By Israel I. Saxe
The Day of Atonement and its preparations can never be forgotten by any true Jew. Every year at the beginning of the month of Elul, the last month of the year, the heart of every Jew is full of fear and distress for the coming Great Day of Judgment, come Yom Hakkippur. We attend our Synagogues and pray longer on those days than on any other days of the year. The last week in the year, we devote our early mornings to prayers, called Slichoth, or prayers for forgiveness of sin.
Time for prayer and blowing of the trumpet, as a sign of repentance or for awakening to repentance, is spent during the first tow days of the Jewish New Year. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, the custom is to make atonements of our own. A man takes a cock, and a woman a hen, and swings the fowl around his or her head, saying: “This is my substitute; this is my commutation; this cock, or hen, goeth to death, but may I be gathered and enter into a long and happy life and into peace.” When this ceremony is ended the fowl is partly eaten before the Day of Atonement. All this is done as a sign of confession of our sin, and our need for an atonement, and because of our far of the Judgment Day.
Oh! How true the words of God through our own prophets, Isaiah and Ezekiel, when He said: “This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips they do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13.) “With their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” (Ezekiel 33:31.) We are afraid of the Day of Atonement, but care not for the atonement which God has provided, and through whom we may stand before an Almighty God without fear, and fully justified from all things.
God said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). God always forgives sin and redeems the sinner through the shed blood of a slain lamb, as He did in Egypt, and not through a day. Any day and any moment that we accept God’s atonement for our sin, God forgives our sins and makes us new creatures. For “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).
Our wise men, the Rabbis, tell us, “At this time, when there is no temple and we have no altar, there is no atonement but repentance. Repentance atones for all transgressions, yea, though a man be wicked all his days, and repent at last, none of his wickedness is mentioned to him, for it is said, ‘As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness.’ (Ezekiel 33:12) The Day of Atonement itself also atones for them that repent for it is said, ‘For on that day shall THE PRIEST make an atonement for you.’ (Leviticus 16:30)” – Hilchoth Ts’huvah, C. 1,2.
The reader will note the contradictions in these statements. They say, “Repentance atones for all transgressions,” independent of anything else; and then immediately they say, “The Day of Atonement itself atones for them that repent.” If repentance is sufficient to enable the sinner to secure the forgiveness of his sins, what is the use of the Day of Atonement? If the Day of Atonement be necessary to atone for the sinner who repents, then repentance alone can not atone for all transgressions. Furthermore, the Machzor or Prayer Book for the New Year and Day of Atonement, puts the word “fasting” above the word “repentance” in italics, suggesting that repentance means fasting; but God said, ”Return unto Me with all thy heart, soul, and mind, and accept my atonement, and I will accept you.”
My dear friend, our people have been persecuted more or less, in every land. It is time that we know that God says that sin is the cause of our afflictions. Read Proverbs 1:24-33 and Isaiah 59:1-4 and find out for yourself. Our forefathers brought judgment upon themselves, when they stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, and openly rejected the Messiah-Jesus, who alone could save them. They said, “his blood be upon our children.” How truly that has come to pass during these nineteen centuries!
The prophet Isaiah foretold how the Messiah was to suffer for our sins, and through His stripes we are to be healed. (Isaiah 53) Otherwise, we ourselves have to pay the penalty for our sin. Likewise, we confess in our prayers on the Day of Atonement, that we are exiled from our land because of our sin, and that the Messiah alone is our sin bearer, as may be seen in the following quotations from the prayer book:
“Because of our sins we have been exiled from our land and removed far from our native soil, so that we are not able now to do our duty in the house Thou hast chosen, and in the magnificent holy temple upon which Thy Name was called, on account of the hand that was stretched out against Thy sanctuary.” “Our righteous Messiah is departed from us, horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgressions and is wounded for our transgressions. He beareth our sins on His shoulder that He may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by His wounds when the Lord creates Him as a new creation. O bring Him up from the circle of the earth, raise him up from Seir to assemble us the second time on the Mount Lebanon by the hand of Yinon.” The word “Yinon” refers to the Messiah, so named in the Hebrew text (Psalm 72:17) and affirmed by the Jewish Rabbis to be the title of the Messiah. Messiah-Jesus died and thereby mad et he atonement for our sins, and it is for us to appropriate Him as such by faith in the Word of God. The name of this poem-prayer is “Az Milifnei Brechit.” It is from the musaf service for Yom Kippur and can be found in the machzor KOL BO, page 230, of the Hebrew Publishing CO., 77 Delancy St., Brooklyn, NY.
When we celebrate the Day of Atonement let us accept the Atonement Himself, who is Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews and Saviour of the world! We are observing days, while we neglect the reality. God wants us to come to Him who is our Atonement. “For God so loved the world (Jew or Gentile) that He gave His only begotten Son (Messiah-Jesus) that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.” (Psalm 34:8). Oh, friend, believe God’s sure promise, and experience the power of God unto salvation.