Grateful, Grateful, Grateful for the Atonement!
by Lonnie Lane
At sundown tonight, as I write, Yom Kippur will begin. It is the holiest day on the Hebrew Biblical calendar, the Day (Yom) of Atonement (Kippur). In Israel people will eat a big meal around 4:30 p.m. and then fast for the next 25 hours (an extra hour in case anyone gets in on it late). All cars, buses and any other means of transportation will cease for that time, though children can still be riding their bikes. Radios and TVs will go silent. Even if they don’t go any other time during the year, Jewish people are likely to flood into the synagogues, in Israel and elsewhere in the world. It is believed that God draws closer on this day than any other day of the year. It is the day when God decides whose name will be included in His Book of Life for the next year, in other words, how many will be born, who will live and who will pass away.
The Yom Kippur service begins with the Kol Nidre meaning “all vows” and is accompanied by heart wrenching singing, stirring the hearts of any penitent longing for a cleansed conscience before God. However, despite the emotion in the music, Kol Nidre involves renouncing any vows that may be made in the following year, rather than for any that may have already been made in the past year. Although the exact origin of Kol Nidre is not known, it is traced back to the 8th century and appears to be linked to exonerate those Jews who were (or who might be) forced to convert to Catholicism at the threat of loosing their lives. Words are sung, and then words to this affect are recited three times in order to invalidate any vows to renounce their Judaism and agree to be baptized and follow Christ. As it’s said today and for the last five hundred or so years, vows that may be said in the future year are renounced. It was always this way. Rashi’s son-in-law, Rabbi Meir ben Samuel, somewhere around 1000 A.D., changed the phrase, “from the last day of atonement until this one,” to “from this day of atonement to the next.” Perhaps he was expecting increased forced conversions.
May I interject here that the “Christ” Jews were forced to accept at various points in history, was NOT the true Yeshua of Nazareth, nor the Messiah of Israel, nor the Son of God. That representation of Jesus was a gross distortion of who He truly is, so for anyone reading this who would be inclined even a tiny bit to think, “Yeah, see, the Jews didn’t want the Lord,” it sure wasn’t our Lord they were being presented with. Okay, on with the story.
In the 12th century, inclusion in the service was extended to those who were “under the ban” so that Jews could still be really practicing their Judaism where it really counted on Yom Kippur. Talmudic thought on this is that if the wicked were not included in a day of fasting, it negates the fast as petition to God. The premise being, why not include Jews who in their hearts are still Jewish even if they’ve violated Torah. Presumably this includes those who had converted. Though they may have been forced to convert, they were here included in Yom Kippur, reflecting the heart of compassion and mercy that exists in Judaism even alongside of legalism.
Let’s take a little look inside of a Yom Kippur service. Generally the congregation has two Torah scrolls. At this time the Ark (a double door armoire) in which they are kept is ceremoniously opened while everyone stands, and both scrolls are taken out and held as the following Kol Nidra “prayer” is said and/or sung with great pathos: “All vows or pledges we are likely to make between this Yom Kippur and the next we publicly renounce. Let them be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither affirmed or established. Let our personal vows, pledges or oaths not be considered vows, pledges or oaths.” Then the congregation recites three times, “May the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who lives in their midst, for all the people are at fault.” Then the Torah scrolls are replaced in the Ark until another part of the day’s service.
Continued repentance is communally shared as sin of “lashon ha-ra” which is “an evil tongue" is recited together. An evil tongue would be: using offensive speech such as slander, swearing, gossip or talebearing, and lying. All repentance is recited by the congregation in unison. Sin is seen as a communal responsibility: “We have …” or “Forgive us…” For example, “Forgive us the breach of acting callously” or the prayer that God would “forgive us the breach of positive commands and negative commands, whether they involve an act or not, whether or not known to us.” Christians tend to see themselves much more individualistic than Jews. When we look at various places in Scripture where the sin of one person had effect on the whole of Israel, we can see where the sense of community responsibility would arise. When Miriam sinned in her attitude against Moses, the whole nation had to wait for her seven days outside the camp with leprosy before they could move on (Numbers 12:15). When Korah and three other men contended against Moses and Aaron, the Lord took it as if “they contended against the Lord. And the earth opened up and swallowed them” Evidently a fire from heaven accompanied this event and “the fire devoured 250 men so they became a warning” (Numbers 26:9-11). A further example is when, “The sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, therefore, Achan….from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things that were under the ban; therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel” (Joshua 7:1). God became angry with all the sons of Israel at the sin of Achan until justice was restored. So we can see why, even today, Jews are still aware that the sin of one affects the whole community. To turn it around and put it more positively, to project how the mercy of one can affect not only one’s community, but ultimately the world, the Talmud states, “To save one life is as if you were saving the world.”
The Yom Kippur service concludes with opening the ark again, and praying the Ne’ilah, a ‘one last chance’ prayer that has a kind of tone of desperation to it. Then the Torah scrolls are replaced and the Ark closed. The service ends with a very long blast of a shofar. The day is ended. People go home for a light meal, having made it through the day of fasting both food and water, if they’re really serious about it.
Such is the traditional Yom Kippur service. However, you won’t find this in the Bible. When the Temple was destroyed in 70A.D., some 35 years after the resurrection of Yeshua, there was no longer any Biblical place for sacrifices as God had commanded. He had specifically told Israel they were to sacrifice ONLY where He told them to. What were they to do? Enter one Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai into the picture. He was the youngest and most distinguished disciple of Rabbi Hillel. He’s been called the “father of wisdom” and the “father of generations of scholars” because he ensured the continuation of Jewish scholarship after Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. According to tradition, Rabbi ben Zakkai was a pacifist living in Jerusalem in 68 A.D, when the city was already being besieged by General Vespasian. The Zealots in Jerusalem would rather have died, which most of them did, rather than surrender to Rome. These are the same people who fled to and eventually took their own lives on Masada rather than surrender to Rome. Ben Zakkai urged them to surrender Jerusalem but he was rejected. (Would history have been different if they had listened to him? We’ll never know.)
Anyway, he faked his own death and was carried out of Jerusalem in a coffin and was somehow carried to Vespasian’s tent where he emerged alive from the coffin. He told Vespasian of a vision that Vespasian would soon become Emperor and asked Vespasian if when he became emperor he would allow him to set up a small school to study Torah in peace. Vespasian promised to meet his request. He did become emperor, and granted the request. A school was set up at Yavneh which became the center for Jewish learning for centuries, and in fact, replaced Jerusalem as the location of the Sanhedrin.
When the temple was destroyed, the priesthood was disbanded and the nation of Israel dispersed. Since there was no longer any place for the sacrifices, nor a high priest to officiate anyway, the council at Yavneh met to formulate a substitution for the sacrifices. Something had to be done for the atonement of Israel’s sins. The believers in Yeshua, of course, knew that He was the final and complete fulfillment for the Yom Kippur requirement of sacrifice for sin, but they were not among the rabbis in Yavneh. The rabbis decided that fasting, good deeds (mitzvot), the giving to charity (tzedakah), and prayer (t’filah) would have to suffice for a substitute for the blood sacrifice. This was instituted at that time and has remained that way to observe Yom Kippur ever since. The Day of Atonement without an atonement! It is said that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakki, the one primarily responsible for this decision, died despairing for his soul’s salvation. Following is a quote on the traditions concerning Rabbi ben Zakkai:
In his last hours, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai kept weeping out loud. “O master,” his disciples exclaimed, “O tall pillar, light of the world, mighty hammer, why are thou weeping?” …”I go to appear before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He,” Yohanan replied. “Moreover I have before me two roads, one to paradise and one to Gehenna (hell) and I know not whether He will sentence me to Gehenna or admit me into paradise.”
Take a moment to digest the gravity of that. (Heavy sigh.) Here was the leading scholar of Judaism and in the end, he had no assurance of his eternal salvation or destiny. He is, of course, not alone. Millions of Jews will sit in synagogue this weekend or any Yom Kippur weekend with no assurance of their salvation any more than he had. Many will not even give thought to that as a concern, even though they attend the service, much like Christians who only go to church on Easter or Christmas.
But many others are seeking a way to satisfy God’s requirements. There has always been a sense that God would one day send the Messiah, the Holy One to redeem Israel. There has always been the hope of Messiah coming. The Machzor, which is the prayer book for the Day of Atonement includes this prayer:
“Our righteous anointed is departed from us: Horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He has borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He bears our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by His wound, at the time when the Eternal will create Him (the Messiah) as a new creature.”
Can you see how God is holding a picture of Messiah Yeshua before them? The reading of Isaiah 53, the main Messianic passage in the Tenach, the Old Testament, is certainly evident in this cry of desperation for God. The prayer is recited, but few, with the exception of Orthodox Jews who have their own idea of Messiah, have an expectation of the Messiah actually coming. Nevertheless, there is the drawing of Jewish people to the synagogues on Yom Kippur. That can only be the work of the Holy Spirit, wooing them to consider their sins, to be aware that God is wanting to bring them to Himself. Yeshua said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Pray that Abba will draw the Jewish people to Himself at this time. They need to know the real meaning of the Day of Atonement.
Did you notice that in those Yom Kippur prayers, there is no real sense of petition for eternal salvation? The day is primarily about being forgiven so they can have another year of life, to remain alive – as in breathing. But it doesn’t seem to include being spiritually alive unto God, being closer to Him all year, or living for Him. It is, however, for Jews a heavy day, a day of mourning. Yes, a recitation of sins, but no plea for God to keep them from sinning again or from offending Him. Yes, there is the renouncing of vows ahead of time, but is that repentance? We can understand the motive under the pressure to convert or die, but few, at least in the western world, have that decision today to convert to another religion under force or die. (May it remains so. Amen.)
For all the heaviness, there’s no release that their petitions have been heard. Nor does the renouncing of vows before they happen make one feel free of them should they be faced with them. Renouncing violations ahead of time seems rather to give license to them. It makes them okay to do without any fear of offending God. How can you repent for something and then go do it? That’s not repentance. Does our declaring that we won’t really mean it if we make a vow, make it acceptable to make the vow? Jews and Christians over millennia have died rather than take a vow that causes them to deny their God. Kol Nidre has been disputed by rabbis, beginning in the 12th century, periodically for just this reason.
As you contemplate what we’ve just learned above, what’s missing? Okay, I’’ll tell you. Relationship. Relationship with the Messiah. Relationship with God Almighty, with the Holy One of Israel, with the God of our salvation, with our Redeemer. The prayers and the declarations may be dramatic, may even sound desperate, but they do not include a loving assurance of being accepted in the Beloved, nor gratefulness for having been forgiven. Indeed, they cannot know if they are forgiven. In the days of the temple, the sacrifice was burned and one could see that a death had occurred, the blood had been spilled and the animal was no more. Or in the case of the “scapegoat” for Yom Kippur, one of the two animals involved in the rituals, the sins of the people would be laid on the head of the goat by the High Priest and the goat would be sent out into the wilderness, taking the nations sins far away until it died. A red scarf or ribbon would have been tied to the door of the temple, and when the scapegoat died, and the sacrifice was made, the red ribbon turned to white and the people would know that the sins of the nation had been forgiven so God’s presence would be with them for another year.
But none of that was available after the temple was destroyed. The only thing left of a sacrifice for the sins of the nation after the temple was destroyed was the faith in Yeshua for those who knew that He was The Sacrifice who satisfied all that God required for righteousness to be restored. For those of us who know Yeshua and who rest in the truth that our sins are done away with and that our names are written not just in God’s book of life for the next year, but eternally in the Lamb’s book of life, we have no fear of repenting without knowing that our repentance has been accepted. We pray and have the precious sense of His presence. The synagogue-goers can pray but few can hear His voice speaking to them. We who are Yeshua’s know His voice, whether in the Scriptures or in our hearts, He is close to us. He is not “out there” and we are not people who go through rituals with some vague hope that God sees and hears and cares. We’re His and we know He cares and is involved in our lives. We know that “in Him we live and move and exist…for we also are His children” (Acts 17:28).
Yom Kippur is a good time to be praying for the Jewish people (anytime is really), but it is also a good time to be giving thought to how good to us our God is, how close to us He is, how ENORMOUSLY different our lives are from those who don’t know Him, who have not yet been “washed in the Blood of the Lamb,” as the song goes.
Lord, we tell you this together. We are grateful. We thank you, Lord Yeshua, for coming to be the sacrifice for our sins. We cannot express to You how much we appreciate that You’ve extended Your love and salvation to us. The only way to even begin to show you our thankfulness is to give you our lives daily and to live for your glory.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2010.
Lonnie Lane comes from a family of four generations of Jewish believers, being the first one saved in 1975. Lonnie has been in church leadership for many years, and has planted two “one new man” house fellowships, one in Philadelphia suburbs and the other in Jacksonville, Florida, where she now lives near 6 of her 8 grandchildren. Lonnie is the author of “Because They Never Asked” and numerous articles on this website. She has been the Producer of Messianic Vision's radio and TV shows and the International Prayer Co-Coordinator for Messianic Vision's intercessors. Click Here to order Lonnie's book, "Because They Never Asked."
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.