Yom Kippur: Resting from Physicality

Yom Kippur: Resting from Physicality


Resting from our Job/Money/Appearance/ Status/Power & Revealing our True Identity.

Rav DovBer Pinson


On two separate occasions in the Torah, Yom Kippur is referred to as the Shabbos of Shabbos, the resting of rest, the being of pure being. The first time is Vayikra 16:31 where it states that, “Shabbos Shabboson Hee lachem”, “A total day of rest it (literally she) will be to you”. The second time is Vayikra 23:32 where it says, “Shabbos Shabboson Hu lachem”, “A total day of rest it (literally he) will be to you”.

We can learn from this subtle linguistic hint that there is both the feminine and the masculine quality to Yom Kippur. On a symbolic level, the feminine represents receptivity, whereas the masculine represents assertiveness. –This binary is by no means definitive or valuative, nor is it even gender based on a physical level. All men and women have varying degrees of masculine and feminine energies. The feminine reflects a passive mode of receiving (Divine Providence/Faith), whereas the masculine is the active function of giving (Freewill). On Yom Kippur there is a total melding of the two into one. On this holy day we move beyond duality and dichotomy, beyond the perceived separation of inspiration and perspiration.

On Shabbos we rest from ‘work’ in order to enjoy family, food, spirituality and intimacy. It is a special day where we are able to elevate all of our actions and experiences, even the most physical, up to the realm of the spiritual. On Shabbos the act of eating, for example, becomes a spiritual experience — it has a totally different quality than eating during the six days of the week. Externally oriented enjoyments become vehicles for spiritual experience.

But on Yom Kippur, the Shabbos of Shabbos, we take a rest from this form of rest. Yom Kippur is to Shabbos what Shabbos is to the six days of the week. This is a day when we are shov’ess, “resting”, from food, drink and any other bodily need, desire or enjoyment (Rambam). On Yom Kippur we ‘rest’ from even the ‘elevating’ or ‘sweetening’ of all of our normal ‘human activities’ — we ‘separate’ ourselves from them completely.


Overall there are five aspects, or areas of life, that we need to rest from on Yom Kippur (Mishna Yuma, 8:1).

These are known as the five types of Inu Nefesh or ‘inflictions of the spirit’, that we endure on this day. This concept of Inu Nefesh can also be understood to mean that we are ‘making ourselves poor’ on these five levels of our being, as the word Inu is related to the word A’ni or ‘poor,’. This indicates that we are diminishing, or impoverishing, our lower/surface levels of self so that we can reveal, or enrich, the deeper/higher levels of self.

The five levels of diminished (external) selfhood are;

  1. No eating or drinking
  2. No wearing leather shoes
  3. No bathing or washing
  4. No anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions
  5. No marital relations

The Maharil, R. Yaakov Levi (1365-1427), the great codifier of the European customs, writes that the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur correspond to the Five books of the Torah, the Five Senses, the five immersions of the Cohen Gadol, ‘High Priest’ on Yom Kippur and the five prayers that we pray on Yom Kippur. The five prayers of Yom Kippur are:
1) Ma’ariv — evening prayers
2) Shachris — morning prayers
3) Musaf — added prayers
4) Mincha — afternoon prayers
5) Neilah — closing prayers

The Tur, R. Yaakov Ben Rabbeinu Asher (1270-1340), correlates the five types of prohibitions on Yom Kippur to the five names or levels of the soul:

1) Nefesh — Functional Self
2) Ruach — Emotional Self
3) Neshamah — Intellectual Self
4) Chaya — Spiritual Self
5) Yechidah — Transcendent Self

Through these five prohibitions, explains the Maharal, R. Yehuda Loew (1520 –1609), we are resting from and transcending our five senses of physicality, our Gufniyus.

The Alter Rebbe, in Siddur Im Dach, writes that the five types of prohibitions correspond to the five levels of Gevuros or ‘restrictions’ of Malchus, ‘Kingdom’ or physical reality, that experience an elevation of Yom Kippur.

Let’s unpack this issue a bit further and explore these correlations on an even deeper level.

These prohibitions or ‘restings’ represent the nullification of the external factors of our lives that we tirelessly pursue and define ourselves by. For, it is only when we strip away these external aspects of self that the real Self can emerge.There are five external aspects through which a person will most likely define him or herself by, they are:

1) Job

2) Money

3) Appearance

4) Status

5) Power

The first level of resting:

1) Job —

Many people define themselves by their job or profession. We become so associated with our work that we begin to identify it not as what we do, but in fact who we are. This is indicated by the way that many people introduce themselves, ex: “Hi my name is Jacob and I am a doctor”.

2) Money —

People also tend to define themselves by how much money they have in the bank account. The more money they have in their account the more confident they feel — the less money, the less confidence, etc. Often, people who are very wealthy feel entitled to have an opinion about everything, even things unrelated to their wealth.

3) Appearance —

Another way that people define themselves is by how they look. Many people are so identified with their external appearance that they are ceaselessly striving to manipulate their image through cosmetic surgery, clothes, dieting, and other forms of grooming. This reveals that their sense of self-worth is almost entirely dependent on their external appearance.

4) Status —

People also define themselves by their naturally born status or perceived ‘birthright’. Through their ancestral lineage or progeny they may feel entitled or privileged. This can also result in the opposite, for example people may also feel disenfranchised or ‘less than’ due to their ancestry or progeny.

5) Power —

People may also define themselves by their positions of perceived power or powerlessness. That is to say that they define themselves by how much influence they have over others. This could be influence in a company, a community, a culture, etc.

When it comes to Yom Kippur we are being given the gift of ‘rest’ from these external definitions and identifications. And through these ‘restings’ we are able to find out who we truly are underneath all of these external images.

One is finally able to ask: after I have let go of my job, my money, my appearance, my status, my power — what am I left with? Who am I without all this?

Imagine a day (and that day is Yom Kippur) when you are not judging or defining yourself by your job, your bank account, your looks, your status or your power — it’s just you. Who are you?

Often, many people focus their attention and vitality, almost entirely, towards the foods they eat, the work they do, the material possessions they have, their physical intimacies, and all the more ‘external pleasures’ of life. On Yom Kippur, a person is stripped of all these externals and is left with the ultimate existential question: Ayeka? Where are You?

This Holy Day is a time to reclaim our priorities and to reaffirm what really matters in our lives.


On Yom Kippur we experience a form of ritual death. We go to the Mikvah or ‘ritual bath’ (as does a body after death), we wear a white garment (as does a body about to be buried), we do not eat or drink, we are not intimate and therefore we are not procreating, we cease all physical acts or ‘signs of life’ — we are as if dead. The act of experiencing the state of death while still alive is similar to meditation where we are able to experience a form of sleep, or the subconscious, while still awake or conscious. This paradoxical experience allows us to access levels of consciousness that are not readily available to our normative perceptions — like the inverse of a lucid dream.

These five aspects of identification correlate to the five general prohibitions on Yom Kippur:

1) Job- No Shoes
2) Money- No food
3) Appearance- No Bathing
4) Status – No Marital Relations
5) Power – No Anointing with Lotions/Oils

To further expand this idea, we will relate the five prohibitions to the five aspects of self-identification to the five senses and finally to the five levels of the soul.

1) No Leather Shoes — Job — Sense of Touch — Nefesh

The idea of not wearing leather shoes has different levels of significance. In our days, it is meant as more of a humbling effort. Leather shoes are often considered ‘dress’ shoes as opposed to casual shoes. So by not wearing leather shoes, we are refraining from ‘dressing up’ on Yom Kippur. But in its original application, at a time when most shoes were made out of leather — before the advent of synthetic materials — the intention was that a person would actually be barefoot, or closer to the earth.

The B’nei Yissaschar was known to go without shoes altogether on Yom Kippur, even though he had the option of wearing shoes crafted from other materials.

On Yom Kippur it is important that we feel and touch the ground. This is why the prohibition of not wearing (leather) shoes is connected with the sense of Touch. Shoes separate a person from the ground, but without shoes — or with simpler/thinner shoes — one is lowered, humbled, grounded and literally in-touch with the earth.

To refrain from wearing shoes also means that one is no longer dominating their physical reality. It is a symbolic act of giving up mastery over the physical.

Symbolically, shoes are a sign of mastery. When Joseph’s brothers sold him they bought shoes, demonstrating their mastery over him. A student should not put on his teachers shoes, says the Gemarah, because people may than mistake him for a slave, as he is helping his master put on his shoes, and this is an ultimate form of subservience.

So on Yom Kippur we surrender, we are resting from our (assumed) mastery over the world of Assiyah, ‘the physical reality’.

We rest as well from our sense of identity as it is connected to our “work”. We cease defining ourselves by the job we have or how talented we are in our work. We refrain from manipulating our environment and ourselves.

2) No Eating or Drinking — Money — Sense of Taste — Ruach

The prohibition against eating and drinking on Yom Kippur is related to the sense of taste, to the world of Ruach, as well as to the sense of identity that is generated by our relationship to money.

A major component of food is the taste. Yes, we eat to survive, but eating is also an immensely pleasurable activity. The same is true of money. In our world, we need money to survive, but money can also be the key to accessing a wide array of pleasures beyond the immediate needs of our survival. The link between these two states, accessing what one needs and enjoying what one wants, is a point of connection between our experience of food and money.

The difference between simply eating, and eating for taste, is enjoyment — pleasure. The world of Ruach is the spiritual world of emotions, desires and pleasure.

Throughout the year we are into our pleasures, we chase after our desires. And we define ourselves by our ability to satisfy those desires. This primarily comes about through our access to money. We pursue not only what is good for us, but also what appears to be pleasurable.

On Yom Kippur we are fasting completely from all food, whether tasty or bland. We remove ourselves completely not just from pleasure, but also from the possibility of pleasure — thus removing ourselves from desire as well.

3) No Bathing or Washing — Appearance — Sense of Sight — Neshamah

Refraining from bathing and washing is related to the sense of sight and the world of appearances, our looks. There are those of us who define themselves primarily by their body-image and sense of aesthetic and physical beauty.

In order to appear attractive one will often need to bathe, groom and pamper oneself to highlight and bring out the beauty the body.

On Yom Kippur we are invited and encouraged to let go of this externally oriented definition of self. In this way, we are able to let go of outer appearances and attempt to look deeper, to get a glimpse of the Neshamah — our soul, our purpose, our mission. The nullifying of the outer appearances allows for the inner quality, the Neshamah to shine forth.

4)No Marital Relationships — Status — Sense of Hearing — Chaya

Physical intimacy is connected with the ‘Living Soul’ — known in Hebrew as Chaya, ‘Life’ and is related to the sense of hearing. To be intimate is to be able to hear and be heard. And simply put, any lack of hearing or listening is bound to cause a breakdown in communication, which leads to the destruction of relationships.

On Yom Kippur we rest from bodily relationships on a physical level so that we can take a break from identifying ourselves by the relationships we have with others. These relationships often hinge on a constant flow of communication between the two partners. By creating a distance between each other, each member of a relationship is able to re-orient their hearing, and instead take the time to focus more inward, to listen to their inner self as it is being expressed through itself to itself.

We rest from physical relationships that normally provide us with our sense of self and self-worth, in order to go deeper inward and reclaim the connection to our inner point and purpose.

5) No Anointing Oneself with Perfumes & Lotions — Power — Sense of Smell — Yechidah

Perfumes and lotions are connected to our sense of smell, they are also connected to a sense of power.

The sense of smell is connected to our deepest self. The Gemara says that our soul takes pleasure in the sense of smell (Berachos, 43b). Smell is the only sense that was not damaged or distorted by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil — as it is the only sense not mentioned in the story: “And the woman saw…and she took (touch)…and she ate (taste)…and they heard….” (Bereishis, 3:6-8). Therefore, even today our sense of smell remains connected with the state of consciousness that we experienced in the Garden of Eden. It can therefore transport us back to the Tree of Life, into Unity-consciousness.

Smell can also awaken our earliest personal memories. This is because the sense of smell is free from the obstructions of duality, and it can tap into the unity of the past, present and future.

Regarding Mashiach it is said, “He shall smell the awe of Hashem,” (Yeshaya, 11:3) and “He shall judge by smell” (Sanhedrin, 93b). What you cannot judge by sight, you may still be able to judge by sound. But what you cannot judge by either sight or sound you may still be able to judge by smell.

Moshiach is called Moshiach because he is Mashuach, ‘anointed with oil’. The supreme power of the nation is the king. Ancient kings, in the period of the Tanach, were anointed with sacred oil.

On Yom Kippur we need to strip ourselves of all (illusions of) power. Stop thinking about your power to influence, whether true or illusory, and ask yourself: “If you take away my power, who am I?”

This is the essence of Yom Kippur — to free a person from all these definitions of self. Forget about your job, money, position, influence, status — forget about all the externals — who are you? Ask yourself seriously: “Who am I?”The most devastating episode in the Garden of Eden occurs after the eating from the Tree of Knowledge. After Adam and Chava have given into their lower base instincts, Hashem asks them — Ayeka, ‘Where are you?’ Where is your I? Are you present in your life? This ultimate existential question, which truthfully Hashem is asking all of us at every moment, is answered by a deafening silence. Adam and Chava were ‘not there’ — there was ‘nobody home’, as they say. That is the saddest thing in the world. They were asked, ‘what happened, what have you done? Who are you?’ And they cannot answer, they have no answer because they were not fully present/conscious/aware.

They were so lost, so identified with externalities, so vulnerable to outside influence, so out of touch with themselves, that they listened to a voice that was not their own — the voice of the “external snake”. It was not a voice from within that tempted them, but rather a voice of a separate and external reality.

On Yom Kippur we are given the gift of at-one-ment, the gift of Teshuvah or ‘return/re-alignment/renewal’. Even if throughout the year we have become identified with all the externals and incidentals — our money, our job, our power, our looks, our status — on this Shabbos Shabboson we are given the opportunity to reclaim “our voice”, the voice of who we really are.

When we let go of all the externals and imagine that this is our last day on earth, with nothing to hold onto — nothing external matters — so then Who Are We?

This year may we all be blessed with the clarity of a conscious answer to this question.

May we will be inscribed for a Kesivah and G’mar Chasimah Tovah

The Five Prohibitions & Their Correlations

Divine Name- Prohibition-Tefilah- Torah- Senses-Definition-Consciousness

Hei – Shoes – Ma’ariv – Bereishis – Touch – Job – Nefesh
Vav – Eating/Drinking – Shachris – Shemos – Taste – Money – Ruach
Hei – Bathing – Washing – Musaf -Vayikra – Sight – Appearance – Neshamah
Yud – Intimacy – Mincha – Bamidbar -Hear – Status- Chaya
Kotz Shel Yud – Perfumes – Neilah – Davarim – - Smell – Power – Yechidah

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