What is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur, also known as the ‘Day of Atonement,’ or even the ‘One Day of the Year,’ is a Jewish Fall Feast. Yet, it is not a day of feasting as we might assume. No, it is a day of fasting and repentance. A seeking of atonement in the Courts of Heaven and earth… a feast not of food, but of time spent before the Lord.
“…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
Falling on the 10th of Tishrei in the Hebraic calendar, scarcely more than a week after Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish new year—Yom Kippur is a day of reflection, self-denial, and supplication to God. Still, despite, or perhaps because of, the seriousness of the day and focus on repentance, Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the year.
Symbols of Yom Kippur:
Unlike other Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur is lacking in an impressive number of symbols, yet, there are still a few that play key roles within the Jewish community:
- White—on Yom Kippur white is often worn to symbolize purification and dying to oneself.
- Shofar—the shofar/ram’s horn is an often-used symbol. The end of Yom Kippur is announced by one long shofar blast.
- Torah—the Word of God. During the last service of Yom Kippur the Torah is displayed, additionally portions of the Torah are read over the course of the day.
White: is commonly worn on Yom Kippur and one of the main reasons is 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 Yom Kippur is focused on seeking the forgiveness of sin, finding atonement, and redemption, the desire for the changing of scarlet sins to white is shown through the white garments worn. Some even going so far as to wear the kittel, a white robe resembling a shroud used for burying the dead—this showing the wish to bury their flesh filled desires.
The Shofar: is also a commonly used symbol of 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.
For instance, Abraham, when told to give his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, went up the mountain to fulfill God’s request. Yet, when God saw the willingness in Abraham’s heart to 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, and Jesus’ blood would cleanse our sins.
Innocent blood removes, restores, and cleanses… and the sound that emanates from the horn of such an innocent creature cleanses the air, removes the past, and brings hope of restoration in God’s redemptive act to true repentance.
Lastly, the Torah: is a commonly used symbol of Yom Kippur. One reason is because the Torah, during the last service of Yom Kippur, is laid on display for those in attendance. It serves as a reminder of why they are there and why it is important… repenting in the last moments of the day to seal themselves, their family, community, people, and country in God’s Book of Life.
Yet, this is not the only reason the Torah is symbolized… it is also because it was, and is, the Word that gave the command to repent, it is the Word that promised the hope of forgiveness, it is the Word that brings life. It is the connection to God. 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 or Deuteronomy, as well as the Book of Jonah. These readings are to remind us of the goodness of God that lead us to repentance.
“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
Symbols Found in Archaeology and History:
From Israel, to Europe, and beyond, we find that the Jewish people have not only traversed the world in search of peace, but have also left behind the story of this journey. Through the remains they have left behind we discover their story, not only through the significance of symbols related to Holy Days, such as Yom Kippur, but to the Jewish people in their everyday lives.
Jerusalem’s Old City; Venosa, Italy; a forced labor camp, Skarżysko-Kamienna, Poland… in all these places we see through the items left behind the significance of the shofar to the Jewish people. From the start of the Jewish new year with Rosh Hashanah, to the Sabbath, and even to Yom Kippur, we find the shofar performing a key role over and over again.
In the last decade Jerusalem has had an archaeological revolution in terms of finds. Of the artifacts found, those discovered near the Temple Mount, play perhaps, the most important role of any finds.
From the seals of Hezekiah and Isaiah, to the gold bell of a Temple priest, the artifacts found are bringing the Word to life… yet, some finds, while important to Jewish and Christian faiths, do not, at first, seem quite so important. Take the stone that fell long ago from a parapet near the southwest corner of the Temple Mount…
Aside from the carved Hebrew writing which reads, “to the place of trumpeting…” there is nothing that sets this stone apart from any other… that is until you understand what it represents.
It represents a location—near what was once the corner of the Temple’s parapet—where the Sabbath would have been announced with a blast from the shofar. It represents a place where the following of God’s laws—the keeping of the Sabbath—were set in motion. It represents a place where that which is Holy is set apart. It represents the remembrance of God by His children. It shows us the importance of the shofar in days gone by, and the love of God’s children for Him and His law.
“The sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets; and these shall be to you as an ordinance forever throughout your generations.”—Numbers 10:8
Yet, all around the world artifacts such as those shown below, have been found. These display the shofar and the Jewish people’s love for God no matter the distance… the ability to never forget God or the traditions of their fathers despite thousands of miles separating them from the land promised to them by God.
In part TWO of this three-part blog entitled, Yom Kippur: Unity, we will look not only at the two artifacts shown above, but at other artifacts relating to the shofar and Torah. Additionally, we will see how Yom Kippur not only brings a closer connection to God, but unity amongst God’s people…