Yom Kippur

In Judaism, holiness is easier to describe than to explain. There are different degrees and types of it, a holiness of time, place, and people. Any day is holy, but the Sabbath more so; the whole earth is holy, but Jerusalem more so, and every human being is holy, but priests more so. It is not because of some power or virtue of their own, but because they were set apart, by God, for a special purpose.

And there was one point where all three converged: The most holy person, the high priest, entered the most holy place, the inner sanctum, on the most holy day: the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This was the only occasion when the revealed name of God, Yahweh, was uttered. Because on this day, the iniquities were taken away from the people of Israel.

But what happened when the temple was no more? What the Jews did was to remember that the sacrifice was only the last act in the holy drama, which started with repentance. True repentance. For the Talmud warns that those who transgress deliberately, relying on Yom Kippur, will get no atonement at all.

And the morning service makes it crystal clear that ritual observances are not the main thing either. For the readings are Isaiah 58:5–8, where it says that God prefers acts of charity to fasting and rites. And the Talmud points out that those who do it only for the reward don't get it either.

And yet Yom Kippur is not meant to be a day of judgement, but of release. So the prayer of confession, Widdui, is no mere checklist of transgressions, but is concerned with the inner life, the needs, hungers and shortcomings of the soul. Even the wrong done unknowingly is part of it. Because God's forgiveness is not limited to our own efforts, nor does it stop at the outer shell. It reaches the inner heart, and sets it free.

By: Martin Liebig
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October 2003: Contents | Retreat | Revolution | Your pastor | Yom Kippur
Editorial team:
Romesh Modayil [romeshmodayil@yahoo.com], Andrew Bossom [rewboss@hotmail.com], Martin Liebig
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