Yom Kippur Q&A

October 1, 2014 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple asks the questions…and answers them.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. In “Avinu Malkenu”, why does “Avinu” (“Our Father”) precede “Malkenu” (“Our King”)?

A. Before answering you in detail let me register an objection to the wish of some people to replace “Our Father” with “Our Parent” and “Our King” with “Our Ruler”. These are classical phrases from a classical text and we have as little right to tamper with them as to change Shakespeare’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” or “Hath not a Jew hands?”

That being said, God is both Father (warm, close, loving) and King (high, mighty, impartial). A child feels the warmth of a mother and father long before they grasp the concept of a king who is outside the family and not necessarily so warm and loving.

On the Yamim Nora’im we have two options – either to rely on the strict justice of the King or to fall on the mercy of the Father. The King might say, “You do not deserve a favourable verdict!” The Father however will say, “You probably deserve punishment, but because I love you My mercy will push aside My justice”.

Talmud B’rachot says, “Even God prays. What is His prayer? ‘May it be My will that My compassion may overwhelm My demand for strict justice’.”


Q. In the Book of Jonah, why do the sailors ask Jonah what his occupation is?

A. The sailors feel that Jonah may have brought shame upon himself and calamity upon the ship because of some transgression connected with his occupation.

Rashi says that Jonah may have been negligent in his work, whatever his occupation. Radak suggests that Jonah may be engaged in an occupation that operates on deceit and fraud.

Metzudat David urges Jonah to repent before it is too late: “If your sin concerns unjust monetary gain, return it to the person you cheated”.


Q. Why do some people stand all day on Yom Kippur, at least during Ne’ilah?

A. The practice of standing is recorded in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 619:5). An explanation in the Midrash says that destructive forces have no power over the people of Israel as long as they stand up against them, almost like Amalek being unable to conquer Israel while Moses was standing with his arms supported by Aaron and Hur.

Standing for lengthy periods is difficult but on Yom Kippur, when we are angel-like in that we need no physical or material comforts, we do not feel the hardship. Those who are unable to stand all day make an attempt to remain on their feet at least for the duration of Ne’ilah.

The Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayyim 623) points out that Ne’ilah requires an extra effort at concentration and holiness since this is when the Heavenly verdict is sealed and we dare not slacken in our penitence and prayer.


Q. Why is the final service on Yom Kippur called Ne’ilah?

A. The word means “closing”. The full name is “Ne’ilat She’arim”, “the closing of the gates” (Mishnah Ta’anit chapter 4).

The Talmudic rabbis differed as to the identification of the gates. According to Rav, it was the gates of the day: a metaphorical use of the term. Rabbi Yochanan understood the name more literally as the closing of the Temple gates at the end of each day.

Other sources, however, point out that the gates of prayer are never closed, and even when the gates of prayer seem closed, the gates of tears are always open.


Q. Does the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur come from the Torah?

A. No. Nor does the shofar during the month of Ellul. But the shofar that ends Yom Kippur links up with Torah verses. Lev. 25:8 says, “On the tenth day of the seventh month you shall make a proclamation with the ram’s horn”.

This proclamation is the announcement of the jubilee year, when slaves are set free and debts are rescinded. The spiritual link with Yom Kippur is that after an intense period of confession and resolve, we are set free from our sins and the traces of our unfulfilled obligations are eradicated.

It should also be noted that in Num. 10:1-10 the shofar is the signal for battle. This too has its symbolic link with Yom Kippur. It carries us into another dimension. The past is effaced with all its stains; the future is opened before us, with our commitment to fight for God and His will for His world throughout the year ahead.

Another view recalls the promise that the shofar will herald the coming of the messianic redemption, and hence provides a link with the custom in many congregations of ending Yom Kippur with the shout, “L’shanah Haba’ah BiY’rushalayim” – “Next Year in Jerusalem!” These words, customary also at the conclusion of the Seder on Pesach, express the fervent hope that ours will be the generation to see Jerusalem enshrined as the spiritual focus of mankind.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregations. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

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