Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year.
In ancient Israel, Yom Kippur was the day on which atonement was made for the whole nation (Leviticus 16). On this day, the high priest went to the Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood to make atonement for the people’s sins. He sprinkled the blood on the Ark of the Covenant. Prominent at Yom Kippur as well was the ceremony of the scapegoat. The priest laid his hands on the head of the animal, which then symbolically carried away the sins of the people. This is the only day in Torah specified as a day of fasting. In this day the nation was to "afflict itself’ in repentance for sin.1
Yom Kippur also has continuing central significance in Messianic Judaism. It is not that we seek atonement through our prayers or by the observance of a day: Yeshua the Messiah is our high priest, our atonement, and our scapegoat! When Messiah appeared as cohen gadol and went through the greater and more perfect "Tent", which is not man-made (it is not of this created world), He entered the Holiest Place once and for all.
He (Messiah) entered not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood, thus setting people free forever. For if sprinkling ceremonially unclean persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer restores their outward purity; then how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself to GOD as a sacrifice without blemish, purify our conscience from works that lead to death, so that we might love, serve and be in relationship with the Living GOD.
On Yom Yippur we should be reminded of Galatians 2:20:
"I have been crucified with Messiah and no longer live but Messiah lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of GOD who loved me and gave himself for me."
So therefore we inflict ourselves by fasting so that we might feel the touch of death. For death cuts through all the defenses and illusions we have carefully created around our mortality. We are reminded of our own weakness, frailty, and worthlessness, but also of the strength of our high priest Yeshua, who will aid us in conforming our innermost selves.
"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time need." Hebrews 4:15&16
Yeshua said "If anyone wishes to come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross." Matt 16:24. If we are in the Messiah we are new creatures, old things are passed away. Therefore we are able through Yeshua to deny ourselves. Only through Him are we able to face the worthlessness of self and become separated from those character traits within us which are not like our Messiah.
Yom Kippur is a time to purge those traits we do not like in ourselves and revitalize our souls - to do teshuvah. Teshuvah is usually translated as repentance, and the process certainly contains the component of repenting what was done in the past. But the word also means turning or returning for the process involves turning back to GOD.
On Yom Kippur, we should recognize our aloneness and seek to repair our relationships to others. Central to this is our relationship to GOD. God says to us, "Turn toward me and I will turn toward you." We ask that our days be renewed of old (Hadesh yameinu ke-kedem). Literally, this means "Make our days new as of old" -a paradox that captures the sense of a reconnection to the way we were or at least the way we should be. We go back to go forward. By repairing the breech between ourselves and GOD, we can also begin to repair the many breeches between ourselves and the people we have relationships with.2
- Jewish Roots by Dan Juster
- The Jewish Holidays by Michael Strassfeld