10 Tishrei 5778 – 29 September, 2017
In less than three hours, most of Israel will come to a standstill. From sundown tonight to sundown on Saturday, businesses will be closed (except for emergency services), cars will not be on the roads (except in non-Jewish population areas) and the Israeli media will not broadcast. Not only is it the beginning of Shabbat, it is also the beginning of Yom Hakippurim – the Day of Atonements, considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
This special day is part of the Fall feasts of Leviticus 23, verses 26-32:
“26 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 ‘On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonements; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. 28 You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonements, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. 29 If there is any person [literally: soul] who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. 30 As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.”‘
In addition, the Book of Numbers relates the different sacrifices and offerings that are to be made on this day:
“7 ‘Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work. 8 You shall present a burnt offering to the Lord as a soothing aroma: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect; 9 and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah [i.e., about a bushel] for the bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 10 a tenth for each of the seven lambs; 11 one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonements and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings.'”
Jewish people worldwide celebrate the Day of Atonement in the traditional manner, according to “halacha” – the way things should be done according to rabbinical dictates: attending the synagogue; fasting; praying; doing good deeds towards others and repenting of sins.
Part of the synagogue service on both Rosh Hashanah (the Day of Remembrance of Trumpets) and Yom HaKippurim refers to the judgment of God on this day. The period between those two holidays is referred to as the ten terrible days, during which God determines who will live for another year and who will die. Three books are opened in heaven: one for those who are to die, one for those who are to live and one for those whose fate is not yet sealed. For those in the last group, they have an opportunity to be remembered in the Book of Life for another year by prayer, good deeds and repentance from their sins that were committed during the past year.
Leviticus Chapter 16, verses 1-34 details the rites for Yom HaKippurim:
vv. 1-2: restrictions concerning the Holy of Holies
vv. 3-5 preparations that need to be made
vv. 6-10: presentation of sacrifice
vv. 11-14: atonement for the priests
vv. 15-22: atonement to be made for the people
vv. 23-28: cleansing of the participants
vv. 29-34: additional restrictions
From the foregoing, the first thing that needs to be noted is that the Biblical Feast relates to a Day of Atonements, not a single atonement, but multiple atonements. This is clear from the Hebrew, but mistranslated in English. This is made clear by the need for atonement to be made for the priests and atonement to be made for the people.
The second thing that arises from the Biblical text is that atonement needs to be made for the priests and the people. The people cannot atone for themselves. The traditional perspective relating to this prophetic holiday is that “we” are responsible to atone for our sins by afflicting our body (by fasting), rather than afflicting our soul (agonizing over the sin that has separated us from God and requires the death of a substitute in our place, as indicated in Lev. 16). But, it is a day that atonement shall be made for us (not by us) to cleanse us (Lev. 16:30).
Halacha permits replacing the sacrifice of goats by killing a rooster or a hen and swinging it over our heads. This is known as the “kapparote ceremony” (the “covering”). But, this is not Biblically authorized.
Of the three basic substitutions which our tradition requires, prayer and good deeds towards others are clear. Repentance, the third substitution for the substitutionary death includes remorse for past sins, confession of them and a commitment for the future to change our ways. This includes various aspects, which from a traditional point of view are all dependent upon us, namely: (1) a denial of eating or drinking (i.e., fasting); (2) a denial of washing or bathing; (3) a denial of anointing (with creams and perfumes); (4) a denial of cohabitation between spouses and (5) a denial of wearing leather shoes or sandals (a reminder that the Temple was destroyed and that sacrifices can no longer be made there).
The Day of Atonements begins with the chanting of the Kol Nidre prayers (which means “all vows”). It is a repudiation of all personal religious vows made to God during the year, including those that are forced confessions. The prayer is chanted three times. It is followed after the normal service by the Musaf (” additional”) prayer, which is based on Isaiah Chapter 53. During the Day of Atonements itself, the Book of Jonah is to be read, emphasizing that man cannot run away from God and demonstrating the effectiveness of repentance.
The Messianic Perspective focuses on Isaiah 52-13 through 53-12, emphasizing the sacrifice itself and revealing both the concepts of substitution and atonement.
As stated in Isaiah 53, verses 1-9, there is a national confession by Israel (of the Jewish people) of rejecting the Messiah – the “He” of Isaiah 53. The people’s confession comes about as a result of affliction, as indicated both by the prophets, as well as in the New Covenant: Hosea speaks of the fulfillment of the Day of Atonements by the affliction of the body (Hosea 5:15-6:3). Zechariah speaks of the fulfillment of the day by the affliction of the soul (Zechariah 12:10-13:1). Isaiah points out that following the fulfillment of the Day of Atonements (affliction, i.e., judgment), Israel will be born in a day (Isaiah 66:8). Finally, the Book of Romans reveals the hope and the promise that all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).
From a Biblical perspective, atonement has to do with reconciling a holy God with sinful humankind. From the foregoing, this requires a sacrifice for sins. But, the life of the flesh is in the blood without the shedding of blood, and God has given it to us upon the altar to make atonement for our sins. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). “He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This is a prophetic day of judgment. As it is prophesied, so it will be. Then, a new day will dawn.
For those who choose to fast, to identify with the nation of Israel on this day, may your fast be a useful one.
As the prophets have frequently asked: “How long, Oh Lord? How long?”