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Leviticus 23:26 "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement; it shall be a holy gathering to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God (notice, an atonement will be made for you not by you). You shall do no kind of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a Shabbat of rest, and you shall afflict your souls; in the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, shall you celebrate your Shabbat."
YOM KIPPUR is the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. It is called SHABBAT SHABBATON, the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" and it puts worshipers in touch with their true selves as they contemplate the life they live and the purpose for which they are created. YOM KIPPUR reveals the essence of the soul when one resorts to a day-long fast to condition him or her to the meaning of repentance and forgiveness. The calendar has been so arranged that the holiday cannot fall on a Sunday, Tuesday, or Friday. Yom Kippur is observed only one day, because of the 25 hour fast.
Yom Kippur is called the Day of Atonement because on this day God was making atonement for the people of Israel Leviticus 16:8: "And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel." It was a vicarious atonement – transfer the sins of the people to two goats one to be killed and one to be sent into the desert - Azazel, the scapegoat – that was a picture of the sacrifice of Yeshua. The Talmud has an interesting observation in Mass. Yoma 39b: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white." This was the sign that God accepted the sacrifice by turning the color of the crimson strap into white, but after Yeshua's sacrifice, this animal sacrifice was not required any more, and then God allowed for the Temple to be destroyed.
So the Orthodox have a ceremony before the commencement of the holiday, the Ceremony of KAPPAROT – SACRIFICE. The custom of Kapparot was developed after the destruction of the Temple by the rabbinate in the need to still fulfill the commandment of God but rejecting the atonement that was already made in their behalf through the shed blood of Messiah. According to this custom the worshiper takes a fowl and swings it three times around the head with the following prayer: "This fowl is my substitute and my ransom and shall be killed that I may survive for a long and peaceful life." It is customary to use a chicken for women and a rooster for men. After the ceremony the fowl is given to a needy family.
A Mikveh ceremony is done before the starting of the holiday. After that, washing of any kind is forbidden except for priests. The veil before the Ark should be white, and the worshipers also should wear white, a kittle, symbolizing sorrow and repentance and purity like angels. The last meal before the holiday commences should be eaten one hour before sunset. The candles kindled for Yom Kippur should be large enough to last for twenty-four hours. It is customary not to wear leather shoes. Walking to the synagogue in stocking feet or slippers is a symbol of humility. On Yom Kippur the synagogues are open all night for continuous worship. Fasting is incumbent upon all past the age of thirteen.
The entire twenty-five hours are devoted to fasting and praying. Fasting implies complete abstention from all foods and liquids. All work, pleasure and entertainment are forbidden. The day is observed with continuous worship in the synagogue.
Services start at sunset with the Kol Nidre prayer and continue until sunset of the next day. The prayers are phrased in the plural, for all Jews are considered one soul, responsible for each other. Pious observers have remained in the house of worship throughout the night. This is one night that the worshiper can wear the tallith. The customary greetings are, "La Shanah tova tikatevu." as on Rosh HaShanah, and "May you be well over the fast."
Some of the prayers of Yom Kippur are:
KOL NIDRE - ALL OUR VOWS - This is really not a prayer, but a declaration voiding all vows made under stress or so hastily. The KOL NIDRE is sung before the open Ark with all the Torahs held in view of the congregation. Some scholars claim that its development is associated with the Marranos, Jews who, during the Spanish Inquisition, were compelled to adopt Catholicism but secretly observed Judaism.
The AVODAH Service - SACRIFICIAL Service - These prayers which come in the MUSAF - Additional Morning service, are a reminder of the ritual practice in the days of the Temple, when the High Priest alone entered the Holy of Holies to pray and atone for the people. During the Avodah service, representatives of priestly rank, the KOHANIM, remove their shoes, ascend the altar, stand before the open ark and face the congregation. Their heads are covered by their prayer shawls and their hands are raised to the congregation. The fingers are spread in symbolic manner corresponding to the three-fold division of the priestly order and pronounce the priestly blessing. During this service they kneel and prostrate themselves on the altar – Numbers 6:24 "The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you Shalom." The congregation is supposed not to look up at the kohanim.
PRAYERS - CONFESSION OF SINS - This includes an alphabetical list of sins coupled with prayers for pardon. It is part of the liturgy in which the entire congregation participates, since the confession is essentially collective - AL CHET - FOR THE SIN WHICH WE HAVE COMMITTED. While reciting this prayer, the worshipers beat their chest with their fist.
U-NETANNEH TOKEF - These are the opening words that begin the prayer "We will observe the mighty holiness of this day." The essence of this prayer is the greatness of God and the littleness of man. There is a quotation from this prayer that underlies the liturgy of the worship service: "Repentance, prayer, and charity avert the severe decree."
REMEMBRANCE OF SOULS - YIZKOR - MEMORIAL service during which special prayers are recited in the memory of the dead. Yizkor means "He shall remember" and the prayer service is a most solemn feature of Atonement day.
NE'ILAH (Closing the Gate) SERVICES - CONCLUDING PRAYERS - This service contains many beautiful selections from the Book of Job. The Ark remains open during this part of the service, which closes with a final sounding of the Shofar, at which the congregation cries out "Next Year in Jerusalem!"
Breaking the Fast - After the synagogue services are concluded, the ceremony of HAVDALAH is performed. Before the fast is broken, however, the pious Jews will begin to gather some of the materials necessary for the building of the SUKKAH for the up-coming festival of SUKKOTH.
So, how about us, the Messianic believers? Yom Kippur is likened to Israel's return to the Lord. Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, and let us reason together, said the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Because this promise of God which He fulfilled in the sacrifice of Yeshua, Yom Kippur is also a Holy Day to observe in remembrance of Yeshua. Shall we keep it with fasting? Why not? It is good for body and soul. But if you fast remember Yeshua's words: Matthew 6:16: "And whenever you fast, don't be like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to parade their fast. Omein, truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head with oil and wash your face so that your fast is concealed from Bnei Adam but not from your Father Who is in Secret. And your Father the One seeing in secret will reward you." Yeshua wants us to display mercy and compassion especially towards the fellow Jews who do not know Him and have no hope, and not a sad fasting face. Your face should be joyous and radiant for He was resurrected and is coming back soon.