar Khatima Tova, which is shorthand for “Finish with a good seal (in the Book of Life.)”
The evening service begins with the congregation standing in the presence of the Torah scrolls, which evokes the image of a Jewish court, and the congregation is given permission to pray with other sinners.
The Kol Nidre, an ancient prayer whose title translates to “all of our vows,” is then sung. It is followed by the words attributed to God after Moses convinces him in the biblical narrative to forgive the people for worshipping a golden calf: “I have forgiven you as I have promised.”
Knowing that one is already forgiven, one can continue to do the hard work of teshuvah, turning toward the best version of the person you want to become, according to Rabbi Laura Geller, the senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
Yom Kippur atones for sins between people and God but in order to atone for sins between people one has to ask the individuals who were hurt for forgiveness, Geller said.
Yom Kippur concludes after sunset on Saturday night.