Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement
The 10 Days of Awe following Yom Ha T’ruah conclude with the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day of the year. In Biblical times, this was the one day of the year that the High Priest would enter behind the curtain into the holy of holies to make atonement for the sins of the people. It was a serious responsibility and he needed to make preparations to be able to present himself before the Lord’s presence on behalf of his people.
So much in this appointed time points to and rehearses the atonement that Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) would make for the sins of the whole world. The Book of Hebrews goes into great detail about how Jesus, our great high priest, has fulfilled the Day of Atonement: Unlike the imperfect sacrifices of the ancient High priests that had to be repeated year after year, his perfect sacrifice was made once and for all!
When we were living in Israel, this day was always incredible to witness. A few hours before sunset the whole country begins to shut down and a stillness descends over the nation. Traffic stops and the roads become empty of cars, all the shops and businesses close up. TV and radio stop broadcasting. Children take advantage of the car-less streets to ride bikes and skateboards in the middle of the road. Groups walk for hours in the freedom of traffic-less roads (walking in the middle of an empty motorway is surreal!). Walking past overflowing synagogues you can hear the traditional prayers and music.
Even in modern times, it is the one day of the year when the majority of Israel contemplates the seriousness of sin and the consequences of not being right with God. Many still maintain the traditional 24 hour fast without food or water, which is not easy in the hot, arid climate. Without a temple and animal sacrifices, prayer and fasting is offered as penitence in the hope of being written in the book of life for another year.
Families and friends gather together after the synagogue service to break the fast with a meal. Within a few hours the sound of hammering will rise from around the neighbourhood as many rush to begin the building of the Sukkah for the next feast - The Feast of Tabernacles.