Yom Kippur

At the close of Rosh Hashanah begins the Ten Days of Awe, the ten day countdown to Yom Kippur.  These awesome days emphasize our relationship with G-d, His holy nature and our sinful nature.  Approaching Yom Kippur we concentrate on how to reconcile the gulf of sin that separates us from Him. Traditionally Yom Kippur is when the books of life and death are sealed, and Jewish people will receive their coming judgment.  This is seen in the traditional greeting for this holiday, “G’mar chatima tovah!”, or “May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!”.  At this time, the rabbis have commanded the people to begin the process of repentance in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by turning, or returning, to the Lord.

The Talmud says: “Remake yourselves by repentance during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and on the Day of Atonement, I [God] will hold you guiltless, regarding you as a newly made creature.”  As believers in Yeshua, we know only the Messiah can make us new creatures, and that we cannot remake ourselves. What, then, is supposed to strike such “awe” at the coming of Yom Kippur?  Let’s look further…

Yom Kippur is commonly known as the Day of Atonement.  Yom means “day” and Kippur means a “covering” or “atonement.”  A related Hebrew word, “kapper”, means “to cover”, as in the covering of sin G-d provides for His people when they come before Him with the appropriate sacrifice.  G-d has spelled out what this sacrifice is to be:

Leviticus 17:11
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the alter to make atonement for yourselves; for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life.”

Hebrews 9:22
“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”

Even the Talmud agrees (Yoma 5a):  “There is no atonement except with blood.”

The idea of sacrifice as a means of atoning for sins shows G-d’s grace and His willingness to forgive a sinful nation without them having to die. G-d sees the person presenting the sacrifice has having paid the price for their sin, covered with the blood.  This is the essence of the idea of the substitute sacrifice, the death of what is innocent for that which has sinned.  It points to the heart of the B’rit Hadashah:

I Corinthians 15:3

“ . . . the Messiah died for our sins . . .”

Yeshua gave His life to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

Israel was to be set apart from all sin, and this was spelled out in the Mosaic Law. The core of this law is the sacrificial system.  This is evidence that God knew that Israel would not be able to keep the law.  The Law was given to the nation of Israel to keep them holy.  The word holy, “kadosh” in Hebrew,  is used more than eighty different times in Leviticus alone.  It means “separate”, or “set apart”.

Leviticus 20:26

“Rather, you people are to be holy for me, because I, Adonai, am holy; and I have set you apart from other peoples, so that you can belong to me.”

The B’rit Hadashah refers to the Torah as good.  This good law is the same one that brings sins into the open.

Romans 7:12
“So the Torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just and good.”

When we are aware of our sins we can come to the L-rd with the substitute sacrifice, and in His mercy He will forgive us.  The sacrificial system is the core of the Torah, and is a foreshadowing of the grace that would be given to us through Messiah’s sacrifice.

Key Elements of Yom Kippur

Leviticus 23:26-32 gives us the commandment to observe Yom Kippur:

The LORD said to Moses,  [27] “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire.  [28] Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God.  [29] Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people.  [30] I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day.  [31]
You shall
do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.  [32] It is a Sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath.”

From this we have the date for Yom Kippur of the tenth of Tishri, the seventh month. Its observance is to be perpetual, in all dwelling places, pointing out that it still has significance for us today.  We are to hold a “holy convocation”, G-d’s people called together for His purposes.

He calls for our undivided attention.

We are also commanded to “deny ourselves”, or “humble our souls” under the penalty of being excommunicated if we do not obey. What is the nature of this “denial”?


Some translate this humbling to mean “affliction of the soul.”  Not eating for twenty-four hours is seen by some as this type of affliction. (…for some of us just skipping lunch is an affliction!) The rabbis interpret this verse to mean that we must restrain from our earthly appetites…take time out from our daily ritual of meals. They reflect that we are meant to feel that the natural course of life is suspended, as if we are dead, so as to better embrace life.  The fast is so important to this day that it is also referred to as “The Day of the Fast”, or simply “The Fast.”

Psalm 35:13.connects fasting with humbling oneself:

Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. The same idea is seen in

Isaiah  58:3
‘Why have we
fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
More important to G-d is our heart attitude than merely the act of fasting “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. G-d prescribes a fast that reflects our proper attitude:

Isaiah 58:6
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  This is the way to get His attention…then He will hear our cry on Yom Kippur:

Isaiah 58:9
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

The “Sabbath of Sabbaths”

Another commandment that God gives us during Yom Kippur is that we must do no work.  It is said to be the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” We are not to mix our daily routine with this holy day.  The punishment for not obeying this commandment is death! God takes this holiday very seriously and He wants it to be His day alone!


The next commandment that God gives us is that we are to present Him an offering. There are to be many offerings during the day.  The whole chapter of Leviticus 16 is dedicated to describing these offerings.  It is also mentioned in Numbers 29:
.  These sacrifices are required because, during the time this feast was implemented, it was the only way to access God.  He could not look upon sin, so an offering had to be made to atone for the people’s sins before they could enter into
His Presence.  The High Priest was used as the mediator between the people and God.  It was no easy task to be a high priest because there was much training and preparation involved.  Unfortunately, during the time of the Second Temple, the system became corrupt and the Romans let the wealthy families compete for the honor of becoming the High Priest.

Aaron, the first High Priest was given a warning from God.  His instructions were that he was not to enter in to the Holy of Holies except on the day of Yom Kippur or he would face the punishment of death.  Inside this most holy place was the Ark of the covenant and the Mercy Seat.  Above this was the Shekinah Glory, the visible presence of G-d in a cloud.

Exodus 33:20 “‘But my face,’ he continued, ‘you cannot see, because a human being cannot look at me and remain alive.’”

The order of the High Priest’s duties has been passed down through the centuries, and is reflected in the order of service used today in traditional synagogues.

The Tabernacle

The focus on the Yom Kippur ceremony was centered around the Tabernacle.  There was much symbolism associated with the Tabernacle.  The original tent-like structure was made of cloth and skins that would be carried from place to place as the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness and later in the Promised Land.  The floor plan of the temples built by Solomon, rebuilt at the time of Ezra, and also constructed under King Herod followed this same structure except they were much more opulent.

The contents of the Tabernacle are as follows:

·        Located in the middle of the Tabernacle was the courtyard.  This courtyard was surrounded by a fence and only had one gate.

·        Directly in front of the gate, on the inside of the fence, was a brazen alter.  This alter was used for sacrifices and burnt offerings.  This  symbolized that there was only one way to God, and that was through the sacrifice of an innocent animal that would bear the guilt and shame of the people.

·        Inside the Tabernacle was a candelabra of God’s design.  The light shed from this candelabra illuminated the services of all of the Holy Priests.  This single light is symbolized that only God can provide illumination for the understanding of divine truth and worship.

·        Also inside the Tabernacle was an alter of incense.  The Priests would burn this incense to symbolize the people’s prayers.  The fragrant aroma from the incense would drift into the back third of the Tabernacle that was also known as the Holy of Holies.  This paints a picture of our prayers continually coming into God’s presence.

·        The Holy of Holies was separate from the rest of the Tabernacle by a heavy veil or curtain.  The burning incense was thrust through the veil and this was to symbolize the bathing of this place in prayer in order to prepare the way into His holy presence.

·        Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant.  Details on the construction of this ark can be found in Exodus 37.  It was basically a wooden chest overlaid in gold.  Two angelic figures, called cherubim, were placed on the lid facing one another.  Their wings spread out to cover the top of the ark, also called the Mercy Seat.

·        The significance of what was contained in the ark is described in Hebrews 9:4.

–           The stone tablets were the second set of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.  (The first set was broken when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found the people in gross sin and worshipping a golden calf.  This can be found in Exodus 32:4, 35.)

–           A pot of manna was put there to remind the people of their complaining when God provided heavenly food for the in the wilderness.  (Numbers 11:20)

–           Aaron’s staff was also placed in the ark.  This staff had miraculously sprouted leaves. (Numbers 17:8-10)  This miracle occurred when a group of rebel leaders had tried to take over leadership of the nation from Moses and Aaron.  God performed this miracle to show the people why they should not reject His chosen leadership.  (Numbers 16:41)

The inclusion of these three items in the ark may be seen as man’s utter rejection of God.  They first rejected the giving of His moral Law on the tablets.  Then they rejected His attempt to give them daily provisions of food or manna.  Finally, Aaron’s rod reminds us that they rejected His authorized leadership.

The word “transgression” in Leviticus 16:16, 21 reflects this idea of rejection.  This is the only place in all of Leviticus where this word appears.  The Hebrew word for transgression, “Pesha,” has the implication of revolt or rebellion.  This is the gravest word for sin that can be used.

Symbolism Explained

This is why sacrifices had to be made.  They covered the sins from God’s eyes.  For this reason, the lid of the ark was named the Mercy Seat, in Hebrew “kippore”, or “propitiation”.  The Mercy Seat was the seat of atonement.

When one came in faith with the atonement that God had prescribed, only then could God display His mercy.  This all prefigured the atonement that would be provided by Yeshua.  In order to see this more clearly, we must examine what the Priests did in the Tabernacle.  The blood of sacrificed animals had to be used.  As mentioned earlier, Leviticus 17:11 tells us that the life of the animal is in the blood and that it was given to us, on the alter, to make atonement for our sins.  Notice
that God specified that the blood was given
on the alter, the place He specified.

The High Priest

Before atoning for the sins of the people, the High Priest had to make atonement for his own sins.  Even the High Priest Aaron was not above cleansing himself and his family first before any redemption of the people could take place.  He brought a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for the burnt offering.    Before the blood could be applied to the alter, Aaron donned himself in special linen garments.  These did not include the breastplate with the urim and thummim he and the other Priests to follow would wear on other days. Those were instruments of communication between God and the people. Only on Yom Kippur did the High Priest communicate with God in His very presence on the Mercy Seat.

The High Priest was to sacrifice two young goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.  The two goats were brought before the door of the Tabernacle.  Lots were cast to determine which goat would be the one designated for the sacrifice, called “chatat”, and which goat would be the scapegoat, called “azazel”,  to be led away to die in the wilderness.

Upon entering the Holy of Holies, the High Priest would burn incense.  The smoke created from this incense shielded him from actually seeing God’s presence, and symbolized the sweet aroma of the people’s prayers ascending to G-d.

He then sprinkled the blood from the sacrificed goat, chosen by the casting of lots, onto the Mercy Seat.  The blood of both the ram and the goat were sprinkled onto the Mercy Seat.  This act made atonement for the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle, and the alter itself.  Even these inanimate objects had to be atoned for because they had become filthy with the sins of the people.

After these acts had been performed, the highlight of the Yom Kippur service occurred – the ceremony of the scapegoat.  (This was the goat that was not immediately sacrificed during the casting of the lots.)

Leviticus 16:21-22

He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites–all their sins–and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task.  [22] The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

The High Priest would lay his hands on the animal and this would symbolically transfer the sins of the people onto the scapegoat.  This is the substitute sacrifice, or “akedah”, as mentioned in the story of the “binding of Isaac” read on Rosh Hashanah.

The Goats

The two goats were considered as one offering.  This is seen in Leviticus 16:5 when the Lord said “He is to take from the community of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering . . .”  The slaughtered goat showed the congregation that God’s wrath was appeased, that their sins were covered.

The live goat or scapegoat was sent into the wilderness bearing the sins of Israel and showing the congregation that their sins had been removed.  Later in time, they were known to take this goat to a cliff where it was to be pushed off to its sure death.

The benefits of the elaborate Yom Kippur ritual were short-lived…it was only effective as long as the Israelites remained completely obedient to the Law, which unfortunately could not have been very long.  So each year the sacrifices had to be offered again and again.  This is in bold contrast to the sacrifice of G-d’s only Son, Yeshua, done once and for all.

These two goats were foreshadowing Yeshua’s sacrifice.  He paid the penalty of death for us as with the first slaughtered goat, covering our sins. He also removed our sins as seen by the second goat, the scapegoat:

John 1:29  “ . . . Look!  God’s lamb! The one who is taking away the sins of the world.”

He was the final payment and sacrifice for sins, covering and removing them so that we do not have to make atonement year after year.

Yom Kippur in Yeshua’s Time

Yeshua celebrated the holiday of Yom Kippur during the time of Herod’s temple.  There were many striking differences during this time…

·        The Ark of the Covenant was missing.  It had been carried off by the Babylonians and was never recovered.  (II Kings
24:13, II Chronicles 36:7
).  The elaborate ritual was still followed for the service, but minus the ark and the Mercy Seat; therefore, the Lord’s presence no longer filled the Holy of Holies.  One may wonder why the ceremony continued without this key element…(it doesn’t sound kosher to me!)

·        The High Priest had also become corrupt at this time.  He had been appointed in Rome during the time of Herod and won his office by treachery and bribes.  The High Priest actually had to stay up the night before Yom Kippur for a crash course to insure that he would not make a mistake! (It was no accident that Yeshua appeared on the scene at this time to demonstrate the true sacrifice.)

·        There were also a few traditions that were added to the scapegoat ceremony.  According to the Mishna, lots were drawn to decide the fate of both of the goats.  The lot for the sacrifice said “for the Lord” and the lot for the scapegoat said “scapegoat.”  The people considered it a good omen if the lot “for the Lord” came up in the Priests right hand.  Also, a red sash was tied to the scapegoats horns and a portion of it was also tied to the door of the temple.  The sash on the temple turned from red to white as the goat met its end in the wilderness, signifying to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins had been atoned for.  This idea came from Isaiah 1:18 which says, “Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow . . .”

Also stated in the Mishna as well as the Talmud, four events occurred during the forty years before the destruction of the temple which foreshadowed its doom.  (This would have started at the time when Yeshua was sacrificed once and for all.)
For forty years:

–           The lot that said “for the Lord” did not come in the Priests right hand…this was considered a bad omen.

–           The portion of the red sash that was tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrifice.

–           The westernmost light of the temple candelabra would not burn.  This was crucial because this was the “shamish” used to kindle the other lights.

–           The temple doors opened by themselves.  The rabbis saw the ominous fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:1 that says, “Open your doors, Lebanon, so that the fire can consume your cedars.”  In fact, fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that may have adorned the inside of the temple.

After Temple’s Destruction

After the destruction of the temple animal sacrifices were not possible as G-d had prescribed since the altar and High Priesthood were not present.  The rabbis had to develop a “non-sacrificial” approach to God.  Moses Maimonides, an ancient sage, wrote that “repentance atones for all transgression.”  The synagogue ritual by itself was performed in place of the animal sacrifice.  To fill the gap of the missing blood atonement the rabbis substituted the “three T’s”:  “Tefilah,” (prayer), “Teshuvah,” (repentance) and “Tzedakah” (charity).  While these are admirable practices they cannot replace G-d’s plan of blood atonement.

Self-affliction,  performed through fasting and other depravations came to include a tradition of flogging, called “Malkut”.  Psalm 78:38, which contains 13 words, was recited three times while a person receives thirty-nine lashes.  This is mostly symbolic because the person usually wore a heavy coat.  (It is interesting to note that the thirty-nine lashes is the same punishment that Pilate gave Yeshua.)

An echo of temple sacrifices is also seen in the Yom Kippur custom of  “kapparot”.  For this ceremony, a rooster for males and a hen for females was waved over the head three times while declaring that these animals were substitutes for people.  The bird was then slaughtered and given as charity.  In more modern times money is placed in a handkerchief, waved overhead, and given to the poor. The study of the Torah and Talmud are also seen as a substitute, as well as special prayers, “Shlicot”, offered at midnight the month prior to Yom Kippur.

We must note that God has never changed!  He still requires sacrifices.  Man implemented these customs and traditions to fill the gap when the ritual system was done away with by Yeshua’s atonement.  Judaism has developed many other elaborate methods of atonement as recorded in various rabbinic commentaries. However, the fact remains that traditional Jewish people still ache for the day when the temple will be rebuilt and sacrifices will be restored.  In Israel, plans are already under way for this new temple, complete with a restoration of the High Priesthood and the sacrificial items.

Yeshua’s Fulfillment

Believers may be joyous at Yom Kippur because we do not have to wonder if our repentance has been adequate.

Romans 3:25-26
“God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death.

“Kapparah” and its Greek equivalent, “propitiation”,  are both used to translate “Mercy Seat.”  When we receive atonement through Yeshua, we have a right-standing with God – even better than any brought about through the sacrifices of bulls and goats.

The book of Hebrews portrays Yeshua as the fulfillment for Yom Kippur.  (Hebrews 9:11-14, 22-24)

Hebrews 7:26-28 portrays Yeshua as the perfect High Priest.  He is innocent, undefiled by sin, and does not need to make atonement for his own sins like the temple High Priests had to do.

The priesthood was to last forever, but with the destruction of the temple, Aaron’s descendents could not be traced.  Hebrews 7:24 tells us that Yeshua is to abide forever and hold the permanent Priesthood.

Hebrews 8:2 states that Yeshua is ministering in the true, heavenly tabernacle and is continually in the presence of God.  This is a much more majestic sanctuary than any that had been constructed on earth.  Hebrews 9 and 10 as well as Psalm 40:6-8 tell us that the sacrificial system in Leviticus was a foreshadowing of Yeshua.  The blood of bulls and goats merely covered people’s sins, but the blood of Yeshua removed them from us.

The average person could never approach the Holy of Holies and the High Priest could only approach it once a year.  When Yeshua was sacrificed, the heavy veil in front of the Holy of Holies was torn.  This was symbolic that those who trust in Him can have a true Yom Kippur experience and may be shown God’s mercy.  We can rejoice in God’s plan of forgiveness!

Hebrews 10:22 shows us how to approach Yom Kippur as believers in Messiah:
“Therefore, let us approach the Holiest Place with a sincere heart, in full assurance that comes from trusting – with our hearts sprinkled clean from a bad conscience and
our bodies washed with pure water.”

Yom Kippur Compared to Rosh Hashanah

We can now see the relationship between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah is a call to repentance (“t’shuvah”), or a turning from a sinful way of life.  This change of heart must take place first before the redeeming sacrifices of Yom Kippur can be accepted.  God gave the Israelites ten days, the Days of Awe, to consider their ways and turn their hearts towards Him.

Psalm 51:16-17
“For you do not want sacrifices or I would give them; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God, you won’t spurn a broken, chastened heart.”

The Yom Kippur animal sacrifices were only effective when presented with this repentant heart.  This is what was promised through Yeshua in the New Covenant.  The law was to be written on our hearts:

Jeremiah 31:33

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.” I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts I will be their God, and they will be my people.

The next of the fall feasts is Sukkot (or the Feast of Tabernacles).  This is traditionally called the “season of joy.”  As it is true with all of us, the children of Israel could only rejoice once they were redeemed and their sins had been forgiven.

God’s order can be seen in our fall feasts:

–           Rosh Hashanah brings repentance.

–           Yom Kippur brings forgiveness.

–           Sukkot brings joy.

Kol Nidre

Kol Nidre, one of the most emotional chants of the Yom Kippur service, is translated as “all vows” and is in the form of a legal formula.  It is required to be recited in a “court” of three witnesses, traditionally two people holding Torahs standing on either side of the person reading.  It’s words are Aramaic and express a consciousness of man’s inability to keep in full his vows, promises, and obligations to G-d.  It formally renounces any oaths or vows that have been made under duress or unwittingly.  This is not a plea for cancellation of legitimate vows between man and man, but it recalls some of the sad episodes in Jewish history when, because of religious persecution, Jews were forced to renounce their faith in G-d.  It recalls the times in history when the Jewish people have not always been free to worship as Jews.

Matthew 12:36-37
“Moreover, I tell you this, on the Day of Judgment people will have to give account for every careless word they have spoken.”

Matthew 5:36-37
“And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black.  Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil.”

Can any of us say we have perfectly kept all of our promises from last year?