What’s A Yom Kippur?

The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

“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. 31It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves. This is a permanent regulation.” Leviticus 16:29-31

Yom (Yohm) meaning “day” in Hebrew and Kippur (Ki-poor)from the root word “atone” bring us to what is arguably the holiest day of the Biblical year.  With the observance of this festival come the two conjoined fundamentals of repentance and atonement. This day falls in autumn following Rosh Hoshanah/Yom Teruah or the Feast of Trumpets and is directly preceded by the 10 Days of Awe. 

By now we have spent the month of Elul preparing our hearts. We have repented of wrongdoing, bitterness, seeking to distance ourselves from anything which damages relationships with others and especially those elements which could be a barrier in our relationship with Yahweh Elohim. With the gift of forgiveness and grace we have joyfully cast our sins on Him knowing He longs for us to return to Him with greater fervor than we could ever return. During the 10 Days we have spent time considering and evaluating all that remains within us.

All the soul searching and seeking, praying and thoughtful contemplation culminate on Tishrei 10 (September 28th, 2020) with a 24 hour period of concentrated prayer, fasting (in whichever method you believe is appropriate), and, as believers in Yeshua Ha Maschiach, the Messiah Yeshua, we express our profound gratitude for His grace and redemption.  Forever.  A “permanent regulation”.

So what happened, during ancient Biblical times, on this sacred day?  The first action of the High Priest was to mikveh, wash, and put on clean linen clothes.

Two goats were brought to the tabernacle or temple and the High Priest would cast lots over which of the two would be sacrificed. A tongue-shaped piece of scarlet cloth was tied to the horn of the Azazel or scapegoat and that goat was set before the people to wait until all their sins were laid upon him by the priest. As the goat waited, the offering of the sacrifice of a bullock would take place and only then could the High Priest step into the Holy of Holies, the Kadosh Kodashim.

The first time the High Priest enters to burn incense, representing the prayers of the priests. He enters a second time with the blood of the bullock and the third time to sprinkle the blood of the goat on the mercy seat.

When sprinkling the blood, he also casts it toward (but not on) the veil, the altar of incense, and the burnt-offering. It is now time for the High Priest to lay the personal sins and guilt of all the people on the scapegoat, make confession over it, and the goat is led away to die, Sometimes the goat pushed over a precipice to ensure its death as it was important that it did not come back to camp as the people perceived it as carrying the sins of the people.

Then the High Priest would mikveh, wash, a second time, put on his other clothes, enter the Holy of Holies one last time and offer the burnt offering and other sacrifices.

This command, given to Moses, has been observed for millennia and, naturally, various traditions and methods of observance have come from those times. Some based on clear biblical directions and some, in the post-Temple era, are naturally based on rabbinic interpretation and even simple expediency. 

To be sure, it is not easy to understand, in modern times, what we are to do about the Azazel (scapegoat) and the command to release one goat to the desert and one goat to be sacrificed for the sins of the people.  It is not easy for us to understand and not needful for our sanctification and redemption. 

“But when the Messiah appeared as Cohen haGadol (High Priest) of the good things that are happening already, then, through the greater and more perfect Tent which is not man-made (that is, it is not of this created world), He entered the Holiest Place once and for all.” Hebrews 9:11-14

He entered not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, thus setting people free forever. If sprinkling ceremonially unclean persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer was capable of restoring their outward purity; then how much more powerful is the blood of the Messiah, who, through the eternal Holy Spirit, offered Himself to God as a sacrifice. A holy sacrifice without blemish that will purify our conscience from works that lead to death so that we can serve the living God in unity and restored relationship.

“24 “For the Messiah has entered a Holiest Place which is not man-made and merely a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, in order to appear now on our behalf in the very presence of God.25 Further, he did not enter heaven to offer himself over and over again, like the cohen hagadol who enters the Holiest Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer death many times — from the founding of the universe on. But as it is, he has appeared once at the end of the ages in order to do away with sin through the sacrifice of himself.”Hebrews 9:24-26

The parallels of the ancient command and our Messiah’s shed blood and the transference of our sin to His shoulders are stunningly precise. Obviously our Messiah’s sacrifice was the plan all along and the hope of all the ages. As believers, we walk in confidence since we have been covered by His blood and our sins are washed away. We can boldly approach the throne of grace is our birthright because of Messiah’s perfect sacrifice.

“God made this sinless man to be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with Him we might fully share in God’s righteousness.”  2 Corinthians 5:21

Animal sacrifices were never intended to be enough. The plan for our atonement was always the blood of Messiah, His perfect sacrifice, and His willingness to carry our sin.  He “…entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Hebrews 9:24.  Not over and over again, annually, but once and for all.

Recognizing this incredible gift, we gather together on Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement, solemnly reflecting on our great need for a Savior and His great love for us, and worship.  For we have been redeemed. We have been made clean. And it is our Yom Kippur.