Prayers said on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year

By Rabbi Benzion Scheinfeld

An Exploration of the Nature of the Kedushat Hayom of Yom Kippur

For most of my life I have been under the impression that Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. Its powerful holiness was suggested by the Torah referring to it as Shabbat Shabbaton (Vayikra16:31, 23:32).This designation seem to imply that although a regular Shabbos (Bereishis) was holy, Yom Kippur was in fact, the “Shabbos of All Shabbatot”! The holiest Shabbos of all.

This designation instilled in me the feeling, both emotionally and halachically, that Yom Kippur was tapping into and even magnifying the kedushah of Shabbos Kodesh and therefore merited the designation of Shabbat Shabbaton. But a number of things always bothered me about this designation.

Firstly it was clear from the Gemara in Megillah that the number of aliyot mandated for a particular day was a reflection of its holiness. And if Yom Kippur was the holiest Shabbos of all, then why did Yom Kippur only have 6 aliyot while Shabbos has 7?

I was also bothered by a more fundamental issue. As the Gemara in Berachot (49A) demonstrates, the source and the very nature of Kedushat Hamoadim and Kedushat Shabbos are vastly different. The Gemara explains that we are not allowed to end the berachah of the Shabbos Amidah, “Barach ata Hashem Mekadesh Hashabat Ve’Yisrael,” because the kedushah of Shabbos and the kedushah of Am Yisrael are two different themes, and you can’t end a berachah with two themes. On yom tov however, we are allowed to (and required to) end the berachah, Mekadesh Yisrael Vehazmanim because the berachah of Moadim is a reflection of Kedushat Yisrael and an extension of it. Were it not for Hashem vesting Klal Yisrael with Kedushat Yisrael there would be no Kedushat Yom Tov.

This Gemara makes halachically clear the fact that Yomim Tovim, are only holy and only exist because of Bechiras Am Yisrael. By contrast Shabbos, was Kadosh chronologically and logically, before Bechirat Am Yisrael and would exist and does exist even without Kedushat Yisrael. The berachah of Yom Kippur Amidah, Mekadesh Yisrael Veyom Hakippurim, clearly puts Yom Kippur into the yom tov category. Letting us know that it is a day that only reflects Kedushat Am Yisrael but does not have any independent kedushah. So if Yom Kippur, was indeed, Shabbat Shabbaton, the most intense of all the Shabbatot, how could it not have any independent berachah? If Shabbos Bereishis has independent kedushah, then certainly the holiest and most intense of all Shabbatot must have independent kedushah?

Other related questions bothered me. If Yom Kippur is a way of channeling Shabbos Bereishis, why don’t we sing Lecha Dodi and greet the Shabbos Queen on this day, the holiest of Shabbatot? I knew intuitively that we were not greeting the Shabbos Queen on Yom Kippur? And yet I couldn’t figure out why we weren’t if Yom Kippur was in fact the “Shabbat Shabaton”?

The True Meaning of Shabbat Shabaton

To answer these questions we need to determine the true meaning and connotation of the term, Shabbat Shabbaton. In particular, one may ask, is the term “Shabbos” in the phrase “Shabbat Shabbaton” actually referring to Shabbos Bereishit (and by extension, designating Yom Kippur as a Shabbos or even as ‘the Shabbos of All Shabboses) or is it just a term denoting “a complete cessation of activity” but not really referencing any particular day.

To answer this question, we must see where else the Torah uses the term Shabbat Shabbaton. It turns out that the Torah uses it in 3 different contexts.

1) Yom Kippur: 2 times (Emor, Acharei Mos)

2) Shabbos Bereshis: 3 times (Ki Sisa, Vayakehel, Emor [see Pesukim below])

3) Shemittah: 1 time (Behar [see pesukim below])

There are a number of conclusions one can clearly and definitively draw from the use of “Shabbat Shabbaton” in these contexts.

A. The term “Shabbat Shabbaton” used by Yom Kippur does not and cannot mean “the Shabbos of all Shabboses” (i.e. the most special Shabbos of all). For the term is used to describe the day and the shevisa of a “regular” Shabbos Bereishis three different times.

B. The term as it is used in all of the pesukim (Yom Kippur, Shabbos Bereshit, Shemittah) does not give a name to a day at all. Rather, it simply describes the type of rest (shevisa) that is required. (This usage is most clearly seen by the fact that the term is used to describe the rest of the land during Shemittah and not the name of the year. The same is true for each of the contexts.)

The Illuminating And Revolutionary Insight Of The Ibn Ezra

Having determined that in fact the Torah does not call Yom Kippur a Shabbos and that the designation “Shabbat Shabbaton” is simply a description of the level of “Shevisa,” we can begin to appreciate the fabulous insight of the Ibn Ezra.

The Ibn Ezra (Vayikra 23:32) points out that whenever the term Shabbat Shabbaton appears with regards to Shabbat Bereishis it always is followed by the word LaHashem. In contrast, whenever the term appears in context of Yom Kippur, it is followed by the term lachem.

Here are the words of the Ibn Ezra:

This brief insight of the Ibn Ezra is of fundamental importance. It highlights the vastly different nature and motivation of the complete cessation of work (Shabbat Shabbaton) that is required for Shabbos (Bereishis) and for Yom Kippur.

With regard to Shabbos, the phrase the Torah uses is

Framing the “Shabbat Shabbaton” as something that is for Hashem actually has a double meaning. The secondary meaning is that we are observing Shabbos as a day dedicated to Hashem. The primary meaning is that Hashem is the “person” who is “totally ceasing activity.” Shabbos Bereishis is a day where Hashem stopped creating and had a Shabbat Shabbaton. To acknowledge and perhaps mirror Hashem’s “Shabbat Shabbaton,” we are commanded not to do melachah. The purpose of Bnei Adam not doing melachah on Shabbat is not at its source focused on creating a Shabbat Shabbaton for us, but is rather to make sure we are aware that Hashem experienced a Shabbat Shabbaton on the seventh day when he created the world (Shabbos Bereishis). The motivation of the Issur Melachah on Shabbos is to acknowledge Hashem’s Shevisa, not to create a Shevisa for humankind.

On Yom Kippur however the motivation and focus of Shabbat Shabbaton is not at all reflecting something Hashem did. Hashem did not “Kavyachol” rest or experience any Shabbat Shabbaton on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is only a holiday relevant to the Jewish people and not part of the creation fabric that would show up on the “divine only” calendar. The mitzvah to refrain from melachah on Yom Kippur is so that we, Am Yisrael, human beings, can and must experience a Shabbat Shabbaton. This is a humanly focused and defined Shabbat Shabbaton and it is us and only us who are connected to this Shevisa, not Hashem. (See the Rambam in Hilchot Shevisas Hasor Perek 1:Halacha 4 who says that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur is also called “Shevisa”! The Rambam seems to be suggesting that a human Shabbat Shabbaton goes beyond simply refraining from melachah.)

The Unique Obligation, Opportunity, And Power Of Yom Kippur

As first glance accepting this reality, that Yom Kippur is not the “Shabbos of All Shabbatot” was a bit deflating. The splendor, the glory of a “Shabbat Shabbaton,” a Shabbos to sit atop all Shabbatot, sounds so powerful and so holy. And the realization that this was not really what the Torah meant, felt disappointing.

Bit upon reflection, there is no need for this disappointment. For although the term “Shabbat Shabbaton” in not unique to Yom Kippur the term Shabbat Shabbaton lachem is! Although we are not being asked to experience, channel or mirror the divine splendor of Shabbos Bereisheit, we are is a certain sense asked to go way beyond that. We are being asked to create a Shabbat Shabbaton of our own. Creating a human “Shabbat Shabbaton,” a day where we disengage from Olam Hazeh, requires much more disengagement (5 Innuyim) than what is required from us on Shabbat Bereishis. For the experience is our own.

Hashem gave us this amazingly special day, once a year, to step away from our normal existence and go to a much deeper place in our own hearts and minds. That is the unique avodah of Yom Kippur. It is the only day of the year where we must actually experience a human “Shabbat Shabbaton” with the goal of realigning our relationship to Olam Hazeh and thereby transforming our relationship with Hashem. And in that light, perhaps Yom Kippur is the most relevant and powerful “Shabbat Shabaton” of all.

May we be zocheh this Yom Kippur to feel the closeness and grace of Hashem through our experience of Shabbat Shabbaton.

Gmar Chasima Tovah.


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