Importance of Yom Kippur Prayers

On Yom Kippur it is of utmost importance that we say Krias Shma properly, along with davening with proper kavannah. The Ginzei Yosef as brought in the Sefer Baal Shem Tov explains that all tefillos hapesulos, (unkosher prayers) are bound in the hands of the Malochim who reign over transmitting prayers from this world to Hashem. These tefilos hapesulos are those that have machshovos zoros (foreign thoughts, meaning improper thoughts to have during prayer) mixed in with them, which makes the tefillos themselves improper to bring before Hashem. They stay bound up in the hands of these Malochim until a person davens with proper kavanna and intensity, if this doesn’t happen within the course of the year, then they stay with the Malochim. On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur these prayers have their final evaluation, and if the person davens a proper tefillah, then all those improper tefillos are elevated to Hashem in the highest of heights; and if not, chas v’sholom, they descend to the depths of the pits where the psulei hamukdashin (improper sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash) are discarded, to the place where Lil–ith dwells and she uses these to create a firmament of worthlessness, after which she ascends and opposes all those tefillos that were prayed throughout the year, God help us. The Mekor Mayim Chaim adds that this is the greatest reason to be attached to the Tzaddikim, because through this the tefillos that are cast down to this level can still be saved and elevated to their proper place in Shamayim. 

He says further that the ikar (main thing) is to say Krias Shma with kavanna, and according to halacha in all the various different ways, and to focus on the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments) expressed through certain phrases there. One major part of this is to leave space between words that end with the same letter the next word begins with, so the words do not become mixed together. It is crucial to pronounce every word properly in this Krias Shma more than every other Krias Shma of the year so that one’s prayers can ascend to the proper place and not be reduced to naught. I will add that in addition to these other kavonnos and halachic details, one should be most careful to make sof zman Krias Shma and be certain to say it with the brochos as is most proper according to halacha. 

Yom Kippur is a huge day. It is crucial to have the proper kavana throughout the fast, that is our fat and blood should serve as an offering to Hashem, as the Baal HaTanya brings. This is the only fast that is a mitzvah d’oraisa, a mitzvah from the written Torah itself. We remove ourselves from other generally permitted forms of comfort for the other fasts (except Tisha b’Av) so we can fully grasp the great pain and trouble that is existing in gashmiyus. The whole rest of the year we wash our hands properly, wear various forms of scented ointments and other lotions, can touch our spouses outside of niddah, and wear comfortable leather shoes. One can’t even dip in a mikvah on Yom Kippur due to the prohibition against washing oneself and the pleasure it gives. Truly from the depths of darkness and discomfort must we call out to Hashem and request forgiveness for our errors, and commit to behaving better throughout the next year. Whatever this means beyond the letter of the law depends on the person and their personal spiritual goals: whether that’s making sure to do more hisbodedus (isolated prayer), learning a couple more pages of Gemara, or even working on attaining better emunah. The key is to engage in genuine contemplation of ourselves and our behavior in order to focus on the changes we should make for the future.

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