Return to main index

D13. Afflicting Our Souls by Repenting on Yom Kippur    [Make a Comment]

We are to afflict our souls by repenting of our sins on Yom Kippur.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Leviticus 16:29-31 (Maimonides RP164)
It is to be a permanent regulation for you that on the tenth day of the seventh month you are to deny yourselves (NKJ: "afflict your souls") and not do any kind of work, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you. For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before ADONAI from all your sins. It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves (NKJ: "afflict your souls"). This is a permanent regulation.

Leviticus 23:27-29 (Maimonides RN196; Meir MP32, MN152; Chinuch C313, 316)
The tenth day of this seventh month is Yom-Kippur; you are to have a holy convocation, you are to deny yourselves (NKJ: "afflict your souls"), and you are to bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI. You are not to do any kind of work on that day, because it is Yom-Kippur, to make atonement for you before ADONAI your God. Anyone who does not deny himself (NKJ: "is not afflicted in soul") on that day is to be cut off from his people;

Numbers 29:7
On the tenth day of this seventh month you are to have a holy convocation. You are to deny yourselves (NKJ: "afflict your souls"), and you are not to do any kind of work;

The 10th day of the seventh month is referred to in Leviticus 23:27 and 25:9 as Yom HaKippurim, and in Leviticus 23:28 as Yom Kippurim. Although the day appears in the plural in Scripture, it is more commonly known as Yom Kippur, and is translated "Day of Atonement".

Because the CJB translates the above Scriptures differently than do several other highly regarded English translations, I had to decide which of them to rely upon in constructing this Mitzvah #D13. The five Scripture verses at issue are:

The CJB and NIV translate the four as "deny yourselves", and the KJV and NKJ translate them as "afflict your souls". The NAS version departs by translating the first three as "humble your souls", and Numbers 29:7 as "humble yourselves".

The CJB and NIV both translate Leviticus 23:29 as "deny himself", the KJV translates it as "not be afflicted", the NKJ version translates it as "not afflicted in soul", and the NAS version translates it as "not humble himself".

The weight of lexical authority appears to favor (and I have adopted) the view that we are commanded to afflict and humble our souls on Yom Kippur. The question is "What does that mean?" and "How are we to accomplish it?" Jewish tradition, based partially upon Scripture (e.g. Psalms 35:13; 69:10; Jeremiah 36:6), interprets "afflict your souls" as meaning that we are to fast from food and drink for twenty-five hours; this fast has become one of Yom Kippur's most well-known features.

While fasting on Yom Kippur is certainly appropriate and a practice that I heartily endorse, this Mitzvah #D13 puts forth that the biblical meaning and intent of afflicting our souls on Yom Kippur is that we repent of our sins. Consider God's admonition to the Israelites in Isaiah 58:1-8:

Shout out loud! Don't hold back! Raise your voice like a shofar! Proclaim to my people what rebels they are, to the house of Ya'akov their sins. Oh yes, they seek me day after day and [claim to] delight in knowing my ways. As if they were an upright nation that had not abandoned the rulings of their God, they ask me for just rulings and [claim] to take pleasure in closeness to God, [asking,] 'Why should we fast, if you don't see? Why mortify ourselves, if you don't notice?' Here is my answer: when you fast, you go about doing whatever you like, while keeping your laborers hard at work. Your fasts lead to quarreling and fighting, to lashing out with violent blows. On a day like today, fasting like yours will not make your voice heard on high. Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself? Is the object to hang your head like a reed and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself? Is this what you call a fast, a day that pleases ADONAI? Here is the sort of fast I want - releasing those unjustly bound, untying the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, sharing your food with the hungry, taking the homeless poor into your house, clothing the naked when you see them, fulfilling your duty to your kinsmen! Then your light will burst forth like the morning, your new skin will quickly grow over your wound; your righteousness will precede you, and ADONAI's glory will follow you.

The theme and purpose of Yom Kippur is repentance, and the above Scripture eschews any fast (including the Yom Kippur fast) that does not include it. We are familiar with the discomfort of not eating, so fasting might seem to be the primary and most logical way that God wants us to afflict our souls on Yom Kippur. Consider, however, how much more our souls are afflicted by our having to face the reality of our sins and repent, often with confession and restitution. Although afflicting our souls is called for, what is really sought from us is not discomfort but repentance.

Observance of Yom Kippur as a Shabbat and time for personal repentance is mandatory for Jews and K'rov Yisrael Gentiles, and recommended for other Gentile followers of Yeshua as well. Not only is repentance important for us personally, but it is necessary if we are to fulfill the priestly responsibilities that God has given to each of us. According to Exodus 19:6, Israel has been made into a kingdom of priests (albeit not all of Israel are Levitical priests) and, according to 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:10, all New Covenant believers have become priests as well. This "priesthood of believers" is not for the purpose of sacrificing animals in an earthly temple, but for serving Yeshua who, as High Priest, entered the heavenly "Holy Place" by means of His own blood sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-12). So whether we are Jews or Gentiles, all disciples of Yeshua carry priestly responsibilities for which spiritual cleansing through repentance is a prerequisite.

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch express their respective mitzvot as our having to fast on Yom Kippur. They deduce this from the above Scriptures which they understand to be saying "We must afflict our souls". This Mitzvah #D13 agrees with them on that latter point, but does not agree that afflicting the soul necessarily equates to fasting. Maimonides and HaChinuch state that on Yom Kippur, in addition to resting and fasting, we must refrain from all activities that care for the body; this includes washing, applying oil to the skin, and marital relations. Maimonides and HaChinuch also state that we are not to wear shoes, but Meir limits this to not wearing shoes made of leather. The commentators do not connect "afflicting the soul" with "repentance" and, in fact, do not discuss repentance with any depth at all.


Return to main index