Out of all the feast days, modern religious Jews continue to honor YOM KIPPUR (the Day of Atonement) as the HOLIEST and most important of them all.
However, since there is now no temple nor High Priest to make atonement per the original instructions in Leviticus 16, the observance of YOM KIPPUR and its actual meaning has undergone quite a few radical changes over the centuries.
First, somewhere along the line, the Rabbis, who eventually assumed full authority of religious matters on behalf of the people, came up with this idea that on YOM KIPPUR the Lord judges a person’s deeds over the past year and based on that judgement determines whether that person’s name will be sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year.
They teach that this judgement process begins 10 days earlier on the Jewish New Year or ROSH HASHANAH.
During this 10-day period of penitence, the people are supposed to enter into a period of deep reflection, inner contemplation and repentance to prepare for that Day of Judgement.
Of course no joyous events or parties such as weddings are held during this period.
Also special charity is provided to the poor on YOM KIPPUR.
What’s interesting is that in an obvious token nod to the special YOM KIPPUR garments Israel’s High Priest wore on that solemn day, members of some Orthodox Jewish sects will wear all-white garments during the service.
Another change is that during the evening synagogue services, the Jewish men will don prayer shawls or TALLIT.
In all other situations, the TALLIT are only worn during the morning synagogue services.
Now the biggest challenge the Jews have faced concerning YOM KIPPUR observance is since they have had no Temple since 70 A.D. and no High Priest, how in the world can they become CLEAN and have their sins atoned for?
A variety of creative ways have been devised to deal with this seemingly unsolvable dilemma.
For example, sometime around 800 A.D., a ritual sprang up among Orthodox Jewish groups called KAPPAROT.
In this ritual, a person waves a chicken around his or her head and then afterwards, the chickens are given to the homeless or poor as an act of charity.
Now what I find interesting is what is recited out loud by the person when he or she is swinging the chicken around his head.
They will chant something like the following:
This is my exchange,
this is my substitute,
this is my atonement.
This rooster will go to its death,
while I will enter and proceed
to a good long life and to peace.
So to this day, these orthodox groups recognize that there must be a SUBSTITUTE to atone for their UNCLEANLINESS and sins.
Another view, which is more modern, is that what the Levitical rituals accomplished in the past is today accomplished by prayer, repentance, and good deeds.
Of course, this idea ignores the fact that man has an inherent corrupt nature or YETSER HARAH in him and leads to the conclusion that salvation isn’t even necessary provided we never sin.
In other words, this leads to the belief that a man can justify himself provided he keeps the Torah perfectly.
There are two things wrong with this kind of thinking.
First, as I’ve mentioned many times before, the TORAH was not given to Israel as a means of salvation, it was given as a guidepost on how to live a HOLY life.
Second, and this is connected to the first point, this idea ignores the fact that ONLY YHVH can provide salvation by His Grace.
It ignores the fact that salvation is 100% by God’s grace alone!
Remember God saved Israel FIRST by His Grace and then AFTERWARDS gave them His Teachings or His Torah.
I usually mention this point to Christians who mindlessly mouth the words “We’re not under the law anymore” as an incorrect justification to support their false idea that the “Law” is no longer applicable to them.
But now I feel like this point is just as applicable to religious Jews who believe that Torah obedience achieves atonement for sins.
I say this to both Christians and religious Jews: The Torah is not efficacious for atonement, because that wasn’t the purpose of the Torah.
We’re mixing up apples and oranges here.
So while the Christians may be right in criticizing the idea that TORAH observance cannot save, where they are DEAD WRONG is in thinking that the Old Testament actually really taught that TORAH observance was a means of salvation.
Salvation is by God’s Grace to be completed by Messiah and Torah observance is how we live our lives AFTER we are saved.
They are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS!
Judaism of course recognizes that some sins are indeed much more serious than others.
For example, the sin of blaspheming God’s HOLY Name is NOT an act that can be atoned for via simple repentance, prayer or good deeds.
For the gravest of sins, the Rabbis teach that one has to pay his own life to atone for such serious transgressions.
They teach that in death you have paid the price for your sins and are therefore eligible to gain entrance to the world to come.
The extent that people, whether Jew or gentile, will go to avoid accepting Yeshua as Messiah and Lord sometimes astounds me.
Messiah Yeshua, as our High Priest, has entered the Holy of Holies (only He has entered, not us) to make atonement for us for all time by means of His own blood.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
But when the Messiah appeared as 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.
And he entered not by means of the blood
of goats and calves,
but by means of his own blood,
thus setting people free forever.
For if sprinkling ceremonially unclean persons
with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes
of a heifer restores their outward purity;
then how much more the blood of the Messiah,
who, through the eternal Spirit,
offered himself to God as a sacrifice without blemish,
will purify our conscience from works that lead to death,
so that we can serve the living God!