On Yom Kippur, we are forgiven and purified from all of our sins, as the verse states, “Ki ba’yom hazeh yechaper aleichem l’taher eschem m’ kol chatoseichem lifnei A-donai titharu/For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to purify you. Before G-d you shall be purified from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). How is this complete forgiveness & purification accomplished? The secret is revealed in the second segment of the verse, “lifnei A-donai titharu/Before G-d you shall be purified.” Let us understand the powerful mystic secret hidden in these words.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, and it is said that on this day one’s slate is swept clean. Whatever sins one committed in the past are now absolved, as the verse indicates, “you shall be purified from all your sins.” How does this cleansing happen, and what does it truly mean? On the simple level, it indicates that all of the acts that we have performed throughout the past year which have offended G-d will now be expunged from our record. We beg forgiveness, and in His great mercy, G-d grants it.
Yet on a deeper level, the mystics explain that since G-d is infinite, He is not truly offended or affected by our deeds, as the verse from Job states, “im chatasa mah tifal bo/if you sinned, what effect do you have on Him” (Job 35:6). Sin, the chassidic masters teach, affects us rather than Hashem. It creates the layers of crust and obstruction that separate between us and our ability to see and connect to G-d, as Isaiah states, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d,” (Isaiah 59:2). “Teshuvah” is therefore the process through which we remove the obstruction. “Atonement” is, as its name indicates, “at one-ment” – the reunification that we experience when the walls and veils that divide us are removed.
In such a light, we are now capable of understanding how this reconciliation and reconnection is accomplished. The verse from Leviticus itself tells us explicitly with its wording “lifnei A-donai titharu.” This phrase is translated as “before A-donai you will be purified.” On the simple level, “lifnei/before” means “in the presence of,” and the verse is understood to say that we will be purified as we stand in G-d’s presence. However, “lifnei” means not just “before” as in “in the presence of,” but also “before” as in “prior to” or “preceding.” Understood in this sense, we find that the key to our purification is accessing a level that is “lifnei A-donai/higher than A-donai.” What does this mean?
Because G-d has created an orderly world of structure and law, we are subject to the rules of that order. When we transgress the laws, we are blemished, according to the rules of that system. But because of His love for us, G-d gives us the ability and opportunity to be purified by going beyond the limits of the system. He does not want us to be blemished or punished, and therefore, He allows us to reach “lifnei A-donai/ higher than A-donai” so that we can then be “titharu/purified.” What is it that exists “lifnei A-donai”? It is a realm of ultimate unity where there are no distinctions, no right or wrong, no good and evil. There are no rules at this level and no transgression. There is no order or structure. There is only G-dliness. When we access this level, every blemish simply dissolves.
To go one step further, “lifnei” also literally means “to the face.” It is understood as “before” or “in the presence of” because it means “facing” something or being in front of its face. Taken at its literal level, we can render the phrase “lifnei A-donai” as “to the face of G-d.” We can thus understand the concept of “lifnei A-donai titharu” to mean that we become purified when we reach the place or level of G-d’s face. When we find the “Pnei Hashem/Face of G-d,” we are completely cleansed of any and all blemish in its presence. How does this work, and why is this so? Because the “Pnei Hashem” is found within our “pnimyus,” our innermost core. Therefore when we reach that level, when we penetrate to our deepest essence, we become aware that we are nothing other than G-dliness. The level that is “beyond A-donai” is not somewhere outside of us and outside of this world, but rather it is the face of G-d that is embedded deep within each of us. When we peel off the many garments that cover our core, we are able to delve inward and arrive “lifnei A-donai.” This then transports us far beyond all of the hiddenness, limitation, and impurity of this world.
This is the divine space to which G-d teleports us on Yom Kippur. When we access this infinite realm that is even higher than the name A-donai, there is complete forgiveness and purification because there is nothing other. We have achieved the “kapara/at-onement” for which the day is named, and we are able to begin again with a clean slate and a renewed sense of our G-dly essence.