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What Yom Kippur Does NOT Atone For

What Yom Kippur Does NOT Atone For

Pick up the phone and call that person you haven’t been speaking to.


Yom Kippur, with all its holiness and awesomeness, will atone for most of our sins, but not all. There are many sins that Yom Kippur won’t touch. Those are the sins that are between a person and his fellow man. Sins like gossip, slander, biting criticism, humiliation… you get the idea.

All of the effort you will put into your Yom Kippur repentance won’t erase the gossip.

All the tears and fasting won’t wipe out the hurtful words.

All the agonizing hours spent in shul pouring out your heart to God won’t alleviate the damage done to another’s feelings.

Atonement for these sins can only be gained by requesting forgiveness from those we have hurt.

Atonement for these sins can only be gained by requesting forgiveness from those we have hurt. The reason is simple yet fundamental. We must understand that part of our relationship with God is the relationship between ourselves and our fellow Jews. The two are inseparable. The Torah doesn’t allow for the railroading and trampling of individuals, notwithstanding any so called lofty goals.

The Talmud tells us that one of the questions the Angel of Death asks at the moment of death is, “Did you treat your friend royally?” He doesn’t use the terminology, “Did you allow your friend to co-exist with you.” No, he uses the words “treat your friend royally.” This is because we are all princes and princesses in God’s royal family and deserve to be treated as such.

Time to Get Over It

The following true story brings the lesson of Yom Kippur home in a most poignant way.

Shmulik was having a lousy morning. He just had a heated argument with his wife which he concluded by walking out and slamming the door of his home in one of small Israeli towns in the "West Bank." Rivka, his wife, was visibly hurt and pained.

Fifteen minutes later the phone rang. “Hi Rivka, its Shmulik. I’m heading into the tunnel and I just wanted to say that I love you and I’m so sorry for what happened before.”

Why the sudden change of face?

In years past there have been numerous sniper attacks in or around the tunnel Shmulik was referring to. People started calling it the “Tunnel of Love” because when you enter the dreaded tunnel, you realize what's really important in life. It suddenly dawns upon you that there really isn’t anything worth fighting over. Your fervent wish is to make it out alive and see your loved ones again, because after all is said and done nothing matters more than your relationships with the people in your life.

Yom Kippur is a tunnel of sorts. At this riveting moment we are begging and cajoling God for the gift of life and all its necessities. In return we promise to start making things right.

Well here’s one place you can start.

Pick up the phone and call that person that you haven’t been on speaking terms with. Ask forgiveness from those you have hurt and offended. Make up with your neighbor, ex-business associate or old classmate. Tell your mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, kids or in-laws how much you love them and care about them. Because after all is said and done other things don’t matter much.

If you are reading this on Yom Kippur and don’t have the opportunity to call and ask forgiveness, then read Tefillas Zaakah prayer at the beginning of the Yom Kippur machzor.

Forgive with a full heart those who have mistreated you. Promise to call them after Yom Kippur to personally ask for forgiveness and have them in mind in your prayers.

May we all be blessed with the best year of our lives!

September 12, 2010

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 11

(10) Anonymous, September 22, 2015 1:44 AM


My husband refuses to forgive my daughter who wronged him in the worst possible of ways I agree. She. Can never repay him how can I ever get him to forgive her?

(9) Anonymous, September 17, 2015 5:35 PM

Wronged by an employer

What to do in the case where I was egregiously wronged by an employer and treated horribly by the institution? The person who engineered this wrong was never contrite, not even when it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was definitely wrong and clearly mistaken. The article says,

" Forgive with a full heart those who have mistreated you. Promise to call them after Yom Kippur to personally ask for forgiveness and have them in mind in your prayers." - why should I call them to ask for forgiveness when they were clearly ethically and morally wrong in this situation and caused me both personal and professional harm and malice?

This person who engineered this entire episode is not Jewish but his wife is, and they are raising their kids with Jewish traditions. This man's wife definitely knows what he did. Should I contact her to remind her of his wrongdoing?

(8) Lyone, September 28, 2014 7:43 PM

Thank you for reposting

This article never loses its relevance. Thank you for reposting it every year.

This concept of needing forgiveness from other people is one of the most important differences between Judaism and the other two major Abrahamic traditions. And I believe the other posters are correct: once you have asked for forgiveness from someone else and they have refused, it is then between that person and Hashem. God will forgive you.

(7) Anonymous, September 18, 2010 6:39 PM

after 3 tries at teshuvah

i've read if you have unsuccessfully tried many times to make up and the other refuses, that it is then between them and hashem. As for the religious person who doesn't walk the talk-shame on them .pointing jit out probably won'tmake a difference. Again, their kfatte is up kto one abovee.

(6) Jeff Gerstl, September 18, 2010 6:28 AM

I also concur and question this statement

I am reading and writing this on Erev Yom Kippur. I had a close friend (opposite sex) who was also Jewish and lived a couple of hours away from me. After I got married my full attention turned to my wife and this friend could not understand this apparently. I missed her birthday two years in a row and she was very hurt by this, even when I apologized. The second year she informed me with a couple of days notice that she would be visiting my city and wanted to spend some time with me and my wife. Unfortunately, we had plans with other friends. I invited her to join us but she said she would just feel like a fifth wheel which I could understand. An hour later she phoned me and informed me that after seven years of a very close friendship that she no longer felt she could stay friends with me. I was very hurt by this. I tried to reach out to her at that Yom Kippur and she rebuked my effort. I later found out she got married and she is still in the same city. She friended me on MySpace and Facebook so I felt there was hope. This year when my company was looking for a service that she provides, I contacted her to give her the business. She wrote back saying she was not interested in renewing any kind of friendship and the past was the past. It has been 12 years. She signed my ketubah so I will always be reminded of her for the rest of my life and she had been such a great friend. Needless to say I am still hurt, and every Yom Kippur I am reminded of this. As she will not accept my signs of asking for forgiveness, I feel that the statute of limitations has most likely run its course; I tried and she did not respond. I think G-d understands and I have suffered enough without her friendship. Maybe someday she will reciprocate. Until then, I live with it.

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