In the shemoneh esrei of Yom Kippur we say:
זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם
A day that is a remembrance of our exodus from Egypt.
Most of us don’t put much thought into this line because in every shemoneh esrei of Shabbos and Yom Tov we say this line about the Exodus from Egypt. However, is the reason we say this on Yom Kippur just to be uniform, or perhaps is there some direct connection between the Exodus from Egypt and the uniqueness of the day of Yom Kippur?
I once saw an explanation that I would like to share. Immediately prior to the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews were commanded to bring the pascal offering to enable them to have merit on which to leave. Chazal tell us that on the day of their departure from Egypt, the Jews were at the 49th level of tuma – one level above the point of “no return”. Immediately upon their departure, they made a 180 degree turn in spirituality, leaving the world of impurity and beginning the ascent up the ladder of holiness and purity. Hence the day of Pesach is not only a reminder that in less than a day the Jews changed from an enslaved people to a free nation, it is also a reminder that it is possible to leave the world of tuma and embrace Hashem in a very short time.
Therefore, we can understand the connection between Yom Kippur and the Exodus. On the day of Pesach, we “turned on a dime”, not only from a nation of slaves to a nation of free men, but also from people headed towards a ‘point of no return’ to a nation climbing towards Har Sinai. So too on the one day of Yom Kippur, we can turn from sinners to baalei teshuva, and turn from being steeped in impurity to sincerely serving Hashem with a pure heart.
As it says in the machzor:
כִּי בַיּום הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם, מִכּל חַטּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי ה’ תִּטְהָרוּ:
“For on this day He will atone for you, to cleanse you, from all your sins…” – meaning: Hashem forgives us for our sins.
“…before Hashem you will be cleansed” – meaning: we are now once again pure and close to Hashem.
May we merit on this special day to achieve that purity, which will last us at least throughout the Yom Tov season, and we should rejoice this Sukkos in the Beis Hamikdash with a pure heart.