A teaching on Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement
Most are familiar with the name Sandy Koufax. He was a left-handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1955 to 1966. Truth be had, they were the Brooklyn Dodgers till they moved to Los Angeles in 1958. But for all practical purposes Sandy played for the Dodgers his whole baseball career despite the relocation of the team. Sandy Koufax was a brilliant pitcher...amazing really. He would stretch out practically horizontal making his entire body a catapult which would cause his curve ball to be practically un-hittable! When he retired his record was 2,396 strikeouts in 2,324 1/3 innings. He was actually forced to retire because of damage he sustained due to the severe strain he would put on his left arm to pitch. Doctors said he might lose the arm if he continued pitching another season!
Well, Sandy is Jewish but not a particularly religious Jew. Like many of his birthright, he was not especially cognizant of or observant of his faith. But it happened that in 1965, The Dodgers reached the World Series and Sandy was scheduled to pitch the opening game. He refused.
You see the opening game of the 1965 World Series fell on Yom Kippur and it was that important to him that he not work that day.
I illustrated this Sandy Koufax's story to demonstrate that to persons of the Jewish faith Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the year. Many Jews go through their daily lives not observing any other Jewish custom yet they will refrain from work on Yom Kippur, fast, and very likely attend services on this day.
Yom Kippur is a "Shabbat Shabbaton" - a "Sabbath of Sabbaths"; a High Holy Day, the "Day of Atonement." It is a special day set aside to atone for our sins of the past year.
Yom Kippur is a day designed to bring Jews (and all other believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) closer to Yahweh and encourages our return to Him through the process of teshuvah. (More on teshuvah later.) There is a lot to Yom Kippur, and much ritual and ceremony has been added over the years by the Rabbis - but I want us to know the scriptures and to do what Yahweh said.
Known as a day of prayer, Yom Kippur has numerous prayers associated with it. Most revolve around the central theme of repentance and return and many prayers are for the serious sin of lashon hara (evil-tongue).
Yom Kippur always occurs on the 10th of Tishri and on that day in Israel, there is no broadcast radio or TV, no public transportation and the airports are closed. Since the holiday has its origins in Leviticus, let's read Leviticus chapter 16 verses 29-31:
Leviticus 16: 29 "It is to be a permanent regulation for you that on the tenth day of the seventh month you are to deny yourselves and not do any kind of work, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you. 30 For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before Adonai from all your sins. 31 It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves. This is a permanent regulation."
And from verse 34:"This is a permanent regulation for you, to make atonement for the people of Isra'el because of their sins once a year. Moshe did as Adonai ordered him."
Before I continue, I'd like to address this word "atonement". The word in Hebrew, "haKippurim" is actually plural, and has no equivalent in English. The root "kapparah" means "cleansing". This was a huge problem in translating the Bible to English. The closest word in English is "reconciliation."
In 1526, a fella named William Tyndale was translating the English Bible, but he was not happy with the limitations of the word "reconciliation" and he spent a great deal of time determining what to do. You see, the word, "reconciliation" has its origins in the root of four Latin words and it literally means "to sit again with."
Mr. Tyndale wanted to capture the Yom Kippur aspects of "propitiation" (which is to make peace) and forgiveness. The Hebrew word kippur means "a covering", "expiate", "to cover", "to pardon", "cleansing", "to wipe away", and "protection" and it simply can't be adequately equated to "reconciliation"; so Tyndale did not want to use "reconciliation" fearing that the deeper meaning of kippur would be lost. He was right of course....If Yom Kippur were merely a "Day of Reconciliation" we would likely be meeting our old friends over a beer rather than admitting our faults to Yahweh and asking for His forgiveness!
In middle English, in Tyndale's day, the word "atonen" meant "to be reconciled" and "atonen" was literally the combination of the words "at" and "one". But as I said, "to be reconciled", simply was not adequate. In the end, Tyndale proposed a new word comprised of two parts, 'at' and 'onement.'
So "at-onement" would mean "reconciliation", but also something more. "At-onement" became "Atone-ment" and would mean to recreate the state of "being at one with God". So that's where our word "atonement" came to replace kippur.
Continuing, we can learn more about Yom Kippur in Leviticus chapter 23:
Leviticus 23: 26 Adonai said to Moshe, "The tenth day of this seventh month is Yom-Kippur;"
It is important to note that in the Tanach, in Hebrew, the phrase was actually "The tenth day of the seventh month is Yom-haKippurim" which is "day of atonements" - PLURAL.
Leviticus 23:"... you are to have a holy convocation, you are to deny yourselves, and you are to bring an offering made by fire to Adonai. 28 You are not to do any kind of work on that day, because it is Yom-Kippur, to make atonement for you before Adonai your God. 29 Anyone who does not deny himself on that day is to be cut off from his people; 30 and anyone who does any kind of work on that day, I will destroy from among his people. 31 You are not to do any kind of work; it is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live. 32 It will be for you a Shabbat of complete rest, and you are to deny yourselves; you are to rest on your Shabbat from evening the ninth day of the month until the following evening."
Now, I want to point out a few things about what we just learned from these scriptures, from Leviticus chapters 16 and 23:
- Yom-Kippur is a permanent regulation. We are still observing Yom Kippur on the 10th day of Tishri each year.
- It is for everyone who believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- It is to occur on the 10th day of the seventh month.
- We are to deny ourselves. "Deny ourselves" means we are to abstain from the pleasures of our flesh - eating, drinking, we call this "fasting", but it is more, we should deny ourselves of any other activity which keeps us from concentrating on Yahweh. Nowhere in scripture do you find a complete definition of "deny". Some translations use "afflict" as in "afflict your soul." For us, to deny, or fast, is intended to help us in our communion with and dependence on God. We are literally cleansing our bodies while we cleanse ourselves of our sins of the past year. (Pregnant women and small children do not have to participate in fasting, and it is permitted for those with medical conditions to eat something.)
- We are not to do any kind of work, and that this applies to the citizen and the foreigner living with us.
Please note that everything I've just listed was gleaned from a single verse: Leviticus 16:29! And here is more:
- Why we are to observe Yom Kippur: It is to purify us, to be clean of our sins before Yahweh!
- It is a Shabbat of complete rest. And it is reiterated that we are to deny ourselves and that this is a permanent regulation.
When we read on in Leviticus Chapter 23, verses 26-32 we learn the following:
- It is to be a Holy convocation. This means we are to make the day holy, and to concentrate on Yahweh, our repentance, and asking for forgiveness.
- We learn again that we are to "deny ourselves".
- And we are to bring an offering made by fire to Yahweh....Wait a minute! An offering made by fire? What is that?
Well, fire sacrifices (redeeming blood substitution) were often for sins. In Numbers Chapter 15 verses 27-31 it says "If an individual sins by mistake, he is to offer a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. The cohen will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven - no matter whether he is a citizen of Isra'el or a foreigner living with them.
Of course, we cannot present a sin sacrifice today for two reasons: (1) Because there is no Temple; and (2) because a sin sacrifice was made for us nearly 2000 years ago so that we could have everlasting life despite our sins! Yeshua was our Final Sin Sacrifice (redemption)!
That being the case, why do we have to bother with Yom Kippur? Doesn't this mean we don't need to observe Yom-Kippur today? In the words of Paul, "May it never be!"
Yeshua died to cover our sins so we could enter the Kingdom in spite of our sin nature. There is a nice saying that goes something like this: "Yeshua came to pay a debt He didn't owe, because we owed a debt we couldn't pay."
So our debt is covered - but the thing is, we still inadvertently sin and Yom Kippur is the Yahweh-commanded day, a permanent regulation, to seek forgiveness for those sins! On Yom Kippur, we are to spend the whole day remembering where and how we have wronged Yahweh, and to seek His acceptance of our remorse and ask Him to forgive our errors....
This is another huge area where Christians have missed out: Because they erroneously believe that "Jesus nailed the law to the cross" they have no clue about the significance of Yahweh's Holy Days. Most have never realized that even though "Jesus" died for them, they STILL are guilty of inadvertent sinning, and those sins need to be atoned for; they are not covered by Yeshua's death, as they were committed AFTER He died to remove our PAST sins.
As I was preparing for this teaching I came across the "Outreach Judaism" web site and I find it interesting how far the traditional Jew will go in denying Yeshua! They will argue that Yeshua's blood was never sprinkled on the altar, and therefore His death could not provide atonement for anyone! They do this because they see the message of Yeshua being our atonement as contradictory to the scriptures which provide for two other methods of atonement - that of heartfelt repentance and charity. (See for example Numbers 5:6-7, and Leviticus 5:16.) And they cite Leviticus 17:11, saying it specifically says that the blood of the life substitution must be placed "upon the altar to make atonement for your souls".
The fundamental problem in this argument is completely lost on them!
Why? Well, no pun intended but traditional Jews have elevated the "altar" to be a place of supreme importance! Yahweh never said that an "altar" had to be a "special place" made out of special materials; the altar was simply the place where the sacrifice was offered. Yes, you make an altar for the sacrifice and, yes, the altar is a holy place, but the altar is not the central issue.
In Exodus, chapter 20, verse 21 (verse 24 in some Bibles), Yahweh says: "For Me, you need only make an altar of earth." He goes on to say that if you do make an altar out of stone, not to use cut stones because if you use a tool on it, you profane it.
When Yeshua died for us, where did his blood spill? Onto the Earth! The Earth was the altar! Yeshua's blood WAS sprinkled on the altar to make atonement for us! He was the redeemer who fulfilled the scripture that says the blood for atonement was to be sprinkled on the altar.
Resuming with Leviticus 23:28 we learn the following:
- We are not to work on Yom Kippur because it is a day of atonement.
- If we don't obey, we are to be cut off.
- It is a permanent regulation.
- It is to be obeyed no matter where we live.
- It is to be a Shabbat of complete rest.
- We are to deny ourselves.
- It is to be a complete day, from sunset to sunset.
Wow! Could anything be more clear? Isn't this just like a parent teaching a child, repeating the instructions of what is most important and warning of the consequences of not obeying?
Now that we know what Scriptures says, let's move on to teshuvah which I mentioned earlier. This is part of the ritual of Yom Kippur, but I hope you will understand the purpose of teshuva, and not concentrate just on the ritual.
Teshuvah basically means "return", or "repentance" and is considered a generous gift from Yahweh, which allows us to erase our sins through a four-step process which I will reveal shortly.
Torah tells us that no matter how far we stray or how many times we sin, Yahweh will wait for us to return to Him. Through the ages, though, Rabbis have developed a formal ritual or ceremony of returning to God and this is teshuvah. Teshuvah has been turned into a rabbinically developed act because no scriptures define teshuvah or explain it. But teshuvah is said to have existed since before the creation of the universe.
Psalm 90: 2 Before mountains were born, before You had formed the earth and the world, from eternity past to eternity future, You are God. 3 You bring frail mortals to the point of being crushed, then say, "people, repent."
In Numbers 5 we find guilt and confession:
Numbers 5: 6 Tell the people of Isra'el, When a man or woman commits any kind of sin against another person and thus breaks faith with Adonai, he incurs guilt. 7 He must confess the sin which he has committed; and he must make full restitution for his guilt, add twenty percent and give it to the victim of his sin.
There are many scriptures that address transgressions and sin and the consequence of straying from Yahweh and His mitzvot (commands). I won't read them or try to cover them all but just to mention a few there is Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Isaiah 1:4; Jeremiah 2:13, 16:11; and Ezekiel 18:30.
According to Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi in Morocco and Egypt during the Middle Ages, teshuvah has its origin in the Temple and its sacrifices, specifically those sacrifices brought for transgressions - such things as the sin offering, guilt offering, etc. Part of the rite for such offerings was a verbal confession by the wrongdoer. The conditions for the sincerity of such confessions were: An acknowledgement that one did wrong; remorse or shame; and a determination to not repeat the offense in future. And indeed, these are the fundamental elements of teshuvah.
The only point I am trying to make here is that to understand teshuvah, you must have an understanding of Yahweh's gift to us that He will accept our transgressions and our sincere regret and remorse and allow us to continue to live as we attempt to live by Torah.
I am not making the ritual of teshuvah more important than the intent. So as I give you these steps of the teshuvah, please do not place importance on the structure; but instead, understand what you are doing, what it is for: It is to confess your sins to Yahweh and to be remorseful and ask forgiveness.
Here are the four basic parts to teshuvah:
ONE. Leave the Sin.
Leaving the sin consists of stopping the commission of the sinful act. You cannot do teshuvah if you continue to do the sin - period!
Regret is sincerely regretting one's wrong action. You must be genuinely ashamed and embarrassed over your sins.
THREE. Confession Before Yahweh.
Confession before Yahweh means confession spoken out loud, in which you formulate in words the commitments and attitudes you have reached in your heart. It should go something like this: "I have sinned, I have done such and such; I deeply regret my actions, and I declare before Yahweh, Who knows my innermost thoughts, that I will never do this sin again."
Note that this confession is directly to Yahweh. No one need confess to an intercessor as Catholics are told.
FOUR. Acceptance for the Future.
Acceptance for the future consists of resolving in your heart never to commit the sin ever again.
But!....These 4 steps are only for sins committed against Yahweh! For sins committed against a person, you must first ask forgiveness from that person and then ask Yahweh to accept your teshuvah.
And! These four steps are only valid if you do teshuvah AFTER an unintentional sin. You cannot say: "I can do this sin, then do teshuvah and He will forgive me..." It simply doesn't work that way! The Bible tells us that the sin offerings of Leviticus were for unintentional sin. There never was atonement for intentional sin, and there still is no atonement for deliberate sin!
Hebrews 10: 26 "For if we deliberately continue to sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins."