For the week of September 22, 2007 / 10 Tishri 5768
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 16:1-34;
Bemidbar / Numbers 29:7-11
Haftarah: Isaiah 57:14 - 58:14
This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work-whether native-born or an alien living among you - because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. (Vayikra / Leviticus 16:29,30)
As Jewish Believers my wife and I strive to express our Jewishness in such a way that is pleasing to God. In order to do that we put the religious and cultural aspects of our Jewishness through the filter of the Scriptures. Those things that are clearly supported by the Scriptures we keep. That which is clearly forbidden, we reject. And as for those things that are neither condemned nor condoned, we seek God for wisdom as to what to do. This is not always an easy or straightforward process, and so we regularly adjust what we do as we grow in understanding.
The high holiday season is full of rich meaning and tradition - some good; some not so good. It is a wonderful time of reflection. It is a time to especially remember who God is and what he has done. It is a time for family gatherings. It provides an opportunity to make things right with others. It is a time for joy and celebration.
Yom Kippur (English: The Day of Atonement) begins this year on the evening of September 21. I find the traditions surrounding this particular holiday some of the most challenging. According to the Torah, Yom Kippur was to be an annual event for the cleansing of the sins for the nation of Israel. Two important ritual ceremonies took place when the ancient Temple stood. One was that it was the only time in the year when the Cohen HaGadol (English: the High Priest) would enter the Most Holy Place to ceremonially cleanse the Ark of the Covenant. The other was the scapegoat - a symbolic act of carrying away the sins of the people by means of sending a goat into the wilderness.
Yom Kippur, like many other holy days, was to be a sabbath (whatever day of the week it would fall on) with the special directive to the people to deny themselves. Traditionally this has been interpreted to mean a complete fast of food, drink, wearing leather, washing, anointing oneself, and marital relations.
The Temple ceremonies ended upon its destruction in the year 70. Without the Temple it was impossible to fully observe what the Torah had directed Israel to do. What has not been readily accepted is that these ceremonies had already been rendered obsolete about 40 years prior by the sacrificial death of the Messiah. What was foreshadowed by these rituals was accomplished in Yeshua. Temple or no Temple the ceremonies of Yom Kippur are no longer necessary. This leads us to ask therefore, should the day still be observed?
Some believers use this day as a way to acknowledge and celebrate the gift of atonement given to us through Yeshua's sacrifice. As we do that, we may choose to reflect on the condition of our relationship to God and others. It can also be an excellent occasion to cry out to God for our people - for their welfare, both spiritual and physical. While Yeshua has accomplished the atonement foreshadowed by Yom Kippur, we await the full fruit of his labor - the final redemption of Israel, when the nation as a whole will recognize Yeshua as the Messiah.
If I were asked if we are obligated to keep Yom Kippur, I would have to say, "No," due to its fulfillment in Yeshua and the destruction of the Temple. Yet we may choose to enter into the day to express solidarity with the Jewish people and to seek God for the full accomplishment of his purposes among us.
As for what form our observance of Yom Kippur might take, if we decide to observe it, that is up to you before God. In the Messiah we are free to keep the day or not (Romans 14:5). Whatever we do, we need to do as he leads us by his Word and by his Spirit.
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