A Day of Atonement

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) starts on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. It is considered to be the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

On my other blog, I recently published two blog posts leading up to this blog post on Yom Kippur. On September 27, 2019, I published a blog post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which took place from sundown on September 29th through nightfall on October 1st this year, titled, Time to Reboot.” On August 25, 2019, I published a blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days,” which gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.

In an article titled, Yom Kippur,” published on History.com and written by the Editors at History.com (first published on October 27, 2009 and updated on August 21, 2018), the following information is provided:

Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. Falling in the month of Tishrei (September or October in the Gregorian calendar), it marks the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe, a period of introspection and repentance that follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are known as Judaism’s “High Holy Days.”

History and Significance of Yom Kippur

According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Descending from the mountain, Moses caught his people worshipping a golden calf and shattered the sacred tablets in anger. Because the Israelites atoned for their idolatry, God forgave their sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets.

Jewish texts recount that during biblical times Yom Kippur was the only day on which the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There, he would perform a series of rituals and sprinkle blood from sacrificed animals on the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments. Through this complex ceremony he made atonement and asked for God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the people of Israel. The tradition is said to have continued until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D; it was then adapted into a service for rabbis and their congregations in individual synagogues.

According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews consider Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.

Observing Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is Judaism’s most sacred day of the year; it is sometimes referred to as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” For this reason, even Jews who do not observe other traditions refrain from work, which is forbidden during the holiday, and participate in religious services on Yom Kippur, causing synagogue attendance to soar. Some congregations rent out additional space to accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly and women who have just given birth) to abstain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. The fast is believed to cleanse the body and spirit, not to serve as a punishment. Religious Jews heed additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes and sexual relations. These prohibitions are intended to prevent worshippers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.

Because the High Holy Day prayer services include special liturgical texts, songs and customs, rabbis and their congregations read from a special prayer book known as the “machzor” during both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset on the following day. One of the most important prayers specific to Yom Kippur describes the atonement ritual performed by high priests during ancient times. The blowing of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast.

Traditions and Symbols of Yom Kippur

Pre-Yom Kippur feast: On the eve of Yom Kippur, families and friends gather for a bountiful feast that must be finished before sunset. The idea is to gather strength for 25 hours of fasting.

Breaking of the fast: After the final Yom Kippur service, many people return home for a festive meal. It traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding and baked goods.

Wearing white: It is customary for religious Jews to dress in white—a symbol of purity—on Yom Kippur. Some married men wear “kittels,” which are white burial shrouds, to signify repentance.

Charity: Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is seen as a way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. One ancient custom known as “kapparot” involves swinging a live chicken or bundle of coins over one’s head while reciting a prayer. The chicken or money is then given to the poor. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2014 titled, Forgiveness of Others and Ourselves: Yom Kippur Thoughts,” by Laurie Levy, a contributer on HuffPost.com, she writes:

On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a central prayer is the Al Chet or communal confession of sins committed against others. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein describes Yom Kippur as the time for reconciliation and forgiveness. He reminds us that the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov said, “If we cannot forgive others, how can we expect God to forgive us?”

This holiday always poses an interesting question for me: Can I really forgive someone who has wronged me? Of course, I am not talking about overwhelmingly traumatic acts that are unforgivable — genocide; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and other crimes that harm innocent victims. Although there are amazing people who can forgive even these things, I am not one of them.

In a modern version of the Al Chet prayer, Rabbi Michael Lerner asks forgiveness for sins against humanity in general and against the world in which we live. Among those that involve personal interactions, he asks forgiveness for:

The sins of spreading negative stories about people we know;

And for the sins of being passive recipients of negativity or listening and allowing others to spread hurtful stories;

For the sins of not having compassion for one another;

And for not taking care of one another….

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat offers her list of more personal sins she has committed against others. I have to assume people have also wronged her in these ways:

By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced…

By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth…

By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely…

By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;

By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;

By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

The notion of forgiveness is pretty complicated. In two weeks, I will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of my Chavurah (Hebrew for “friends” or “comrades”). This group of six families came together in the fall of 1974, having no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added three more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving others is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. Our Chavurah now has 63 official members. Many of the 25 grandchildren live out of town. Only two of our parents remain, basically making us the older generation. So much has changed. And yet, as our group celebrates 40 years of friendship, I wonder if we are finally old enough to talk about that difficult concept of forgiveness.

I know plenty of folks my age and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One thought I have about this is rather obvious. It’s the old “you always hurt the one you love” thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But lately, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on Earth would I want to hold on to the pain of hating someone for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from “Frozen,” my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in that person’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose if not forgiveness, then at least not anger and hurt.

So back to the question of whether I can forgive someone who has hurt me: My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond “Can I do it?” to “I must do it to lead a happy and meaningful life.” The harder task is to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done to others. (Quote source here.)

And in a touching story in an article published in 2011 titled, Yom Kippur and the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Annette Powers, also a contributor on Huffpost.com, she writes:

Yom Kippur has meant different things to me throughout my life, but while in the process of getting a divorce, the acts of atonement and forgiveness have taken on new significance.

Like most Jewish kids, Yom Kippur was the one holiday I dreaded. Growing up, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar promised nothing but endless hours spent in a gloomy sanctuary. All the adults, cranky and with bad breath from fasting, stood around muttering droning prayers in a language I didn’t understand.

After my Bat Mitzvah, I felt obligated to fast also, and then Yom Kippur took on a new kind of pain. By mid-afternoon, I was dizzy with hunger and the thought of four more hours in synagogue seemed unbearable. I understood that the point of the holiday was to atone, but thoughts of repentance were overshadowed by thoughts of the bagels and blintzes I would devour at the end of the service .

My feelings about Yom Kippur took a turn for the better when I spent a semester in Israel during my senior year of high school. I was amazed at how the whole country shut down in observance. Even the majority of Israelis, who are secular and didn’t plan to set foot in a synagogue, elected not to drive. The silence in the streets was magical and as I walked through Jerusalem’s stone streets from synagogue to synagogue, I heard the ancient Yom Kippur liturgy with new ears. This experience gave me a newfound appreciation for the solemness of Yom Kippur, yet the luxury of youthful innocence still kept me from really feeling the need to atone or forgive.

As the years went by, age and experience taught me that having a designated time to think about my relationship with God, myself and others is a unique and special thing. It is no longer a burden, but a gift. I am especially grateful for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Y’mai Teshuvah.) During this time, we are encouraged to make amends to those we may have hurt in the past and to grant forgiveness to those who ask for it.

As an adult, I have often used these ten days to speak to friends and family and work through old grudges and new grievences, but last year, after discovering the painful truth about my husband’s infidelity and his desire to get divorced, I was too overwhelmed with pain and grief to even consider amends and forgiveness.

Today, it’s a different story. I have had time to heal, reflect and grow and need these ten days now more than ever. Even without being asked, I am anxious to forgive — to cast off my bitterness and start anew, to relieve myself of the burden of anger that tugs at me like a heavy anchor and to free him of the guilt that I heap upon him in both subtle and overt ways day after day. But, the question remains…. Can I actually do it? Making amends is one thing, but being able to forgive is another.

I have a friend who has inspired me with her own incredible act of forgiveness. As a teen, her father was killed in a ruthless hate crime by a group of strangers. Over many years, she found the ability to forgive them from afar. “It was a long road and I will never forget what they did, but I had to let go of all the anger — it was destroying my life,” she said. “Unfortunately, the rest of my family hasn’t been able to forgive and I see how it eats them up inside.”

I too have seen how resentments and anger can devour people over time. I too have seen how forgiveness can liberate. If this friend had the strength to forgive her father’s murderers, surely I could forgive my ex for far lesser crimes!

I want to forgive him. It’s partly a selfish act… I want to let go of the anger so I can move forward with my life. And I need him to forgive me too. While I don’t blame myself for his unwillingness to work on our marriage or his deceitfulness, I recognize that I am responsible for some of what went wrong in our relationship. I recognize some of my shortcomings and can make amends for those. I am sure there are yet others that I can’t see or admit to and for those I can only apologize in the abstract.

And so, yesterday, I sent my ex a note of amends and forgiveness.

I asked him to forgive me for a list of transgressions, from being too critical of him during our marriage to sending him thousands of angry text messages since our separation. I also apologized for “the things I do not know or do not remember that I did — willingly or unwillingly.”

And then came my turn to forgive. It took so much strength to write this: “I know you haven’t asked outright, but I want to tell you that I forgive you. I forgive you and I forgive her. May we all be blessed in the coming year.”

I can’t guarantee that all my resentments will disappear today, tomorrow or in a month, or that I will always be on my best behavior, but this note is my promise to try harder and that is a good start to a sweet new year. (Quote source here.)

During Yom Kippur, maybe now is a good time to think about laying aside that heavy weight of unforgiveness that we’ve been carrying around for a very long time. After all, as the following YouTube song below states:

Forgiveness . . .

We all need . . .

Forgiveness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac featuring Lecrae:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

A Heart for the Lord

Yom Kippur 5774 (September 13-14, 2013) in Jerusalem at the Western Wall
Yom Kippur 5774 (September 13-14, 2013) in Jerusalem at the Western Wall

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, ended this past Saturday at nightfall. It is a very solemn holiday, and this year in particular marked the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War when the Egyptian and Syrian armies made a surprise attack on Israel. Yom Kippur is the last day of the High Holy Days, (also known as the Days of Awe), a 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur, and the entire country fasts on Yom Kippur. In fact, the entire country “grinds to a halt” on Yom Kippur. As stated in an article titled, Israel marks solemn, silent Day of Atonement in The Times of Israel”:

“Jews traditionally spend the solemn day fasting and asking God for forgiveness at intense prayer services in synagogues. It caps a 10-day period of soul-searching that began with Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish new year holiday . . . .

“Yom Kippur is unique in Israel because it touches almost the entire country. A high portion of the secular population observes the fast–and even those who don’t fast tend to refrain from eating in public, and quietly watch movies or rest at home” (quote source here).

“During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called ‘teshuvah.’ Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year” (quote source here).

“On Rosh Hashanah, Jews often say to one another, ‘May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.’ The High Holiday period is a choice between life and death, righteousness and sin, and those who repent are on their way to being inscribed in the ‘Book of Life,’ which brings with it the promise of a good year. The belief is that on Rosh Hashanah, the names are written in the book, and on Yom Kippur (10 days later) the book is sealed. These 10 days are referred to as the Days of Awe” (quote source here).

For Christians, Yom Kippur “has deep theological significance in the New Testament” as Jesus Christ’s death on the cross completed the work once and for all from the animal sacrifices the Old Testament priests offered to take away sin (quote source here). The Book of Hebrews, specifically chapters 8-10, point to Jesus Christ’s completed work on the cross as our great High Priest. As the writer of Hebrews states in Hebrews 10:1-18:

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’”

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

returnWhile Jesus was on this earth He participated in all of the Jewish festivals and, in fact, His death on the cross coincided with Passover, as He became the ultimate and final sacrifice (Passover lamb) for sin. And as I have come to learn about the Jewish holidays in the past year and a half and specifically the significance of the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur) which centers around intense prayer, fasting and repentance, as a Christian I realize fully that Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah, is our great High Priest, and “where these (sins and lawless acts) have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin in no longer necessary” (Hebrews 10:18). However, the apostle Paul urges us in Ephesians 4:1-16, to “walk worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 1). And I John 1-5 reminds us to live in the light and not in darkness; to love and not to hate; to not love this world and all it has to offer (e.g., “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”–v. 2:16); and to keep ourselves from idols (and anything that distracts us from our love of God and Jesus Christ is an idol).

Yom Kippur is a time for us, as Christians, to reflect on our lives and how we are living them in this world and with others, either as servants of Jesus Christ or serving ourselves. In a devotion in Open Windows,” published by LifeWay titled, “A Heart for the Lord,” Darla Brantley, adult Sunday School teacher, First Baptist Church, Winfield, Alabama, writes the following (Note: devotional passage reference is Jeremiah 24:4-7 and she starts by quoting Jeremiah 24:7):

“And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” ~Jeremiah 24:7 (KJV).

Emergency weather personnel must feel frustrated when they warn people of incoming storms and no one seems to listen. Forecasters advise listeners of danger and encourage them to take necessary precautions. Many residents heed the warnings and evacuate or take shelter while others simply ignore the warnings.

As a prophet of God, Jeremiah had a difficult job. He worked for decades trying to get God’s people to turn from their wicked ways by providing warnings of God’s coming judgment. He grieved their deafness to God’s message. However, God encouraged Jeremiah through a vision, letting the prophet know that those who heeded Jeremiah’s warning would be protected. God promised that His people would long to know Him.

Have you lost your focus on the Lord? Have you ignored warnings from fellow believers or God’s Word? Have you stopped listening to the still, small voice of your Savior? Heed the message your Father has for you. Return to God with all your heart, and enjoy close fellowship with your Creator. Allow Him to protect, comfort and sustain you.

Father, I want to know You and obey Your will. Help me return to You with all my heart.

Even though Yom Kippur is now over for this year, it is never too late to reflect on our walk with the Lord and if we have lost our focus or grown cold towards Him because of all this world has to offer us, especially here in America, we can at any moment return to Him with a humble heart and, once again, enjoy close fellowship with Him. Why not take a few moments today to listen to His “still, small voice” . . . .

He’s calling . . .

Are we listening?

YouTube video: “Come Worship the Lord” by Shannon Wexelberg:

Photo #1 credit and article here
Photo #2 credit here