Hebrew Roots/Holy Days/Day of Atonement/Atonement/History

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Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), was celebrated as the holiest day of the year in Israel being the occasion when the High Priest went before Almighty God on behalf of the nation to atone for their sins. The correct performance of his duties determined the acceptance or rejection of the nation before Yahweh God. On this occasion, he put off the usual seven beautiful vestments of his office and clothed himself with a simple plain, yet pure, white linen garment called a "kittel". The services which he performed to make atonement were full of ritual and meaning and required him to rehearse them beforehand and execute them exactly.

When the nation went into apostasy after the reign of King Solomon, the scriptures are silent on the Yom Kippur observances and we have no record that the necessary atonement was made for the nation. During the religious reform introduced by Ezra when they returned from Babylon after the time of judgment there, we are told that "the people wept when they heard the words of the law" (Nehemiah 8:9), because they had forgotten the instructions contained therein which they were to follow.

THE POST EXILIC PERIOD[edit | edit source]

With the return of the exiles, Ezra set in order a return to Torah observance and when the temple was built the services of Yom Kippur were also recommenced with some differences and additions to the original service. For one thing, the Ark of the Covenant was missing from the temple. It had disappeared when the first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and was never restored in the building of the second temple (2 Kings 24:13, 2 Chronicles 36: 7). So the atonement was performed without the mercy seat upon which to make the atonement.

One introduction was the reading of portions of the scriptures relating to the observance of this day of atonement as well as a prayer of preservation from being exiled again and for a prosperous year with the provision of sufficient rain for the crops (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 68a, 5).

On Yom Kippur the Holy name of Yahweh was uttered ten times in all by the High Priest during the service. At each occasion the people in the courts of the temple would prostrate themselves in reverence at the mention of His holy name. The last occasion of its utterance was during the recitation of the "Shema" from Deuteronomy 6:4

A tradition developed of tying a crimson sash around the head of the scapegoat, the other end of which was tied to the temple door. The scapegoat was led out by an elaborate system of escorts to a steep cliff in the wilderness. When the goat finally reached the designated precipice, the attending priest removed part of the red sash from the head of the goat, tying it to a protrusion on the cliff. Then he would push the goat over the cliff, sending him to his death together with Israel’s sins.

When the goat met its death in the wilderness, the sash which was attached to the Temple’s door would turn white. This was seen as a providential sign indicating that the sins of Israel had been forgiven (Yoma 68b). This tradition was based on the verse in Isaiah 1:18 -- "Come now, let us reason together, says Yahweh: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool"

THE POST TEMPLE PERIOD[edit | edit source]

The priesthood during the time of Y'shua was corrupt and after they had condemned Him to die, the sacrifices upon the altar were no longer accepted by Yahweh God.

The Mishna as well as the Talmud record four events that occurred during the forty years before the destruction of the temple which indicated the lack of divine favour and foreshadowed its doom.

The lot which was cast for the goat “for Yahweh” did not come up anymore in the Priests right hand and this was considered a bad omen. Also the portion of the red sash that was tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrificial goat.

As well as this, the westernmost light of the temple candelabra would not burn. This was crucial because this was the “shamish” (the servant light - representing Y'shua) that was used to kindle the other lights.

Another sign was that the temple doors opened by themselves. The rabbis saw this as an ominous fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:1 that says, “Open your doors, Lebanon, so that the fire can consume your cedars.” This was actually fulfilled in the burning of the temple wherein fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that adorned the inside of the temple. The priesthood was to last forever, but with the destruction of the temple, the records were destroyed and Aaron’s descendant's could not no longer be traced and so the legitimacy of Aaronic and Levitical lineage could no longer be proved. However most priestly families retained the knowledge of their tribal ancestry and passed it on to their children.

With the destruction of the Temple in A. D. 70, the glorious ritual of the Day of atonement, Yom Kippur, disappeared and the Pharisaical rabbis began to develop a “non-sacrificial” approach to God.

The great Rabbi's at the council at Yavneh in 90 AD. transformed the Yom Kippur sacrificial service. They proclaimed that ritual prayer and the performance of good deeds was enough to replace the sacrifices.

The rabbis shifted the religious life from the temple to the synagogues and instituted the "three T's":

  1. “Tefilah,” (prayer),
  2. “Teshuvah,” (repentance) and
  3. “Tzedakah” (charity) as a means of atonement to replace animal sacrifices.

Moses Maimonides, an ancient sage, wrote that “repentance atones for all transgression.” The synagogue ritual became the replacement for the temple ritual and was modeled upon it and sacrificial prayers, prayers of repentance and acts of charity, were substituted in the place of animal sacrifices.

Long tables were set up inside the synagogues with plates for alms-giving for the various named charities in each area. Beggars would wait outside the synagogue, certain to receive charity from worshipers eager to perform last-minute good deeds that might tip the heavenly balance in their favor and assure them of prosperity in the coming year (Mitch and Zhava Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago, 1987), p. 112.).

A tradition developed over time in the Yom Kippur observance of “kapparot”. This was done apart from the synagogue ritual service. In this ceremony, a rooster was taken for a male and a hen for a female, and it was waved over the person's head three times while declaring that these animals were sacrificial substitutes for them. The bird was then slaughtered and given as charity. In more modern times this custom was changed by placing money in a handkerchief, waving it overhead, and then giving it to the poor.

Whereas the High Priest had made atonement for the sins of the whole nation, now each person seeks to find a place of repentance and forgiveness for their own personal sins and to be inscribed in the records of heaven for blessing in the following year. Although all the prayers of repentance are pluralistic for the congregation as a whole, each person takes responsibility for their own contribution to the collective sin of the whole.

Although Y'shua became the sacrificial Lamb that atoned for the sins of the nation once and for all, there yet remains a fulfillment of the feast in actuality where the fullness of salvation which He purchased for the whole nation will be realized historically and they will be without spot or blemish in His sight.

And so, "all Israel will be saved"! (Romans 11:26).