We live one mile from the largest Jewish complex in Charlotte, NC. It is called Shalom Park. This compound houses a conservative temple, progressive temple, the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Services and the Jewish community center. If you haven't already guessed, we have a large number of Jews in our area. Twenty thousand, in fact. Since moving to our current house, I have enjoyed learning about the happenings and customs in Shalom Park. During Jewish holidays, it is not uncommon for me to see families dressed in nice attire walking to the temple for services.
On Thursday, October 9, Jews around the world will celebrate Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday for the Jewish people. It was originated in Scripture by Moses. In Leviticus 16:29-30, Moses quotes the Lord's command, "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." Thus, Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) began for the Jews.
This holiday solely focuses on redemption. Many Jews view this holiday as the last chance to change judgement on their sins. It is an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and make amends for harms done in the past year. Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath. It includes a 25-hour fast from food and drink. More orthodox followers also abstain from bathing, leather shoes, sex and make-up. The day is spent in prayer at the synagogue. Most people wear white as it symbolizes purity. White clothing is a reminder of God's promise to make their sins "white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). The Archaeological Study Bible says, "The purification rites enacted during this most special of days presupposed that the ordinary means of atonement (Lev. 1-7, 11-15) were insufficient to purify the people completely and to make full satisfaction for all of their sins."
One historical piece of Yom Kippur that Christians might know is the scapegoat. In Leviticus 16, Aaron is commanded to select two goats for this special day. One was sacrificed to cleanse the altars, and the other was used as a scapegoat for the people's sins. The Archaeological Study Bible describes it this way, "The sacrificed goat represented propitiation, whereby the wrath of God against His people was turned aside. The scapegoat, on the other hand, represented expiation, whereby the guilt of the sinners was removed."
Someone once said that God was a way of life to the Jews, not just a religion. I love that philosophy. While some of these traditions may sound weird to us, the Jewish people truly believe in an active Yahweh. When this holiday comes around each year, I am reminded of our ultimate scapegoat - Jesus Christ. He became the guilt for our sins and now resides as our High Priest in heaven. Praise God that we don't have to worry about daily or annual sacrifices for our sins. Our sins have been forever washed away in Christ.
"For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." Hebrews 9:24-28