Jewish Days of Distinction
A Messianic Study of the Jewish Feasts and Holidays
“In addition to the Sabbath, these are the LORD’s appointed festivals, the official days for holy assembly that are to be celebrated at their proper times each year” (Leviticus 23:4 NLT).
Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement
Yom meaning “day” and kippur from Hebrew root meaning “atone” sets the stage for the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. Repentance and atonement are the core values and foundations of this beautiful holiday that falls in autumn among the three High Holy Days. Arriving on the Jewish calendar on Tishrei 10, it is a 25-hour period of fasting, concentrated prayer, and asking for forgiveness.
Leviticus 16; Hebrews 10:1-18
A few foundational Hebrew words for this Jewish High Holy Day are Yom Kippur meaning “Day of Atonement,” azazel, or “the goat that was sent away”—ez meaning “goat” and azal, “sent away.” (The original meaning of this word is unknown and hotly debated. Several possibilities exist, and I chose to highlight this denotation.) Kapparah meaning “atonement,” and terah from the Hebrew root meaning “cleanse” are also included here.
“On this day  atonement will be made for you,  to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins,” (Leviticus 16:30, emphasis mine).
Mankind is flawed. The metaphorical idea of an innate, inward “human stain” on our souls is common and universal. Amid valiant attempts at goodness, and mankind’s intent NOT to hurt something or someone, disappointment and failure will ensue on some level. While acknowledging society’s proclivity to “fall short” in general, taking responsibility for personal failings of any kind is another story.
The daily news is replete with true tales of missing the mark, complete with fervent pleas of denial. History bears the facts; big stories of failures and flaws fill her pages. Al Capone, OJ Simpson, Robert Blakely, President Clinton, Casey Anthony, Donald Sterling…and the list grows daily. The common thread that unites this human plight is the “I didn’t do it” classic retort to any charge.
I am not pointing a finger here. Scripture is clear in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The missing ingredient in society is admission and confession, necessary components to finding true repentance. Mankind desperately needs to see the missed mark and confess before atonement covers and carries our human stain away (I John 1:9).
For those who have fallen short, there is extraordinary beauty and profound hope locked within the ancient ritual of the two goats or the scapegoat on Yom Kippur. One presented as a sacrifice “to the Lord” and the other driven into the desert “to Azazel.” Similar to each other, lots were drawn to choose how the goats were used. One shed its blood for sin and one carried the stain of the sin away. Very old customs tell us that a scarlet thread was attached to its horns and removed before the goat was driven into the wilderness. If the practice was effective, the scarlet thread turned white, now underscoring a comparison scripture in Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
The question always remains, “Why two goats at Yom Kippur?” This is the holiest day of the year highlighting repentance. The use of lambs, goats, and bulls was not new to Israel and a very common sacrifice for atonement. Here at this special High Holy Day, two animals are required and used in different ways.
This is a beautiful picture of the atoning work of Yeshua in our stead upon the death tree. He accomplished what an animal’s blood could not (Hebrews 10:4). On the Day of Atonement a picture of purpose is made clearer. Sin is not only forgiven, but the stain of it—the human blot, common to all—is carried away to a desolate place.
The Torah clarifies the purposes, “On this day  atonement will be made for you,  to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins,” (Leviticus 16:30). Usually with the sacrifice of animals, the main achievement was atonement or kapparah. But on Yom Kippur, another aspect of redemption was illustrated: l’taher or “to cleanse.” Blood redemption covers the acts of falling short of God’s glory, and two goats brought this truth to light—one for atonement, and the other for cleansing of the person, the carrying of the “human stain” far away. This is what makes us “new creatures” and able to begin life with freshly scrubbed slates (II Corinthians 5:17).
Sin leaves a mark, and it must be covered and removed. King David must have felt the stain of adultery with Bathsheba when he prayed, “Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin” (Psalm 51:2). Pontius Pilot feebly endeavored to absolve himself of any blot of sin by washing his hands of the murder of Yeshua before a crowd, declaring, “I am innocent…” (Matthew 27:24).
Once again the beautiful and poignant meaning of the Jewish holidays drives home the redeeming work of Messiah to the Jewish people and the nations in a rich and meaningful demonstration, the ancient tradition of the scapegoat. It is truly an illustration of the complete work of our Lord upon the cross, atonement and cleansing (Hebrews 10:1-18).
When Paul spoke to his Jewish countrymen, he did not glory in his own wisdom, but rather the work of Messiah. His message was not simply that Yeshua in the flesh was the long-awaited of Israel, but that He was crucified for the sins of Israel and the whole world (I Corinthians 1:18-31). In that message, Paul found the power of God to convict and change. And we see in the ancient scapegoat ritual that He not only atoned, but He cleansed and carried the sin far away. Truly this old, old story of the atonement will be our new song in heaven. We will never tire of its glorious truth.
Thank you, Yeshua, for your atoning and cleansing work on the cross that is seen as only a foreshadowing in the use of the two goats at Yom Kippur. You demonstrated this truth with your own life. Thank you for remembering me before the foundations of the world and making a way for the gates of righteousness to be opened. You cancelled my sin and lifted its stain so I can go forward as a new creation.
Yom Kippur Celebrations and Traditions
As the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur is called the “Shabbat of Shabbats” and observed with fasting and afflicting of the soul. A 25 hour fast begins at sunset the evening before and ends at sunset the next day. Among the religious, the consumption of food or drink is prohibited with only some medical exceptions. Jews also do not wear leather, use cosmetics or lotions, and do not shower or bathe for this period of humbling oneself before God. A traditional Sabbath meal is served prior to the fast in preparation and the abstention is then broken with a meal. Many wear white to signify purity and the Torah Scroll is covered in white.