On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, we step away from the worldly and try to touch the Divine. Time is spent in prayer, reflection, fasting and repentance. One of the intriguing customs of the day is to dress in white. Many also have the tradition of wearing a kittel, a simple, white, unadorned robe, during services.
In ancient times, the highlight of the service on Yom Kippur in Jerusalem’s Holy Temple was the Kohen Gadol, the high priest, entering into the Holy of Holies1. He would wear a simple white garment and pray for all. The white garments represent the ministering angels who serve G-d with pure spirit.
Angels exist in a spiritual dimension, a place of sanctity and holiness, where good and evil do not struggle, where the Divine is open and revealed. On Yom Kippur we seek to disconnect ourselves from the mundane world. For a brief moment in time we aspire to become more spiritual, more refined, more G-dly, more attuned with the dimension of angels then that of man.
We live in a physical world where G-dliness is hidden. The daily headlines—war, turmoil, jealous battles over business and politics, ego and self-centeredness—remind us of the fragilities of man. This is what is open and revealed. Hidden beneath the surface is a spiritual dimension, one where sanctity prevails, and where the Divine and goodness are dominant.
The mission of a Jew is to reveal the inner good, the spiritual in the world. To imbue life with purpose and meaning. To create in what Jewish mysticism calls the “lower worlds” the physical dimension that we occupy every day, “a dwelling place for G-d.” The greatest struggle we all face in life is the daily one with ourselves. The battle to choose good over bad, altruism over self-centeredness, purpose over the pursuit of pleasure. It is a battle that never ends. Daily we have to make dozens, if not hundreds of choices. Each time we need to ask ourselves if the decision we are making measures up to the lofty ideals as taught in the Torah, the blueprint for human existence
One day a year we transcend that physical limitation. We fast, pray and meditate. We remind ourselves that by dressing in white, we are a bit like angels. That every human possesses a divine core, a G-dly essence. The innate spirituality gives us the capability to triumph over the hardships and challenges of life with meaning and purpose. A
1. During the time of the First Temple the Holy of Holies contained the pieces of the first tablets of the Ten Commandments, shattered by Moses after the sin of the golden calf, the second complete set, a Torah scroll written by Moses and manna that had fallen from heaven. These items were hidden before the destruction of the first Temple in 425 BCE. Many think they are embedded in hidden caverns in the Temple mount in Jerusalem.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is rabbi at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.