There are three common symbols of Yom Kippur. Each symbol is significant and isn’t meant to be buried in the past. Yom Kippur symbols reveal God’s heart behind this High Holy Day, restoring, refreshing, and realigning us with our Creator!
What Is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur, part of the Jewish Fall Feasts, takes place on the 10th of Tishrei, a little more than a week after Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. Despite its proximity to the joyous celebration of Rosh Hashanah, it is a day of reflection, self-denial, and supplication to God.
Yom Kippur is a day not of feasting but fasting and repentance. It is a day of seeking atonement in the Courts of Heaven and, therefore, a feast not of food but of time spent with the Lord—for it is considered the holiest day of the year.
- “…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
Though the day is spent weeping and repentance, it is beautiful. Remember Romans 2:4…
- “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”
Yom Kippur aligns us with God’s timing, calendar, and plans, opening doors in the spirit for us to know God better. As we fast and worship, denying the flesh, let our heart cry be, “Oh God, I want to know You more!”
Repentance and judgment may be uncomfortable, but redemption, mercy, love, alignment, purpose, wholeness, and peace are on the other side of the opened door. By resetting our thoughts, words, hearts, purpose, and actions, we return to our Father’s house so that we might fulfill our Kingdom destinies. We are the King of kings' sons and daughters. So let us enter this time of repentance and realignment with our identities intact.
- “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”—2 Corinthians 6:18
Symbols of Yom Kippur
Three symbols of Yom Kippur play vital roles within the Jewish community, and they can speak to Gentile Believers too.
A Quick Look at the Symbols of Yom Kippur
- White— On Yom Kippur, white is often worn to symbolize purification and dying to oneself. John 3:30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This symbol of Yom Kippur allows realignment as we remember God is shaping us to be more like Him and less like our sinful selves.
- Shofar—The shofar (ram’s horn) is a common symbol. The shofar is a symbol of Yom Kippur because it announces the end of the feast and the lamb's innocence. John 1:29 says, “… John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” This symbol of Yom Kippur allows realignment as we remember how the blood of Jesus announces our innocence in the Courts of Heaven!
- Torah—The Torah is the Word of God. Throughout the day, portions of the Torah are read. During the last service of Yom Kippur, the Torah is set on display in the synagogue. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” This symbol of Yom Kippur brings realignment as we allow His Word and instruction to fill us so that our hearts are singing with grace to our Creator!
Yet, we can go deeper still…
White is commonly worn on Yom Kippur, and one of the main reasons can be 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 through the wearing of white garments. Some even go 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. 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. 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—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!’”—Matthew 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 needs us, in preparing ourselves, that 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 symbol commonly found at 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.
We see this in the life of 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 obey and please Him, He sent a ram to be used as the 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 the breath God gave us. We are shifting the tide so we might be remembered with love before the Lord.
The Torah is a common aspect of Yom Kippur–one reason is that it is laid on display for those in attendance during the last service of Yom Kippur. 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. It 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 promises 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 only 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 and Numbers, and the book of Jonah—to remind us of God’s goodness through His redemption as we repent before Him.
- “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 life!
We can benefit from understanding the symbols of Yom Kippur, not because it is our one chance to be redeemed—for it is not—but because it returns us to God and who we are meant to be in Him.
In the focus of the day, and even in the symbolism, we are reminded not only of the fact that we each require realignment with our God… but of the precious price Jesus paid so that we, who were once far off, might be brought near. It reminds us of the Blood as we walk in repentance, alignment, and redemption.
- “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”—Ephesians 2:13