34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” – Leviticus 16:34
From the time of the fall of mankind with Adam and Eve’s disobedience, there has been a need for repentance and atonement. In the Old Testament, this was ceremonially accomplished through sacrifices and rituals, the most important of which called for in Leviticus and today referred to as the “High Holy Days”, beginning with Yom Teruah (today referred to as Rosh Hashanah) and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur.
The point of the “High Holy Days” is a process of making amends for sin and wrongdoing and allowing for a fresh start for individuals as well as the Israelites as a whole with G-d. G-d spoke to Moses in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus and gave certain guidelines of how to fully reach atonement, first starting with the High Priest, who at the time was Moses’ brother, Aaron.
Aaron, and all High Priests to follow, had to first start with purifying themselves before G-d before they could act on behalf of the rest of the Israelites in reaching atonement. These requirements included ritual bathing, sacred clothing, animal sacrifice in the “Holy of Holies” and an animal release known as a “scapegoat”. A bull was to be sacrificed for the sins of the priest and his family and then two goats presented for the people of Israel. Lots were cast and whatever goat the Lord won was sacrificed, while the other was released into the wilderness carrying their sins.
The Israelites were to treat this day, the tenth day of the seventh month, as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. They were not to work at all and were to deny themselves as they were cleansed and atoned for.
Today, Israel still observes this day and the entire country shuts down. There is no radio or television broadcast, no transportation of any kind (you will not arrive or depart from a Holy Land trip on this day, because even the airports are closed), businesses are closed, and most of the country fasts. Even those who do not fast refrain from eating in public, as it is seen as being impolite. Many people go to special services and say special prayers, though there is no longer animal sacrifice.
Some Christians today still observe Yom Kippur, though they do not see the day as a day to make atonement, but rather reflect upon and celebrate Christ’s sacrifice that served as atonement for all. It has also been recognized by the United Nations in recent years, being the first Jewish holiday recognized by the international body.
In 2017, Yom Kippur will be observed at sundown on September 29th and ending at sundown on September 30th.
To learn more about the High Holidays, please see our post about Rosh Hashanah HERE.