Thoughts on Yom Kippur

The Torah reading for Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16.1-34)[i] ends with

“It is to be a statute to you forever, that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you are to afflict your souls, and do no kind of work—both the native-born and the outsider dwelling among you. For on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. From all your sins you will be clean before ADONAI. … “This will be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for Bnei-Yisrael once in the year because of all their sins.” It was done as ADONAI commanded Moses. (16.29-30 and 34)

Whether one reads the words a “statute to you forever” or an “everlasting statute” the meaning remains the same; Israel is to observe the fast of the seventh month, on the tenth day as a day of atonement for the nation. But some might say, “there is no Temple, no way to offer the required sacrifices,” and this would be true. However, the ending of this passage infers that the primary important thing is to “afflict your souls,” which is interpreted as fasting and introspection with accompanying repentance and restitution as required. Surely, this is not enough

Often, the Word of the LORD through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 58 is held up to show that the fast of Yom Kippur is no longer acceptable (Isaiah 58.3-5). But look again. What is not acceptable is the people’s attitude when they fast. This is similar to Yeshua’s chastisement of the Torah scholars and Pharisees in Matthew 23. He was not telling them to refrain from tithing mint, dill and cumin, but rather to tithe mint and dill and cumin without forgetting the aspects of justice and mercy and faithfulness (23.23). It is not the fast of Yom Kippur for which the Ruach of the LORD reprimanded Israel through the prophet Isaiah, but their attitude before, during, and after the fast. They neglected the aspects of justice and mercy, and faithfulness toward their fellow man (and woman), toward their neighbors, and even toward the outsider who dwelt among them. Yom Kippur is an everlasting statute for all of Israel. It is at least one day during the year when each individual, corporately with every other individual, stands before the LORD in hope and expectation that WE will be forgiven – not on our own merit but on the grace and mercy of the Creator and King of the Universe.

At the end of the daily Shacharit service, the second section of ובא לציון גואל, “A redeemer will come to Zion” we recite

LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Yisrael, our ancestors, may You keep this for ever so that it forms the thoughts in Your people’s heart, and directs their heart toward You. He is compassionate. He forgives iniquity and does not destroy. Repeatedly He suppresses His anger, not rousing His full wrath (Psalm 78.38). For You, my LORD, are good and forgiving, abundantly kind to all who call upon You (Psalm 86.5).[ii]

This prayer asks Hashem to remember His own character in dealing with His people, Israel. Then beginning the first of Elul (August 23rd this year) and continuing through Hoshana Raba (the end of Sukkot) we read Psalm 27 which begins,

ADONAI is my light and my salvation: whom should I fear? ADONAI is the stronghold of my life: whom should I dread? (27.1)

And ends,

Surely I trust that I will see the goodness of ADONAI in the land of the living. Wait for ADONAI. Be strong, let Your heart take courage, and wait for ADONAI. (27.13-14)

During the Yom Kippur prayers, all Israel acknowledges that we have sinned (Viduy) and that we have no righteousness or merit of our own to warrant the forgiveness of our trespasses. It is only the grace and mercy of ADONAI that can bring about the forgiveness that we seek. Now comes the catch. Hashem has provided the required way of atonement for Israel, the finished work of Yeshua. However, as Rav Shaul reminded the believers in Rome that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…” (Romans 11.25). Israel, for the most part, has not recognized the provision of Yeshua’s sacrifice. But Rav Shaul immediately followed the “partial hardening” statement saying,

…and in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer shall come out of Zion. He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11.26-27, cf. Jeremiah 31.32-34)

This Yom Kippur, may more of the “partial hardening” be removed and the eyes and hearts of Bnei Yisrael be opened to see and accept the Father’s love and provision for them.

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] The Koren Siddur with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. Koren Publishers, Jerusalem 2009. p 176.

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.