What is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur, also known as the ‘Day of Atonement,’ or the ‘One Day of the Year,’ is part of the Jewish Fall Feasts. Yet, it is not a day of feasting, but one of fasting and repentance. A seeking of atonement in the Courts of Heaven… a feast not of food, but of time spent with the Lord.
“…the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work… for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.”—Leviticus 23:27-28
Yom Kippur falls on the 10th day of Tishrei in the Hebraic calendar, scarcely more than a week after Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—and acts as a day of reflection, self-denial, and supplication to God. Because of the seriousness of the day and focus on repentance, Yom Kippur is considered the Holiest day of the year.
Symbols of Yom Kippur:
There are three symbols of Yom Kippur that play key roles within the Jewish community, and if we let them, within the believing Gentile community as well.
- White—on Yom Kippur white is often worn to symbolize purification and dying to oneself.
- Shofar—the shofar/rams horn is a common symbol. One reason being that the end of Yom Kippur is announced by one long shofar blast, while another is because of the innocence of the animal which gave its life for the sound.
- Torah—the Word of God. Throughout the day portions of the Torah are read, and during the last service of Yom Kippur, the Torah is set on display in the synagogue.
Yet, we can go deeper still…
White is commonly worn on Yom Kippur and one of the main reasons is found in Isaiah 1:18.
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’”—Isaiah 1:18
Since the focus of Yom Kippur is on seeking the forgiveness of sin, finding atonement, redemption, and alignment, the desire for the changing of scarlet sins to white is shown by many though the wearing of white garments. Some even going so far as to wear the Kittel, a white robe used for burying the dead, allowing them to demonstrate their wish to bury their flesh filled desires and behaviors. So, while you and I are unlikely to wear grave clothes as a physical display, we can hopefully understand the desire to die to our flesh.
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”—Romans 8:13
We are meant to die daily to our flesh, and while we can access God’s forgiveness and ask Him to help us die to our flesh at any moment, being intimately aware of this need—even for such a short time—is important. It reminds us of the beauty of redemption; the beauty of our God. In white, we come to the other side, the side where the Blood of Jesus has washed us clean and we are dressed for our wedding; for His joy. We come to the other side of repentance in forgiveness as we are prepared for our Bridegroom.
“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’”—Mathew 25:6
“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”—Revelation 3:5
It is a reminder that the harvest is white and the Master has need of us. That in preparing ourselves, we might gather God’s harvest.
“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”—John 4:35
The shofar is another one of the symbols of Yom Kippur. This largely relates to the shofar being blown in one long, piercing blast to signify the end of Yom Kippur. But it is more. The shofar is made from the horn of an innocent creature—the shedding of this innocent blood not only cleanses but differentiates the pure from the impure.
Take Abraham… When told to give his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, he went up the mountain to fulfill God’s request. Yet, when God saw the willingness in Abraham’s heart to please Him, He sent a ram to be used as sacrifice. The ram was innocent—as was Isaac—and took his place. In this same way, innocent blood would differentiate and protect the children of Israel in Egypt from the final plague, just as Jesus’ Blood would cleanse our sins.
This pattern is still in place today. As we are obedient to God, He stands ready to cleanse us with innocent blood—the Blood of our Savior, symbolized in the innocent blood of a ram.
Further, the sound of the shofar is a battle cry!
“When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.”—Numbers 10:9
Repentance, Godly sorrow, and return to God are each a form of warfare in the spirit, because the enemy despises them. When we let forth a blast of the shofar, we are turning the battle; we are returning breath God gave us; and we are shifting the tide so that we might be remembered with love before the Lord.
The Torah is a common aspect of Yom Kippur. One reason is because the Torah, during the last service of Yom Kippur, is laid on display for those in attendance. There, it serves as a reminder as to why they are gathered and why the day is important as they repent—even in those last moments of the day—to seal themselves, their families, community, people, and country in God’s Book of Life for the year.
Yet, this is not the only reason the Torah is symbolized. The Torah is read throughout the day because it was—and is—through the Word that God gave the command to repent. It is the Word that promised the hope of forgiveness. It is the Word that brings life. And it is a beautiful connection to our Father, for by Him, Jesus—the Word—became flesh.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”—John 1:14
Therefore, the Torah is not merely displayed on Yom Kippur, it is read to bring us closer to God and to understand the weight of what has been done against God in the past year. Common readings include portions from Leviticus, Numbers, and the book of Jonah.
“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”—Romans 2:4
When we love the Word of God we are loving God. When we repent we are loving God. When we read His Word we are loving God, for God is the Word and the Word is God. Therefore, for us as Believers, the Torah—the Word—should be our heart’s song, written upon the tablets of our hearts, and living within us as our strength.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”—Hebrews 4:12
The Word and Holy Spirit lead us to repentance and therefore, to life!
In Part TWO of this three-part blog series, we will examine artifacts from the archaeological record that remind us of the importance of the shofar. Additionally, we will discover how Yom Kippur not only brings a closer connection to God, but unity to His people…