Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement)
by Moran Rosenblit
In this short article about Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), I would like to share some thoughts about this special and important day. Yom Kippur is the most solemn day on the Hebrew calendar. It exists as a direct fulfillment of God’s command to the ancient, wandering Israelites after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. This day is incredibly sacred, as we take the time for deep self-reflection and repentance. During the traditional services in the synagogues, we read one of my favorite prayers called “Al Chet”. In this prayer, we recite and confess a list of our sins before the Creator. For me personally, I find this prayer to be very special, as it is an amazing reminder of two very important points of anyone’s life (please see our article on “Why I Observe Yom Kippur”). Here in Israel and around the world, it is traditional to wish each other, “Tzom Kal” which means, “have an easy fast.” However, during the past few years I have been reflecting a lot on the verses from Leviticus 16:29–31, and I noticed a word in the Hebrew, which is “תְּעַנּ֣וּ” (te‘anu). This word means “to torture”, which has unfortunately been mistranslated in most English bibles as “to humble”. This brings a completely different meaning to these verses, which in my opinion do not communicate the same command that God originally gave to Israel. I personally believe that these verses are more accurately translated in this way:
And this shall be as an eternal statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall torture your souls, and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It is to be a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may torture your souls; it is a permanent statute.
To wish someone to have an “easy fast” is to contradict the Word of God. The time of fasting and self-reflection is not supposed to be easy or something to be taken lightly. In God’s eyes, our sins and iniquities are very serious, and we ought to view them in the same way He views them. From the beginning of time, and the creation of the world, sin was not something that God looked upon casually. Sin has always resulted in permanent separation from God, which is death:
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.
Genesis 2:15 (emphasis mine)
We also see that from the beginning, God Himself provided a way for men to return to Him through atonement. This required the death of something else as a replacement:
And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
While it might be obvious, I want to point out that in order for Adam and Eve to wear “garments of skin”, an animal had to die. Already in the third chapter of Genesis, we see the need for a blood sacrifice as a way to atone for sin.
This concept was passed on to the Children of Israel and we can find it repeated again in Exodus 30:10:
And Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year; he shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.
Sin is something very serious in God’s eyes, and we should view it in the same way.
As I was reflecting on the connection of torturing our souls, atonement of sin and redemption, I was once again in awe of what Messiah did for us, and the way everything in God’s Word points to Him.
In the word, “תְּעַנּ֣וּ” (te‘anu), is the root of the word “to answer or reply”. Yeshua answered the Father’s call on His life. He chose to torture His own soul as an atonement — not of His sin since He was sinless — but rather for our sins as redemption for all who would believe in Him. I am reminded of the incredible messianic chapter of Isaiah 53:
Surely our illnesses He Himself bore, and our sorrows (pains) He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken (plagued), smitten by God, and afflicted (tortured). But He was defiled because of our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted (tortured), yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.
Isaiah 53:4–7 (my translation from the Hebrew)
What an amazing work that Yeshua chose to do on our behalf! What an amazing privilege it is for us to be His followers! I would like to invite you to join me in this season of fasting and praying. Let us first and foremost return to God and repent of our own sins; let us remember during this time the only acceptable sacrifice through which humankind can return to God (in accordance to God’s requirements and not man’s); and let us pray that Yeshua will reveal Himself to the Children of Israel during this special time.
I wish you a meaningful fast and Shanah Tovah!