ום הכיפורים, the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar year (this year, on our calendar, it doesn’t fall until October 8). It is a day of fasting and prayer, with a focus on repentance and atonement. It’s such a big deal, such an important holiday, that for many non-practicing Jews, this may be the only Jewish holiday they celebrate.
In Hebrew, “yom” means “day”, and “kippur” means “to cover”. It is connected to the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament tabernacle. On the Day of Atonement, the sins of the people were symbolically put on a “scapegoat” that was then sent out of the tribal camp, never to return. Then a blood sacrifice was offered, and sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, on this mercy seat. Getting the sins away from the people, and covering them with His righteousness was the story of what we all needed. You can also read more in Hebrews 9. Here is a description from lds.org:
The Holy of Holies contained only one piece of furniture: the Ark of the Covenant, or the Ark of the Testimony (Ex. 25:22). It was an oblong box of acacia wood, 2½ cubits long and 1½ cubits wide and high, overlaid within and without with gold, and with a rim or edging of gold round its top. It had rings and staves by which to carry it, and the staves were never to be removed from the rings (Ex. 25:15). The ark had within it “The Testimony,” i.e., the two tables of stone (Ex. 25:21; 31:18)… Upon the ark and forming the lid was the mercy seat. It served, with the ark beneath, as an altar on which the highest atonement known to the Jewish law was effected. On it was sprinkled the blood of the sin offering of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:14–15). The mercy seat was the place of the manifestation of God’s glory (Ex. 25:22). It was God’s throne in Israel. Cf. the phrase “The Lord God of Israel, which sitteth upon (or dwelleth between) the cherubim” (1 Sam. 4:4). At the ends were placed two cherubim of gold of beaten work, spreading out their wings so as to cover the mercy seat and looking toward it.
Jews believe that God writes the story of each person a year ahead, based on the choices and behaviors and interactions the person has demonstrated over the last year, and that this story is sealed (consequences chosen and decided) on the Day of Atonement. Because of this, practicing Jews spend the days prior to the Day of Atonement trying to change their behavior and make amends, seeking forgiveness for sins against God, bein adam leMakom, and sins against others, bein adam lechavero. Yom Kippur is then spent confessing guilt and petitioning forgiveness, so that by the end of Yom Kippur, the Jew believes they are absolved by God of all their sins.
There are public confessions, and public requests for forgiveness. As the people let go of grudges and bitterness and ugliness and the trauma-dramas of life, they are softened and brought peace and become a people at-one. Together they know they do not deserve the love of God, yet He gives it to them anyway. One of the prayers they pray is this:
May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault.
No one is exempt. No one contention is blamed on another. No relationship argument is because of only one person. No one can judge another without themselves being guilty. No one is innocent.
We all need His forgiveness, and we must all forgive each other.
That is the only way to peace.
For those Jews who have converted to Christianity, the Yom Kippur is often celebrated by deep prayers of intercession for their loved ones and those needing peace. Forgiveness is understood to be given through the great atoning sacrifice of Christ, and forgiveness is offered to all.
Forgiveness is what brings peace.
Two years ago today, I wrote this:
It makes my fingers freeze mid-air, hovering over the keyboard.
I laugh that this is the last resistance left of me after having the Holy Ghost squashed down into my head, which probably needed some squashing after all the wriggling I have done these last nine months.
Well, for me it was like suddenly being in 3-D.
It was so AMAZING.
I keep wanting to say like “technicolor”, except that is not a valid metaphor because I was not alive BEFORE technicolor, but I think you know the feeling that I mean.
And Brother Bishop so very kind and patient to be stuck his office a little longer to wait and chat with me. And I learned SO MUCH! These notes I wrote down and will ponder more privately then process further later.
But I passed!
And I got temple recommend!
It was a Sunday, and the following Friday I got to go to the Temple for the first time.
Then Saturday and Sunday was my first brand-new-dripping-wet General Conference.
It was an amazing year, as intense as that first week.
Then, last year on this day, this was my view of the sunrise:
I was there in Oklahoma City for my endowment.
It was a week of fasting and prayer and incredible experiences that did instruct and empower and prepare me for the very hard – but good – year that followed. Turns out the “turning of hearts” and the “gathering” of family is really hard work, and the more I learned about repentance the more repentance work I had to do!
But the blessings came as promised, the year unfolding one chapter at a time.
A few weeks before my endowment, my brother was baptized:
Three weeks after that, the Priesthood was restored to OUR family! I cried and cried!
Now, a year later, I got to go to his ward this last Sunday and watch him give his first talk in Sacrament meeting.
He got to do the prayer part of his stepson receiving the Aaronic Priesthood last month.
He has been called as the ward missionary, and in this he has found a way to serve a kind of convert-mission in the same way I did. It’s very Moses-and-Elias-on-Mount-of-Transfiguration (Luke 9), with him on a mission to the living (Moses holds those keys) and me on a mission to the spirit world (Elias holds those keys).
And then, the thing that made me cry more than anything, my brother got his Temple recommend.
This weekend I will be attending General Conference for the first time in Utah.
We have come a long way, truly. Our simple and meager efforts at obedience has brought blessings more than we deserve and more than we can repay. Our horrific failures have been confronted by the Spirit, through loved ones, and by caring priesthood leaders that so patiently teach and guide us. But the Savior does continue to rescue us, transform us, and restore us. He can do what we cannot.
Alma tells the story of it, my own story in chapter 36:
14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
That is the Day of Atonement.
That was what I learned two years ago on this day.
That is what I am still learning, and that was the message of my very first General Conference: