Yom Kippur: From Einstein to Elijah

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For observant Jews, there is no day in the calendar more solemn than Yom Kippur – a day we believe all our sins are forgiven. See how Einstein the Physicist and Elijah the Prophet both offer us insight into this auspicious day.

“And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before Adonai. It is a sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; it is a statute for ever.” – Leviticus [Vayikra] 16:29-31.

Following an introspective Rosh HaShanah, this year’s High Holy Days have proven to be more solemn than years gone by. Yom Kippur 5781 fast approaches with no semblance of what the future holds, whether together or alone, millions of Jews worldwide will recite the Kol Nidrei prayer – part of which reads:

“And all the congregation of the children of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; for in respect of all the people it was done in error.” – Numbers (Bamidbar) 15:26.

Einstein Discovers Yom Kippur?

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Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the year in Judaism as it is known as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths” (Shabbat Shabbaton).

Judaism teaches us the holiest location in the world is the Temple Mount (Beit HaMikdash). While the holiest place within the Temple Mount is the Holy of Holies (Kodesh Kodeshim). As such, the High Priest (Kohen HaGadol) is only permitted to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

According to Jewish oral tradition (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:1), the Sages (Chazal) prescribed five additional prohibitions to this day relating to bodily satisfaction: no eating or drinking, no wearing of leather shoes, no bathing or washing, no anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions, and no marital relations.

Reasons for these five prohibitions include the soul being known by five names (soul [nefesh], wind [ruach], spirit [neshama], living one [chaya], and unique one [yechida]), the High Priest immersing himself in a ritual bath (mikveh) five times on Yom Kippur, and the word “soul” appearing five times in the Yom Kippur section of the Torah. Additionally, five prayers are uttered on Yom Kippur (Maariv, Shacharit, Mussaf, Minchah, and Neilah), as opposed to the three on regular days (sans Mussaf and Neilah), or four on sabbaths and festivals (sans Neilah).

Physicists have long held the belief that a fundamental, encompassing theory of matter, space, and time must be present for the universe to exist. To summarize Albert Einstein –  ‘“Space-time instructs matter’s movements; while matter instructs space-time curvature.”

If we apply Einstein’s space-time theory to Yom Kippur the following can be deduced:

  • Yom Kippur is the holiest point in time as it is the holiest day of the year.
  • The Holy of Holies is the holiest space in the universe as only the High Priest is permitted to enter, that too on Yom Kippur only.
  • The nation of Israel is the holiest matter in the universe – more so on Yom Kippur than any other day in the calendar.

Thus, the day of Yom Kippur (time), and the place of the Holy of Holies (space) instructs every Jews’ (matter) movement – or better put, direction. While a Jew (matter) is what defines Yom Kippur (time) and the Holy of Holies’ (space) existential curvature – the bending of reality itself.

Torah tells us the chamber of the Holy of Holies measured twenty cubits by twenty cubits. The Ark of the Covenant (Aron HaBrit) placed in the center, measured two and a half by one and a half cubits. We also learn that from the southern wall of the chamber to the adjacent side of the ark it measured ten cubits. The same exact measurement was taken on the north side of the chamber also. This means the ark itself took no space as it created a rip in the fabric of the space-time continuum – the finite within the infinite.

Perhaps then the events of every Yom Kippur possess the ability to alter the space-time continuum of the universe itself.

2 Messiahs in 1 Day

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Looking at the ceremonial aspect of Yom Kippur, it is visually striking in how it symbolizes the coming Redemption (Geu’ula), particularly in regard to the two goats:

“And he shall take the two goats, and set them before Adonai at the door of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for Adonai, and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for Adonai, and offer him for a sin-offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before Adonai, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness.” – Leviticus [Vayikra] 16:8-10.

Each of the two goats represents Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. The goat whose lot falls for Azazel symbolizes Mashiach ben Yosef, while the goat whose lot falls for HaShem symbolizes Mashiach ben David.

“And when he hath made an end of atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting, and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land which is cut off; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” – Leviticus [Vayikra] 16:20-22.

As is vividly described in the Mishnah tractate Yoma, the Azazel was sent to the wilderness and led by a man who pushed the goat off the Mount Azazel cliffs.

At the base of this cliff lay a valley of rocks. The Hebrew word for valley is “Emek” (“עֶמֶק”) which is the root word for “Amalek” (“עֲמָלֵק‎”). “Amalek” in turn means “valley dweller”.

“And he said: ‘The hand upon the throne of Adonai: Adonai will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’” – Exodus (Shemot) 17:16.

Amalek is noted as the eternal enemy of Israel. The nature of Amalek is such that they know HaShem yet intentionally rebel. In fact, the numerical value of “Amalek” (“עמלק”) is the same as the Hebrew word for “doubt” (”ספק”). The role of Mashiach ben Yosef is to combat evil by obliterating the nation of Amalek (timcheh et zecher Amalek), thereby removing doubt and restoring faith (emuna) in HaShem.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod [שִׁבְטְ] and Thy staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm (Tehillim) 23:4.

The word used for “valley” here is “גַיא” but essentially means the same as “עֶמֶק”. So if we interpret the meaning of “valley” to be a veiled reference to Amalek, we could see Mashiach ben Yosef’s role is to “walk through the Amalekites”. The assurance being the “rod” and the “staff” comforting him.

The “rod” in particular here is perhaps a reference to Jacob’s (Ya’akov’s) blessing to Judah (Yehudah) in Genesis (Beresheet):

“The scepter [שֵׁבֶט] shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, as long as men come to Shiloh.” – Genesis (Beresheet) 49:10.

Jacob foresees Judah’s lineage bearing Israel’s kingship and future Mashiach as can be seen by the usage of the identical word “שִׁבְטְ” (rod, scepter) in both passages. Furthermore, the letters of “יבא שילה” (“come to Shiloh”) in the passage of the blessing are numerically equivalent to the letters of “משיח” (Mashiach).

Therefore, the symbolism of the comforting rod/scepter for Mashiach ben Yosef is Mashiach ben David who will “finish” the job Mashiach ben Yosef started.

“Then shall he kill the goat of the sin-offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with his blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the ark-cover, and before the ark-cover.” – Leviticus [Vayikra] 16:15.

The role of Mashiach ben David is to draw down spirituality. The goat for HaShem made recompense for the sins of the High Priests (Kohanim) who were the ones responsible for performing the physical ceremonial actions as part of their higher spiritual service inside the Temple. So too Mashiach ben David’s role will be to draw down spirituality to illuminate our material world.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings, that announceth peace, the harbinger of good tidings, that announceth salvation; that saith unto Zion: ‘Thy Elohim reigneth!’” – Isaiah [Yeshayahu] 52:7.

The polar opposite of an evil one who dwells in a mundane valley (i.e., Amalek) is a righteous one who regularly ascends a holy mountain (i.e., Israel).

There is no place that is spiritually – and one day physically (as per Isaiah [Yeshayahu] 2:2 and Micah [Michah] 4:1) – higher than Mount Moriah, the place of the Temple Mount. Logically then, the Temple Mount is where atonement must be made for the nation of Israel en masse.

Hey There Elijah!

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According to tradition, the second set of tablets were given to Moses (Moshe) on Yom Kippur which was precisely 80 days after the sin of the Golden Calf (Chet HaEgel) on the 17th of Tammuz. This event arguably marked Yom Kippur as the designated day of forgiveness.

When the children of Israel received the Ten Commandments (Aseret HaDibrot) the first time, it could be said that HaShem spoke to them vociferously:

“And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off.” – Exodus (Shemot) 20:14.

Whereas, with Elijah the prophet (Eliyahu HaNavi), we read HaShem spoke to him quietly:

“And He said: ‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before Adonai.’ And, behold, Adonai passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Adonai; but Adonai was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but Adonai was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but Adonai was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” – 1 Kings [Melachim Aleph] 19:11-12.

This event occurs soon after HaShem’s consuming fire on Mount Carmel which leads to the execution of the idol-worshipping prophets of Ba’al. It is noted how the Israelites who witness HaShem’s miracle fall on their faces and declare:

“’Adonai, He is Elohim; Adonai, He is Elohim.’” – 1 Kings [Melachim Aleph] 18:39.

Interestingly, this very statement is said seven times at the conclusion of every year’s final Yom Kippur service and acts as our commitment to monotheism.

Why did HaShem speak so loudly to the children of Israel yet so softly to Elijah?

When someone is far from you, you need to speak to them “loud and clear” in order for your most authoritative message to be heard. However, when someone is near to you, you may merely whisper to them your deepest secrets which they will fully comprehend. In rarer cases, even words become unnecessary as silence itself signifies intimacy. Elijah was close to HaShem after a lifetime of walking with Him, while the children of Israel at the time were only beginning to accept the Torah and therefore far from actualizing their full potential.

This year, we find ourselves detached from one another due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than pray loudly shoulder to shoulder in houses of Torah, on Yom Kippur 5781 our homes act as heart to heart houses of silent devotion to our Creator. May it be as a good sign to us as it was to Elijah the prophet.

“Yom Kippur atones for those who repent and does not atone for those who do not repent”. – Yoma 85b.

The question is simple: are you inside reality or outside spirituality?

About the Author
Jude Aravind Abraham is a Jewish convert from Christianity. Born in Sri Lanka. Raised in New Zealand. Living in Eretz Yisrael. An idealist by fate and an optimist by choice, Jude looks at every action, inaction, and reaction as part of a master plan. His greatest love is his Israeli wife, while his greatest accomplishment is his entertaining children. Plying his trade as a copywriter, to him every experience is simply another colorful page in life's unexpected journey.
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