07. Sins for Which Yom Kippur Does Not Atone

As we have seen, on Yom Kippur, the holy root of the souls of Israel are revealed, and purity and atonement spread from this spiritual root to its branches. The more a person repents, the purer he becomes, and the greater the atonement granted for his sins and transgressions. However, there are sins that cannot be completely rectified by the purity of the root of the soul and the repentance of Yom Kippur. As long as these sins are not fully rectified, the person will need to be punished for them, whether in this world or the next (1:7 above).

Therefore, someone who committed a sin for which one is liable to bring a sin offering or a guilt offering must offer the sacrifice even if he fully repents and undergoes Yom Kippur (except for an asham talui; see n. 4 below). Similarly, if someone commits a sin whose punishment is lashes or death (assuming that he transgresses in front of kosher witnesses after being duly warned), he would be punished by the beit din even if he repents fully on Yom Kippur (Keritot 25b-26a; MT, Laws of Sin and Guilt Offerings 3:9). Repentance is effective in repairing his soul, but the atonement or punishment prescribed by the Torah must be upheld; if they are not carried out by the beit din, he will be punished, either in this world or the next. Nowadays, when we can neither offer sacrifices nor mete out punishments in a beit din, the way to rectify sins is to give charity and study Torah in amounts corresponding to the weightiness of the sins committed. In the past, many people also fasted for many days, commensurate with their sins, but nowadays the accepted ruling is to give charity and study Torah instead.

The Mishna states, “Yom Kippur atones for sins that are between man and God; however, Yom Kippur does not atone for interpersonal sins until the offender has placated his friend” (Yoma 85b). This is derived from the verse, “For on this day, atonement shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins; you shall purify yourselves before the Lord” (Vayikra 16:30), which can alternatively be translated, “For on this day atonement shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins before the Lord; purify yourselves.” In other words, it is specifically sins “before the Lord” that are forgiven. Thus, when a sin is against the divine glory, complete repentance before God rectifies it entirely. But when a person is the victim of a sin, if the person has not been placated, the sin remains. Repentance on Yom Kippur helps only to mitigate its severity, transforming the sin from knowing to unknowing and from unknowing to the product of duress. This purifies the root of the soul, but the damage to the branches of the soul remains as long as one has not placated his friend.

The same mishna states, “One who declares, ‘I will sin and then repent; I will sin and then repent’ is not given the opportunity to repent. ‘I will sin and Yom Kippur will atone’ – Yom Kippur will not atone” (Yoma 85b). The reason is clear: Repentance is meant to help a person repair what he has damaged. When a person sins because he is relying upon repenting afterward, the idea of repentance actually leads to his feeling free to sin. Therefore, “he is not given the opportunity to repent,” meaning, it will be difficult for him to motivate himself to correct his deeds. Nevertheless, if despite the difficulty, he makes every effort to repent, his repentance will be accepted.

Similarly, when a person sins because he is relying upon Yom Kippur to atone for him, he demonstrates that he does not understand the profound holiness of the day. Yom Kippur is meant to reveal the good root of his soul. Thinking about it is supposed to prevent a person from sinning. But this person has it backward – thinking of Yom Kippur leads him to sin more. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how much he prays and cries; since he subverts the essential sanctity of the day, Yom Kippur does not atone for him. Only if he makes every effort to repent, understands the magnitude of his mistake, and resolves not to sin again, will his repentance be accepted.

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