Yom Kippur begins tonight. Holiest day of the year according to most modern Jews. Lots of prayer, fasting, affliction of souls. Everyone wears white, to symbolize mourning or purity, and avoids leather, washing, personal grooming, and sex, for no particular reason other than that it seemed like a good idea at some point.
The problem, of course, is that Yom Kippur doesn’t seem to be that big a deal in the Bible. It wasn’t a pilgrimage festival. (There were three pilgrimage festivals, when all the people of Israel had to go to Jerusalem to celebrate together. This wasn’t one of them.) It isn’t mentioned being celebrated at other times or given further Messianic significance, as many of the other holidays were.
Consequently, my family has rather reached the conclusion that it wasn’t that big a deal. After the destruction of the temple and the beginning of Christianity, the rabbis had to rebuild the Jewish religion, and in all likelihood they were put off by the Messianic elements in most of the major holidays. So they picked this one and elevated it.
(In addition to that, it kinda bothers me that we have a day for dwelling on our own sin. God says over and over again that our sins have been forgotten and we have taken on Yeshua’s identity of righteousness. I don’t really see why we should spend a day dwelling on what has died, you know? A day remembering God’s forgiveness makes far more sense, and to that end I’ve mentally re-written several of the traditional prayers.)
The one problem with this theory is that Yom Kippur was the one day a year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and came into God’s presence. This seems like kind of a big deal.
But this year I happen to be doing a study of the book of Hebrews. Which has been great. And in Hebrews 9, it states that the structure of the tabernacle (and later the temple) and the very existence of the Holy of Holies, was a parable to remind the people that rituals and sacrifices were not the way to harmony with God.
Seen through that lens, Yom Kippur becomes very different. The High Priest entering the Holy of Holies is less a symbol of our unity with God and more a reminder to the priests that they should not get too prideful or overconfident. This was there to remind the people that a new covenant was coming when everyone would have access to God.
Which rather leaves me in a puzzlement about tonight and tomorrow. It’s not like we can just stop the holiday – God made it pretty clear that these things were meant to go on forever. All I can do is walk as I am shown. So I will rest, and remember that God is the one who has sanctified me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.