Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur

For the week ending 16 September 2017 / 25 Elul 5777

Confession, Teshuva & Kapparot

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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In these days we have neither the Beit Hamikdash nor an altar to atone for our sins — all we have is teshuva, repentance.

Teshuva atones for all sins, even for someone who was wicked his entire life. If he does teshuva even at the end of his lifetime, none of his sins will be counted, as it is written: “The wickedness (i.e. sins) of the wicked will not cause him to stumble on the day he repents.” (Ezekiel 33:22)

The day of Yom Kippur also contains within it the power to atone for sins when a person repents, as it is written (Vayikra 17:30): “For on this day (Yom Kippur) He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins, before G-d shall you be cleansed.” (Laws of Repentance 1:3)

The seventy-third command is to confess one’s sins and transgressions to G-d when repenting.

One should say, “Please G-d, I have sinned inadvertently and wilfully. I committed such-and-such (specify the transgressions you can remember). I am regretful and embarrassed by my actions and will never repeat such behavior.” Afterwards ask to be forgiven (Based on Sefer Hamitzvot 73; Rambam, Laws of Repentance 1:1). The above ruling is based on the verse, “Speak to the Children of Israel: A man or woman who commits any of man's sins, by committing treachery towards G-d... They shall confess their sin that they committed.” (Bamidbar 5:6-7)

The Custom of “Kapparot”

Regarding the custom to perform the practice of kapparot on the day preceding Yom Kippur, which is to ritually slaughter a male chicken for all males and to recite verses over it, one should refrain from this custom. Rema: It is the custom to give the chickens to the poor. (Shulchan Aruch 605:1)

The Beit Yosef writes that the Ramban and Rashba forbid the practice of this custom because of “Darkei Emori”, a prohibition against following idolatrous customs. The Rema writes in his notes to this ruling that, nevertheless, this custom is recorded by the Geonim and many Rishonim and it has become an established custom that one should follow.

It is well known that Ashkenazic Jewry follow the rulings of the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, while Sefardim follow the Mechaber, Rabbi Yosef Karo. However, the Kaf Hachaim writes that in this case the Sefardim also practice the custom. The reason is most likely because the Arizal was very careful to perform this custom, explaining its deep Kabbalastic reasons in Sha’ar Hakavanot.

If kapparot is in fact practiced with a chicken, it is the widespread custom to give it immediately to a poor family for eating before the Yom Kippur fast. If done with money instead, the money is given to the poor in order to buy food.

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