To be a wellspring of purity on earth is the function of Yom Kippur. It requires a renewed quest for purity and it provides the spiritual conditions that make it possible: As Rabbeinu Yonah writes:
It is a positive commandment of the Torah that man arouse his spirit to repent on Yom Kippur, as it says: "…from all your sins, before Hashem you shall be purified" (Shaarei Teshuvah 2:14).
The commandment to repent is not limited to Yom Kippur. Whenever one sins, he is obligated to repent. Even if one has not sinned, he is obligated to repent in the sense that he must not be content with whatever level of service (of G-d) he has been able to attain. He must strive continuously to elevate his perceptions and aspirations. But on Yom Kippur, Rabbeinu Yonah says, there is a particular obligation to arouse oneself…
"There is a further positive commandment on Yom Kippur. It is to rest on it from eating and drinking… It is forbidden to bathe, to apply oil (to the body), to wear shoes, or to cohabit. It is a positive commandment to rest from all these just as it is commanded to rest from eating"
(Rambam, The Laws of Yom Kippur 1:4-5).
How noteworthy that Rambam… chooses to speak of resting from all of the indulgences that are prohibited on Yom Kippur. It is as if eating, drinking and the other activities are ordeals from which one is freed on Yom Kippur. Indeed, if we understand properly the depth of the Yom Kippur task, then we understand that it is truly a day of rest. The activities that are forbidden represent the indulgence of partnership which is man. Such indulgence stands in the way of the attainment of purity which calls for the supremacy of mind and soul. The purpose of fasting on Yom Kippur is not self-affliction. Yom Kippur is not like Tisha b'Av, a day of tragedy and mourning…
The essence of Yom Kippur is the transcendence of limitations…
printed in arachim newsletter about 20 years ago from Artscroll by Rabbi Nosson Scherman