There are three common symbols of Yom Kippur—also known as the ‘Day of Atonement’ or the ‘One Day of the Year’—and each has an importance, none of which are to remain buried in the past. For their meanings and the importance of the day restore us and brings life to this day.
What is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur, part of the Jewish Fall Feasts, takes place on the 10th of Tishrei, little more than a week after Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. Despite its close proximity to the joyous celebration of Rosh Hashanah, it is a day of reflection, self-denial, and supplication to God. A day not of feasting, but of fasting and repentance. A day of seeking of atonement in the Courts of Heaven, and therefore a feast not of food, but of time spent with the Lord—for it is considered to be 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 in weeping and repentance, it is a beautiful day. For in it, we are not only aligned to God’s timing, calendar, and plans, but we come to know our God better. In it, through a bit of self-denial and worship of our God, we are able to answer the cry of our spirit, “Oh that I might know You.”
Repentance and judgement may be uncomfortable, but on the other side is redemption, mercy, love, alignment, purpose, wholeness, and peace. By resetting our thoughts, words, hearts, purpose, and actions, we return to our Father’s house so that we might live our best lives… so we might remember that we are sons and daughters of the King of kings!
“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:
There are three symbols of Yom Kippur that play key roles within the Jewish community and, if we let them, would also speak to the Gentile Believers as well.
- White—on Yom Kippur white is often worn to symbolize purification and dying to oneself.
- Shofar—the shofar (ram’s horn) is a common symbol. One reason is that the end of Yom Kippur is announced by one long shofar blast, while another is because of the innocence of the animal which gave its life for the sound.
- Torah—the Word of God. Throughout the day portions of the Torah are read, and during the last service of Yom Kippur the Torah is set on display in the synagogue.
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 going 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!’”—Mathew 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 has need of us. That in preparing ourselves 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 cleansing but differentiating 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 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 because the Torah, during the last service of Yom Kippur, is laid on display for those in attendance. 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 therefore, to life!
Jews and Believers the world over can benefit from 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