During these 10 holy days of introspection and prayer, the Jewish people will embark on a spiritual journey—a chance for meaningful change, repentance, and reconnecting with God.
The holidays begin with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. During this sacred time, the Jewish people are reminded to actively practice three virtues, called the three pillars: repentance, prayer, and charity. Putting these biblical principles into practice helps to ready our hearts for God. These virtues are rooted in the Hebrew Bible (which Christians know as the Old Testament), a source of wisdom for Jews and Christians alike. So we can all reconnect with God by reflecting on and practicing these three virtues.
Repentance (Teshuvah)The first pillar is repentance, which gives us a way to make space for God so that we can “get right” with God. This virtue comes directly from the Book of Joel, where we’re told: “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13). When we make the first steps to return to our loving God, he is right there waiting for us with compassion and love. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all of our responsibilities in this busy world and forget that God is actually always around us, waiting for us to let him in. He’s in the hearts of our friends and family. He’s with us when we make difficult decisions or go through hard times, and he’s there celebrating with us during joyful times. When we realize that he waits for us not to judge us harshly, but to welcome us home as a loving Father, we can be filled with peace.
Prayer (Tefillah)The second pillar is prayer. Through prayer, we establish a relationship with God and are able to tell him everything on our hearts. Scripture says: “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:12). God wants to know you and be a part of your life, and he’s always listening to you. It can be easy to forget to share our hearts with God. But when we’re stressed out, worried, or unsure of what to do next, God is there for us. How amazing that we have a kind and understanding God who wants to listen to us and help us through any challenge we face. And like any good relationship, the more effort we put into it, the stronger it will be. The more we share our hearts with God, the more connected we will feel—and our lives will be so much more joyful.
Charity (Tzedakah)The third pillar is giving charity. Through charity, we share God’s love with others through acts of service. We trust that God will sustain us according to his promise that “those who give to the poor will lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27). From a heart of gratitude to God for all his blessings comes a desire to share his love and blessings by giving to others. When we recognize that all the blessings we have are from God, we realize our call to share them with others. When we extend our blessings, whether it’s through acts of service or gifts of charity, we are spreading God’s love and making the world a better place The prophet Isaiah tells us that God isn’t pleased by an outward display of devotion, but by acts of service like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. During the High Holy Days, we have a chance to bless others in very tangible ways and show just how thankful we are for all of God’s blessings. How exciting that both Jews and Christians can join in practicing these three pillars of the High Holy Days—getting right with God, showing him our hearts through prayer, and giving to those in need—to grow and strengthen our connection with God.
DAY ONERIGHTEOUSNESS OF ABRAHAM
Today is day one of what are known as the Ten Days of Awe leading up to the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. To begin this devotional series, we will look at the meaning of the sounding of the shofar and why Rosh Hashanah is significant to the Jewish people. You will not find the phrase Rosh Hashanah in the Bible. The festival is called Yom Teruah, the Day of the Blowing of the Trumpet. This correctly casts the festival as an attention-grabber for the Jewish people, preparing the Jewish people for the Day of Atonement, which will be observed ten days later (Leviticus 23:26–27). Moses wrote what was given to him by God at Mount Sinai, “…In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:24–25). The key elements found for all seven major festivals are outlined in this text; a specific day or days, a rest, a convocation (gathering), and offerings. However, as with most of the other festivals, the command to observe Rosh Hashanah comes with an additional and unique element, as well. In this instance, it is the blowing of the shofar, which we understand to be the ram’s horn. There are many reasons for the blowing of trumpets in the Bible. It serves as a warning to the Jewish people and is used to announce something to come. The shofar has taken on additional meaning throughout the years of Jewish history and understanding the role of the shofar in Jewish tradition is helpful. The shofar (ram’s horn) is blown in synagogues to remind Jewish people of the obedience of Abraham, who was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice in obedience to God, even though God prevented Abraham from going through with the act! The shofar reminds us that God demands full and unquestioning obedience. Additionally, according to the sages of Israel, Abraham earned an abundance of spiritual merit through his obedience. This merit is available today for Jewish people who believe that their good works and repentance will not meet God’s holy standards during this season. The Jewish people would, therefore, understand the concept of “imputed righteousness,” or enjoying the benefit of another’s obedience and ability to please God. Abraham did this for all Jews, according to tradition, and this idea permeates our understanding of Rosh Hashanah. Of course, this is exactly what Jesus the Messiah did, as His righteousness, earned through a perfect life and atoning death, is now granted (imputed) to all those who, by faith, invite Him into their lives to be their Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. This could very well be what Paul referred to when he contrasted the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of the Messiah Jesus, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). So, why is Rosh Hashanah important to me as a Jewish follower of Jesus the Messiah? Here are a few reasons why I personally observe Rosh Hashanah, as well as what it means to me. Rosh Hashanah is an important family time, and many Jewish families around the world will have special dinners and time together, as well as attend synagogue. Observing Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful way of identifying with my Jewish people on a more spiritual level rather than focusing on Israel or social, cultural, or political concerns that might be important to communal Jewish life. It is also a fruitful season of witness, during which I am able to invite Jewish friends and neighbors to our services and Bible studies worldwide so that Jesus can be seen in a Jewish context. Most of all, Rosh Hashanah reminds me of my own need to regularly repent of my sins and be faithful and obedient to His Word. A season of spiritual reflection can be wonderfully enriching, and I believe is vital and necessary in the midst of our busy lives—even if we are busy doing the Lord’s work. As Isaiah the prophet wrote so many years ago, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7).
This encouragement to come clean before God is further outlined in Isaiah 58. The prophet mentioned both the New Year and the Day of Atonement.
Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression and to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God. ‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell. (Isaiah 58:1–12)
I hope you will read the entirety of this passage and see that God wants to forgive us of our sins. He is merciful and gracious by nature, as well as just and righteous. He loves us, but in order to be forgiven, we must come to Him in repentance, forsaking our sin, with a new desire to please Him through what we say, think, and do. For those of us who know Jesus as our Messiah, we are forgiven once for all. But, during these ten days of awe, we can seek renewal and ask the Lord to help us become more willing to do His will as we deepen our understanding of the everlasting love of God for His creation that sent Jesus to the cross.
Abba, thank You for the festivals You gave to Your people. Please use this time of introspection to open the eyes of Israel to see their need for the imputed righteousness of Messiah, and may they find rest and forgiveness for eternity by inviting Him into their lives. Please give us opportunities during this season to connect with the Jewish people in our lives on a more spiritual level and help them see Jesus in a Jewish context. Thank You that, because of Him, we are forgiven once and for all! DAY TWODEDICATION TO OUR KING
In today’s devotional, we will look at two of the three themes prevalent within the Jewish liturgy and prayers for Rosh Hashana and the reminders they offer those of us who are followers of Messiah Jesus. Traditionally, there are three dominant themes described in Jewish tradition that dominate the liturgy and prayers for Rosh Hashanah. The first theme is kingship (malchuyot), the second is remembrance (zichronot), and the third is the shofar (shofarot). Each of these themes is designed to remind us of God’s purpose and plan for mankind at the beginning of the New Year.
KingshipOn Rosh Hashanah, we remind ourselves that the Creator of the universe is King of the universe and Lord of our lives. According to Jewish tradition, just as trumpets are joyously sounded when a king ascends his throne, we sound the shofar as we reestablish God’s dominion over us as our King for another year. The malchuyot prayers declare this theme of kingship. Malchuyot also emphasizes the fact that we must serve the Almighty the same way a servant serves his king—with absolute and total dedication. This concept is called kabalat ol malchut shamayim, which means, “accepting the yoke of heaven.” This type of service is considered most sublime, for we have subjugated our own desires and proclivities to a selfless service of God.  This theme is also a clear reminder to me as a follower of King Yeshua. He is my Lord and King, and one day, He will come again to reign over His literal Davidic kingdom, and the blessings promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 will flow throughout the earth and be enjoyed by both Jews and Gentiles. As Paul described in Philippians chapter 2, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11). Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful time of the year to rededicate yourself to Yeshua and to make sure He reigns on the throne of your life. Are there any particular areas that you continue to control, or have you bowed in obedience and asked Him to be Lord in every area of your life? This season is a good time to identify the areas of your life you believe are not currently under His dominion. List them, ask God to guide you to see yourself as He sees you, and then let the Lord work in those areas of your life. Shame wants us to hide, but our God has triumphed over our shame as we confess our sins to Him and He sets us free (John 8:36; James 5:16).
RemembranceThe second theme of the holiday again harkens us back to Genesis 22, the great story of Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of his son, Isaac, which is read in the synagogue during the holiday. The rabbis reflect upon this encounter between Abraham and God, which took place on Mount Moriah, where the Temple would later be built and, of course, where Jesus would be sacrificed. Again, according to tradition, in zichronot we call upon to God to “remember” the dedication of our ancestors as exhibited by both Abraham and Isaac. God commanded Abraham to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. At the last moment, God informed Abraham that it was merely a test, and instead of sacrificing Isaac, he would offer a nearby ram. By sounding the shofar, a ram’s horn, we remind God of the dedication displayed by both Abraham and Isaac. I am further reminded of the parallels between Isaac and Jesus when we read and study Genesis 22 in the synagogue as part of the high holiday services. For example, both Isaac and Jesus were young men who suffered innocently. They were perfectly obedient to their fathers and accepted their roles as sacrifices without complaint. Of course, Isaac was spared but the Messiah Jesus literally died for our sins. This foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus in Genesis 22 stirs my heart and reminds me of the well-known verse in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).__________________________________________________________ Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort, “What Are the Three Themes of Rosh Hashanah?,” askMoses.com, accessed September 3, 2020, http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/617,2235996/What-are-the-Three-Themes-of-Rosh-Hashanah.html______________________________________________________
I hope you will meditate on the above verse and consider how His sacrifice, love, and truth found in this well-known passage of Scripture has changed your life and, if shared and believed by others, would transform theirs as well. You might focus on the word “gave” for a moment. In what way did God give us Jesus? A few thoughts come to my mind.
1. He was given through incarnation.This is the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 7 verse 14, chapter 9 verses 6–7, and in the prophecies of Isaiah’s contemporary, Micah, in chapter 5 verse 8. The God of the universe took on human flesh and all of the weakness this implies, without taking on our sinful nature. He then endured the hardships of life when He could have remained in heaven. He was hungry and thirsty, and He understood hard work and even the pain of enduring the death of a loved one. Yet, He was without sin. I find that knowing He understands me and what I go through each day draws me closer to the Savior who the author of the book of Hebrews declares is a “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17).
2. He was given in death.When I recite John 3:16 or meditate on the truth and power of the verse, I am gripped by the voluntary nature of His death. He did not have to die. God was not forced to send His Son, whom He loved, to a gruesome and painful physical death. And the Holy One of Israel certainly did not need to turn His face from His Son in that moment when eternity was transformed, as He bore our sins and endured hell on our behalf. The giving of Jesus in sacrifice and death is the crowning moment in redemption’s story, and the evidence of God’s love for His creation.
May the Lord give you insight into the depth of His love!
Abba, please open the eyes of the Jewish people to see the parallels between Isaac and Jesus and to fall at His feet in gratitude for His sacrifice. Give us the initiative and courage to share the gospel with those who do not yet believe, and may it transform their lives as it has ours! Show me if there is any area of my life that is not fully surrendered to You, and rule and reign in glory over all of me! Thank You for willingly coming to experience the hardships of life that mankind incurred by rebelling against You and for voluntarily giving Your life to atone for that rebellion!
THE CALL TO REMEMBER
Today, we delve into the importance of the sounding of the shofar, which is the third theme prevalent within the Jewish liturgy and prayers for Rosh Hashanah, and what this beautiful part of the festival can teach or remind us of as believers in Jesus.
Scriptures to Read:Numbers 10:8–101 Thessalonians 4:16–17
The sounding of the shofar is one of the unique moments that set Rosh Hashanah apart from the other six biblical festivals. There is so much to learn about the importance of the sounding of the shofar and the lessons God would have us learn from this great moment in the observation of the festival. For example, in Numbers chapter 10, the sacrifices of the holy day are detailed. The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations. When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 10:8—10, emphasis added.) The sounding of the shofar is a piercing reminder to Israel that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is their God by covenant, and He should be adored and worshipped. If you look at the passage carefully, especially in the Hebrew, it becomes clear that the shofar was sounded not only to warn Israel of what was coming, but according to the text, was also to remind God of the value He attached to His relationship with the Jewish people. The heart of the holiday revolves around the word relationship. God wants us to have a pure relationship with Him, but also with those who are part of our family, neighborhood, workplace, spiritual community, and beyond! The sounding of the shofar is a call to remember that we belong to God. Our primary relationship in life is as His child, and we were created to serve Him. Life is so fast-paced that we can quickly forget our primary relationship in light of the incessant demands placed upon us by others. Of course, we must pay careful attention to those God has given to us to love and care for. But, in the process, we cannot neglect our relationship with Him, which is one reason I appreciate this season of the year. It almost forces me to remember that my primary relationship is with God. The restoration of our relationship with God is why we are called to repent, as sin is what separates us from Him. Even if we know His forgiveness and are assured of our place in the age to come, we still easily become detached from the Lord in the midst of everyday business and responsibility. Part of heeding the shofar blast is to repent and return to the Lord and to ask Him to make your relationship with Him as close and personal as possible. We know this requires repentance and turning from whatever it is that keeps us away from Him. So, take a moment today and ask the Lord to draw you to Himself, and to give you the strength to turn from whatever it is that keeps you from His presence each day. The same is true for our relationships with others. We have ten days to repent and make things right with our family, neighbors, those we love, and whomever it is that we have hurt or offended during the year. We must ask God for the strength to say the words, “I am sorry,” and to ask for forgiveness from others, that the Lord would then be able to restore and heal broken or ruptured relationships. This is not easy, and it takes His power and grace—especially in the most difficult of situations. Consider the person from whom it will be the hardest for you to ask forgiveness during these ten days. Perhaps it is a husband, wife, child, mother, father, a more distant relative. Maybe it is a schoolmate or a co-worker. You know who it is! Perhaps you should begin with those who might be a little easier, but make it your goal to at least try, with God’s help, to ask forgiveness of the person you least want to face. Always remember, however, you do not need to be forgiven to forgive. God took the initiative and sent His Son to die in our place. In similar fashion, we also need to take the first step. Human relationships are so complicated. Often, mutual forgiveness is required to restore a broken relationship, but still, you and I must take the first step. We cannot forgive based upon the forgiveness of others as this would be contrary to the very idea of grace. Ask Him for help and take the first step! Finally, as followers of Yeshua, the shofar blasts also remind us that this world will not last forever, and that, one day, the blast will sound from heaven and those who believe will be raised to meet the Lord. As Rabbi Saul, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4: 16–17).
By meditating on the above verses of Scripture, we will also be reminded of the return of the Lord. His coming is soon, and we must live today in light of His return. We will see Him face to face, and so now is the time to repent and return to the Lord, to ask Him to renew our strength and empower us to live pure and holy lives—as this is what it means to prepare for His coming. Now is the time to make relationships right by the power of the Spirit and by allowing His love to flow through us! The blowing of the shofar reminds us that a day will come when it is just too late for repentance and reconciliation. We must begin today.
Abba, thank You for the reminders You give us through the sounding of the shofar. You, the Lord of all creation, desire to fellowship with us, which is incomprehensible grace, and we ask that You forgive us for getting distracted by the busyness of life and for forgetting that our primary relationship is with You. Please help us to repent. We declare our longing for Your return and ask that we would see a great harvest of souls among this generation of Jewish people.
THE FINAL ATONING SACRIFICE
In today’s devotional, we focus on why sacrifice is necessary for mankind to have fellowship with God and how Yeshua has satisfied that requirement for all time!
Scriptures to Read:• Leviticus 17:11• Hebrews 9:11–15
Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, described the importance of sacrifice in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” During the ten days of awe, we understand that we are marching toward the holiest day of the Jewish year, the day on which the most important sacrifice of the year—for the sins of the nation of Israel—would take place. This season of the year, initiated by the sounding of the shofar, is consummated with the Yom Kippur sacrifice. However, the idea of sacrifice and blood atonement is not easy for us twenty-first-century people to understand. Why did the Lord, our God, require the blood of bulls, rams, and lambs as the price to fellowship with Him? Part of the answer is the concept that sacrifice includes a cost to someone—a cost that reminds us there is a price for sin. Disobedience to the Lord degrades our relationships with God and one other. But there is more to it, and broken relationships call our hearts and minds to consider the biblical principle of substitution. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and until the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 AD, the principle of substitutionary sacrifice was understood to restore a balance that the presence of sin had upset. The innocent substitute acts as the means through which shalom (peace or completeness) is reestablished between the sinner and God. Therefore, the primary purpose of sacrifice is to allow the estranged person to be drawn once more into unbroken fellowship with God.  However, traditional post-Temple Judaism has a problem, and understands that there is something missing! Since the destruction of the Temple, sacrifice could no longer be made because the one and true altar in the Temple was gone. How, then, do Jewish people find reconciliation with God? The sages declared that, in the days without the Temple, Judaism rested upon three pillars—prayer, repentance, and acts of mercy. However, at the time, these three elements were thought to work in conjunction with the sacrifices. Today, because we do not have the Temple or an altar, these three are actually said to take the place of substitutionary sacrifice. Yet, Jewish memory is not so easy to erase, which is why some observant Jews carry out an obscure ritual called kapporot (“covering”). For this ritual, the head of the household will take a live kosher hen or rooster and slaughter it. He will swing the body around his head three times while reciting, “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life and to peace.” The fowl, which is sometimes stuffed with coins, is given to the poor for food.  For followers of Yeshua, neither sacrifices in the Temple nor any other means of reconciliation are needed beyond that of Messiah, whose once-and-for-all sacrifice is more than sufficient to satisfy our need for atonement, provided we receive this priceless gift through our faith in Him. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us: But when Messiah appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:11–15) _______________________________________ “Jewish Practices and Rituals: Sacrifices and Offerings (Karbanot),” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed September 18, 2014, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/qorbanot.html. Richard Schwartz, “The Custom of Kapparot,” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed September 18, 2014, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/kapparot.html.________________________________________
I encourage you to meditate on the above passages of Scripture to help you again appreciate the wonder of God’s love in sending His Son to be our once-for-all atonement for sin. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves, and whether you are Jewish or part of some other religious faith, if you rely upon your own efforts to please God, you will assuredly fail. We know this in the depth of our souls. We understand that we need our guilt lifted and it is only through the power of His sacrificial atonement that we can be forgiven and enjoy peace with God forever more.
Abba, thank You for the once-for-all sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah! Please fill us anew with the wonder of the love that You showed when You gave your one and only son to atone for our sin. Help the whole world—Jew and Gentile alike—to recognize how utterly incapable we are of earning salvation for ourselves and to receive what has been purchased at so high a cost. We praise You for your faithfulness to wipe away all our guilt, forgive us, and give us shalom!
CONFESSING OUR SINS
Today, we look at the Al Chet (All Sins) prayer, a liturgical confession of sins repeated several times ahead of and throughout Yom Kippur, meditate on the magnitude of the gift we received through Messiah’s death and resurrection, and pray for God to open the eyes of the Jewish people to recognize that salvation is only attainable through Him. Scriptures to Read:1 John 1:9
The Al Chet (All Sins) prayer, a liturgical confession of sins, is said ten times during the course of the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) services. Worshippers recite it during the afternoon prayers on the day before Yom Kippur, just before sunset on Yom Kippur eve, and twice during each of the following services: the evening service of Yom Kippur eve, the morning service, and the afternoon service of Yom Kippur day. Three times in the reciting of the confession we find these words: For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us. If you are not familiar with this prayer, it would be helpful for you to read through it. Perhaps some of what the sages of Israel called upon the Jewish people to repent for will strike a chord in your heart, and God will use this to give you an idea of what to confess before Him during this season that will bring about renewal in your heart and soul. You might try reading through this lengthy prayer with your spouse, a child, or a good friend. At the end of the prayer, you might pray and assure one another of God’s forgiveness through the Messiah Jesus. Read it slowly and with heart! For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.For the sin which we have committed before You by a gathering of lewdness.And for the sin which we have committed before You by verbal [insincere] confession.For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion.And for the sin which we have committed before You by desecrating the Divine Name.For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of speech.And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish talk.For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil inclination.And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us. For the sin which we have committed before You by false denial and lying.And for the sin which we have committed before You by a bribe-taking or a bribe-giving hand.For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing.And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another].For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings. And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating and drinking.For the sin which we have committed before You by [taking or giving] interest and by usury.And for the sin which we have committed before You by a haughty demeanor. For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips.And for the sin which we have committed before You by a glance of the eye.For the sin which we have committed before You with proud looks.And for the sin which we have committed before You with impudence.For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us. For the sin which we have committed before You by casting off the yoke [of Heaven].And for the sin which we have committed before You in passing judgment.For the sin which we have committed before You by scheming against a fellowman.And for the sin which we have committed before You by a begrudging eye. For the sin which we have committed before You by frivolity.And for the sin which we have committed before You by obduracy.For the sin which we have committed before You by running to do evil.And for the sin which we have committed before You by tale-bearing.For the sin which we have committed before You by swearing in vain.And for the sin which we have committed before You by causeless hatred.For the sin which we have committed before You by embezzlement.And for the sin which we have committed before You by a confused heart.For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us. And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a burnt-offering. And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a sin-offering.And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a varying offering [according to one’s means].And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a guilt-offering for a certain or doubtful trespass. And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of lashing for rebelliousness. And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of forty lashes.And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of death by the hand of Heaven. And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of excision and childlessness. And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of the four forms of capital punishment executed by the Court: stoning, burning, decapitation and strangulation.
For [transgressing] positive and prohibitory mitzvot [commandments], whether [the prohibitions] can be rectified by a specifically prescribed act or not, those of which we are aware and those of which we are not aware; those of which we are aware, we have already declared them before You and confessed them to You, and those of which we are not aware—before You they are revealed and known, as it is stated: The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, that we may carry out all the words of this Torah. For You are the Pardoner of Israel and the Forgiver of the tribes of Yeshurun in every generation, and aside from You we have no King who forgives and pardons. (Quoted at the end of the prayer from Deuteronomy 29:29).  Jewish tradition, as you can see from this ancient prayer of confession, is very helpful in aiding us to understand how to confess our sins. One of the reasons I love the Jewish high holidays is because it gives me the opportunity to seek spiritual renewal, and as a Messianic Jew, to be reminded each day of the power of the once-for-all eternal sacrifice of our Messiah, Jesus, for our sins. You might further consider the following guidelines to help you during this season of renewal to confess sin, leading to spiritual renewal for believers and perhaps salvation for those who have not yet trusted in the finished work of Yeshua the Messiah at Calvary.Confession should be personal.Confession should be as specific as possible.Confession should be forthright and honest.Confession should lead to a change of heart and behavior.Confession, though personal, can also be offered by a group (a congregation, family, friends, etc.) and should lead to forgiveness of one another.Confession should be based upon the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah who died in our place so that God would accept us as blameless in Him.Confession should lead to forgiving oneself. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). _________________________________________________ “The Text of Al Chet,” Chabad.org, accessed September 4, 2020, https://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/6577/jewish/Text-of-Al-Chet.ht_________________________________________________
The above is a beautiful verse to meditate upon during this season. It was one of the first verses I learned as a new believer and memorizing this passage and hiding it in the depth of my soul has helped me immensely during my life. It reminds me that forgiveness is not merely for all I had done before I accepted Yeshua, but His mercy extends to every additional sin committed before I pass into His presence. What a comfort to know that He never ceases to forgive, and that this atonement is not for the past alone, but for the present and the future. I pray the Lord will grant you great encouragement and freedom, knowing that the One who died also intercedes for us at all times and that forgiveness for our daily sins is continuously available for the asking.
Abba, thank You that those who believe in Yeshua are pardoned and forgiven through His death! We are reminded of how often we fall short of Your standard and how desperately we need what only He could have provided. Lord, please open the eyes of the Jewish people to this same truth. May they realize the necessity of basing their confessions on the death and resurrection of Your Son! Thank You for this season that reminds us to contemplate Your perfect sacrifice. Please, may our confession of sin indeed prompt a spiritual renewal in us.
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL
In today’s devotional, we study the biblical theme of redemption and the importance of forgiving others, and we pray for our not-yet-believing Jewish friends and family to come to enjoy the same freedom as we have found through trusting in Jesus.
Scriptures to Read:
Forgiveness of sin is a major theme in the Bible. The Old Testament begins with the story of Adam and Eve sinning and destroying the perfection God originally created. Sin passed from Adam and Eve to their descendants, and the remainder of the biblical story focused on the way in which God would redeem mankind and the rest of creation from the ravages of sin and disobedience.
Early biblical promises of redemption and forgiveness were first heard in the Garden of Eden in passages such as Genesis 3:15. The Bible not only began to focus on redemption and deliverance but also on a redeemer and deliverer—a person who would be used by the Holy One to reverse the effects of the sins committed by the first man and woman. This hope was further outlined in Messianic prophecies throughout the Bible: Genesis 12:1–3; 49:10; Deuteronomy 18:15ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6–7; and in the magnificent servant song in chapter 53.
Ultimately, these prophecies are fulfilled in the appearance on earth of the Promised One. He would pay the penalty for sin by giving His own perfect life in death, conquering the curse, and rising from the grave to offer redemption for individuals. Eventually, His sacrifice would also restore all of creation marred and tainted by sin.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Messiah Jesus often spoke of sin, forgiveness, redemption, and how we can enjoy a “remembrance of the garden” and foretaste of future glory today? Issues related to sin, forgiveness, and redemption were some of His favorite topics, as He had come as a friend of sinners to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus promised an abundant life to those who followed Him (John 10:10), and this abundance would include a deeper, more profound relationship with the Creator.
The renewal of our relationship with God also has the ability to transform relationships between individuals; heal marriages, families, friendships, and all broken relationships approached according to His will. In the well-known Lord’s Prayer, Yeshua revealed the secret of renewed relationships to His followers as He encourages His disciples to learn the joy of forgiving others.
Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9–13, emphasis added.)
The great theme we bear in mind as we press ahead toward Yom Kippur, which is the conclusion of the Ten Days of Awe, is forgiveness—God forgiving us and us forgiving others. What can we learn about being forgiven and forgiving others from Yeshua’s prayer? Can we be forgiven of our sins without forgiving others?
The simple answer is yes and no!
A Definition of Forgiveness
The Bible uses many different words to describe forgiveness. It might be best to think of various words in the Scriptures as terms that are in the forgiveness family. There are a variety of terms translated as “forgiveness,” or seemingly used as a synonym in Scripture. Propitiation, redemption, and a number of illustrations, Old Testament examples, and parables (the prodigal son, etc.) are used to get the point across.
The Greek word used for “forgiveness” in this prayer is aphienai. Aphienai means “to send off,” but can have such varied nuances as “to release,” “to hurl,” “to let be,” “to pardon.” Aphesis, which is less common, is used for “release” (from office, obligation, debt, penalty), pariemi means “to send by,” with such nuances as “to leave behind,” “leave off,” “let be,” “give up,” or “remit.” Essentially, forgiveness is depicted as the release from an obligation.
The word used to represent the idea of sins in this prayer is “debts,” or opheilēma. Jesus often speaks about people being debtors to God (Matthew 6:12; 18:23ff.; Luke 7:41; 17:10), but only in Matthew 6:12 is sin specifically equated with debt. Jesus uses the illustration of debt to explain the breach in relationship to God. The debt is portrayed as so great that no amount of good deeds can offset our guilt. We are totally dependent on His divine mercy for the repayment of our “sin debt.” The amount is so vast that it is simply too large and impossible for any human to pay.
Additionally, the Messiah teaches us that God’s gracious forgiveness imposes a corresponding obligation upon the forgiven to also forgive. In other words, we can only forgive as we have been forgiven! Once we understand God’s grace and view the sins of those who hurt us in light of God’s mercy toward us, then we can we do no more for others than what He has done for us.
Our ability to forgive others is evidence that we have been forgiven. The opposite is true! If we are incapable of forgiving others, then we have either misunderstood His grace or not allowed the redemption we have through the Messiah to seep into our souls and transform even the most difficult of our relationships.
The secret to forgiveness is being able to view others as Jesus views us, not hold their sins against them, and be willing to forgive as He has forgiven us. Sometimes this is a challenge because we have not sufficiently acknowledged the depth and horror of our own sins toward God and others. We are tempted to view the sins of others as far worse than our own.
Understandably, forgiveness is harder to extend toward those who have hurt us or our loved ones more deeply. We have to admit forgiveness is difficult, which is why Yeshua addresses the matter in this foundational prayer that helps direct us toward some of the most basic steps in developing of our relationship with God.
The only way to really forgive others is to ask God to give us His power and do our best, through prayer, counsel, and the encouragement of others to work toward saying, “Lord, as You have forgiven me, I forgive______.” Just add the name of the person who has hurt you or your loved ones the most and then leave them in God’s hands.
As Rabbi Saul of Tarsus wrote, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).
The above Bible verse speaks to my heart. The Apostle reminds us that we need to view ourselves as God does—fallen but also dramatically and eternally forgiven. In turn, knowing what God has done for us, we now need to do for others. We forgive as we have been forgiven.
Take a moment and think about those you need to forgive during this season of repentance. I am sure you know who they are and understand that, until you forgive, you are vulnerable to bitterness and guilt. Perhaps today is the day when you will be able to release the anger and unforgiveness that so easily damages your soul. You might begin by thanking God for forgiving you and then extend that same forgiveness to those who have hurt you.
I know this is not easy and I hope that you will take some time to pray, reflect, and ask God to give you the strength to do what seems to be humanly impossible: to forgive those who have sinned against you or those you love. If you do, you will be set free!
Abba, thank You for Your forgiveness and for the reality that whom the Son sets free is free indeed! We ask that our not-yet-believing Jewish friends and neighbors would realize that no amount of good deeds could ever atone for their sins. May they acknowledge their dire need for the Savior and respond by placing their faith in Him. Thus, may they experience this same freedom! Help us all to forgive as we have been forgiven, and as we do so, may we enjoy z deeper, more intimate relationship with You!
FORGIVENESS IS A CHOICE
Today’s devotional continues with yesterday’s theme of forgiveness with two powerful stories—one a parable, and the other a personal testimony by Corrie ten Boom—and further consider the importance of forgiving as we have been forgiven.
Let us look at two stories about forgiveness. The first is found in the Bible, and it is one of the greatest parables spoken by Jesus on this issue of forgiveness, which was one of His favorite topics. The second is a well-known encounter experienced between Corrie ten Boom and a German prison guard.
The parable is found in Matthew 18:23–35, with a brief introduction to the story in verses 21–22. Take a moment and read the story—it will just take a few minutes!
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
Jesus indicates that someone who receives forgiveness can forfeit that forgiveness by refusing to forgive others. Jesus makes the point clear: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
That was the terrible error of the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable (Matthew 18:23–35; see also Matthew 5:7; Mark 11:25). He did not rightly appreciate the forgiveness given to him. As a result, he was cut off from the forgiveness granted to him earlier, and his debt was reinstated (Matthew 18:34). The obvious truth Jesus presents is that forgiving others is positive proof of being forgiven.
Please do not misunderstand the Savior! He is not suggesting that there is any precondition for receiving His forgiveness other than faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). But true faith in Jesus comes with sincere repentance and desire to change. This faith, which is a gift from God, both turns us away from sin and sets us towards the Lord.
This wicked servant did not comprehend the Master’s gift of forgiveness, as he treated those who worked for him with such cruelty, exhibiting ingratitude for how he was treated. Again, our salvation is not based on forgiving others, yet it is also true that citizens of the kingdom of God are marked by the ability to forgive!
When Corrie Ten Boom recognized one of her prison guards at a church speaking engagement, time seemed to stand still. All of a sudden, Corrie was back in Ravensbruck: the huge room with overhead lights, the mountainous heaps of dresses and shoes centered on the floor, the shame of walking naked past this very same guard. Corrie also thought of her sister Betsie, who did not survive the concentration camp. Corrie tells us what happened next, when this former prison guard sought her forgiveness.
"And I stood there—I whose sins had every day to be forgiven—and could not. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then." 
As the psalmist concludes,
“If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).
 Corrie ten Boom, “Guideposts Classics: Corrie Ten Boom On Forgiveness,” Guideposts, accessed, https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/positive-living/guideposts-classics-corrie-ten-boom-on-forgiveness. Reprinted with permission from Guideposts. Copyright © 1972 by Guideposts, Carmel, New York 10512. All rights reserved. (www.guideposts.com)
The ability to forgive is a reflection of our salvation. It is not the basis but the evidence that the Holy Spirit has performed a real work of God in our hearts. Therefore, we really must view forgiveness as a spiritual duty for people of faith. This is at the heart of these Ten Days of Awe. Jewish people understand that forgiving others is not an option but an obligation.
May the Lord give you the power to be like Corrie ten Boom and forgive those who perhaps have harmed you the most. Even God Himself does not “mark iniquities,” because if He did, none of us would be able to survive His judgment. Again, the Psalmist writes regarding our sin in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
If God removes our sins from His view, how can we not try and do the same for those who have sinned against us?
Abba, thank You for Your forgiveness, and forgive us for the times we have failed to forgive others! At this time, we are especially burdened by the rise of antisemitism throughout the world. Use us to eradicate it and help the Jewish people to forgive those who have propagated it. May the bride of Messiah never be a stumbling block to them again! Instead, through a shared faith in Jesus, may we together show forth the glories of God and the shalom that can only come through receiving forgiveness from You and extending that forgiveness to one another!
THE PROCESS OF FORGIVENESS
Today, we will look at three practical steps to begin the process of forgiving others, get insight into a Chasidic perspective on forgiveness, and meditate on Daniel 9.
Here are three practical steps to begin the process of forgiveness.
1. Begin the process with repentance.
Try and see yourselves through the eyes of a holy God and recognize the depth of your sin, your need for forgiveness, and your inability to merit God’s forgiveness through your own efforts. The beginning of finding God’s grace is to recognize your need for forgiveness and your unworthiness to be forgiven.
As the prophet Isaiah recognized once he had a vision of the holiness of God, “Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’” (Isaiah 6:5).
It is only when we see ourselves as God sees us that we can begin to fathom the breadth of His love and mercy toward us.
2. Accept His forgiveness by receiving Jesus as your Messiah.
The sounding of the shofar reminds us of the righteousness of Abraham and the symbolic passing of our sins to another through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute. This sacrifice of the ram in place of Isaac took place on Mount Moriah, where, later in Jewish history, David would purchase land and his son Solomon would build the Temple.
It was on this holiest of sites that millions of animals shed blood as a type and in anticipation of the One true sacrifice to come, who was offered on a tree located on this same mountain range! As Moses wrote, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).
Our blood is required because the penalty for sin is death. But God, in His mercy, allows us to live because He provides the sacrifice. He did so for Abraham, He did so for the Jewish people worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem, and He did so for each of us by sending His only Son, Yeshua, to die in our place. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We must repent and recognize our inability to merit forgiveness. And then, by faith, we must accept the Messiah Yeshua as our personal atonement for sin.
3. Unconditional forgiveness leads to reconciliation and the restoration of broken relationships.
As a younger believer, I was often taught that forgiveness of others was based on the other’s repentance. In other words, I believed that an individual who wanted my forgiveness needed to apologize first for the way they hurt me to earn my forgiveness. I want to tell you that this is contrary to the biblical teaching and does not work in practice. Moreover, this method usually results in harboring bitterness toward the person for whom you are waiting—sometimes for a lifetime—to repent and take responsibility for what they did to you. Forgiveness is not earned; it is granted freely, as a gift.
When we forgive others, it shows that we understand what it means to be forgiven by God Himself. We did not earn His forgiveness any more than others will earn ours. We will never deserve forgiveness any more than others will deserve ours. Extending forgiveness is always a decision on our part to release others from their sin debt to us, deliver it to God to judge, and to clear the path for reconciliation and restoration, which can only take place if the other person responds similarly.
Reconciliation and the restoration of relationships are different and are more of a process that takes time. But forgiveness is the first step. Sometimes we do not take the first step because we believe the rest of the process is unreachable. But true restoration becomes all the more possible when, by faith, we take this first step in forgiving those who have offended us! Then we trust God to work in the heart of the one we have forgiven and remain patient, since the Lord is all about restoration. Look at what He has done for us!
The Paper Chicken: A Chasidic Tale of Forgiveness
A Chasidic tale (story told by ultra-religious Jewish people who tend to view life through the Law as well as through Jewish mysticism) describes the link between being forgiven and forgiving others.
Once, on the evening before Yom Kippur, one of the chassidim of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk [a city in Russia] asked his Rebbe [a revered Chasidic rabbi] to allow him to see how he, Rabbi Elimelech, observes the custom of kaparot [the killing of a chicken and shedding the animal’s blood as a reminder of what was done in the Temple].
“How I do kaparot?” repeated Rabbi Elimelech. “How do you do kaparot?”
“I am an ordinary Jew—I do what everyone else does. I hold the rooster in one hand, the prayer book in the other, and recite the text, ‘This is my exchange, this is in my stead, this is my atonement….’”
“That’s exactly what I do,” said Rabbi Elimelech. “I take the rooster in one hand, the prayer book in the other, and recite the text. Actually, there might be a certain difference between your kaparot and mine: you probably make sure to use a white rooster, while to me it makes no difference: white, black, brown—a rooster’s a rooster….”
But the chassid persisted that his Rebbe’s kaparot was certainly no ordinary event. He had been coming to Lizhensk to pray with the Rebbe every Yom Kippur for more than twenty years now, and had always wanted to observe his Rebbe at this most solemn moment.
“You want to see an extraordinary kaparot?” said Rabbi Elimelech. “Go observe how Moshe the tavern-keeper does kaparot. Now, there you’ll see something far more inspiring than my own, ordinary kaparot.”
The chassid located Moshe’s tavern at a crossroads several miles outside of Lizhensk and asked to stay the night. “I’m sorry,” said the tavern-keeper. “As you see, this is a small establishment, and we don’t have any rooms to let. There’s an inn a small distance further down the road.”
“Please,” begged the chassid, “I’ve been traveling all day, and I want to rest awhile. I don’t need a room—I’ll just curl up in a corner for a few hours and be on my way.”
“O.K.,” said Moshe. “We’ll be closing up shortly, and then you can get some sleep.”
After much shouting, cajoling and threatening, Moshe succeeded in herding his clientele of drunken peasants out the door. The chairs and tables were stacked in a corner, and the room, which also served as the tavern-keeper’s living quarters, readied for the night. Midnight had long passed, and the hour of kaparot was approaching. The chassid, wrapped in his blanket under a table, feigned sleep, but kept watch in the darkened room, determined not to miss anything.
Before dawn, Moshe rose from his bed, washed his hands and recited the morning blessings. “Time for kaparot!” he called quietly to his wife, taking care not to wake his guest. “Yentel, please bring me the notebook—it’s on the shelf above the cupboard.”
Moshe sat himself on a small stool, lit a candle, and began reading from the notebook, unaware that his “sleeping” guest was wide awake and straining to hear every word. The notebook was a diary of all the misdeeds and transgressions the tavern-keeper had committed in the course of the year, the date, time and circumstance of each scrupulously noted. His “sins” were quite benign—a word of gossip one day, oversleeping the time for prayer on another, neglecting to give his daily coin to charity on a third—but by the time Moshe had read through the first few pages, his face was bathed in tears. For more than an hour Moshe read and wept, until the last page had been turned.
“Yentel,” he now called to his wife, “bring me the second notebook.”
This, too, was a diary—of all the troubles and misfortunes that had befallen him in the course of the year. On this day Moshe was beaten by a gang of peasants, on that day his child fell ill; once, in the dead of winter, the family had frozen for several nights for lack of firewood; another time their cow had died, and there was no milk until enough rubles had been saved to buy another.
When he had finished reading the second notebook, the tavern-keeper lifted his eyes heavenward and said: “So you see, dear Father in Heaven, I have sinned against You. Last year I repented and promised to fulfill Your commandments, but I repeatedly succumbed to my evil inclination. But last year I also prayed and begged You for a year of health and prosperity, and I trusted in You that it would indeed be this way.
“Dear Father, today is the eve of Yom Kippur, when everyone forgives and is forgiven. Let us put the past behind us. I’ll accept my troubles as atonement for my sins, and You, in Your great mercy, shall do the same.”
Moshe took the two notebooks in his hands, raised them aloft, circled them three times above his head, and said, “This is my exchange, this is in my stead, this is my atonement.” He then threw them into the fireplace, where the smoldering coals soon turned the tear-stained pages to ashes. 
Remembering our own need for forgiveness softens our hearts to forgive. And the grace on which we depend to be forgiven is the same grace that helps us forgive.
Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belongs compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; nor have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. (Daniel 9:8–11)
 “The Paper Chicken,” Chabad.org, accessed September 8, 2020, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/87879/jewish/The-Paper-Chicken.htM
One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is the cry of repentance by Daniel found in chapter nine. He repents of his sins, and those of his fellow Jews, with heartfelt passion. And I find that just reading this prayer inspires me to do the same. You might try reading the entirety of the prayer.
I believe we need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and with God if we are going to be able to accept God’s forgiveness fully. I believe that one of the greatest challenges we face during the Ten Days of Awe is to be honest with ourselves and with God about our personal failings and sins.
We might understand His forgiveness, but all too often it is hard to forgive ourselves.
If we are this honest about our sin and recognize that we are without excuse, and simply accept the depth and magnitude of our transgressions, then and only then will we be able to appreciate His forgiveness. It is only when we are this honest that we can appreciate that the eternal love of God, revealed through the death of the Messiah, is powerful enough to wash us clean. We must be honest and not shade the truth since He knows it anyway. Let us dig deep and confess our sins, knowing that His grace and mercy extend to each transgression. How wonderful to be honest, forgiven, and free.
We will never be able to accept His forgiveness if we minimize our own sin. Spiritual honesty and transparency with God are where we must start. Daniel’s prayer will provide an excellent beginning for our own prayers of repentance.
Abba, as we pray Daniel nine, please open the eyes of the Jewish people so that we can all recognize the depth of our sin, our need of forgiveness, and our inability to merit it through our own efforts. Thank you for sending Jesus to die in our place and for granting forgiveness and freedom to all who believe in Him! We ask that, this year, many more Jewish people would come to faith and receive this priceless gift!
WHEN WE FAIL, THERE IS GRACE
In today’s devotional, we look at the fifteenth-century prayer, Kol Nidrei, and learn a bit about the tragic significance it holds for Jewish people today. We end with a meditation on Psalm 51.
On the evening initiating the Day of Atonement, Jewish people gather around the world to hear the magnificent fifteenth-century prayer, Kol Nidrei, which is sung at the service. This moving, mournful, and soulful prayer is highly unusual within the Jewish faith, as the purpose of the prayer is to seek God’s forgiveness for breaking vows and promises. After moving through the Ten Days of Awe, confessing and repenting for our sins, it seems out of character that the finale of our contrition comes as a request asking God to forgive us for intentionally or accidentally breaking our past and future commitments.
This is difficult for most of us to understand, but it is worth trying as the prayer helps us understand some aspects of Jewish history that are important to remember.
The translation is as follows:
"In the tribunal of Heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God — praised be He — and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with transgressors.
All personal vows we are likely to make, all personal oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Let our personal vows, pledges, and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.
May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are at fault." 
Many Jewish leaders over the years have actually wanted to remove Kol Nidrei from the Yom Kippur service. It has become the source of considerable antisemitism, as non-Jews believed it was the Jewish way to release themselves from debts to gentiles. Furthermore, it should be understood that, in Jewish tradition, the Kol Nidrei is not a request to be free of legal obligations that cannot be met without consequence. It is quite rightly understood there will always be penalties for a failure to perform a contract, as Judaism cherishes the value of keeping one’s word.
According to one rabbinic commentator, “…NO ONE claims that Kol Nidrei exempts individuals from either past or future vows that involve others. Kol Nidrei is ONLY for personal vows, as demonstrated above. Whether in business deals or interpersonal interaction, Kol Nidrei does not in any way provide license for Jews to be deceitful or lying.” 
The reason Kol Nidrei became so important is that it memorializes events in Medieval Europe, especially during the days when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or Islam and chose to practice an “underground” version of Judaism. Those Jews, primarily located in Spain and Portugal, were called Conversos or Crypto-Jews (secret Jews). The singing of Kol Nidrei gave these “converts” an opportunity each year to ask God to forgive them for falsely converting.
This prayer, which still moves Jewish people to tears, reminds us of darker times during the Inquisition and persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe. The prayer says more about the Jewish view of God than it does about man’s ability to keep his word. The unknown author of the prayer, who may indeed have been a Crypto-Jew, believed that breaking vows was wrong, but in this instance, God would be gracious, merciful, and forgiving, as He understood the decision to “convert” to Christianity (specifically Medieval Catholicism) was made under threat of death.
Sometimes, the only lifeline Jewish people had to hold on to was that God would graciously understand the difficulty of keeping the Torah (biblical Law). The Jewish people were not looking for an excuse through the prayer, but rather the words expressed hope that God fully knew the circumstances endured by the Jewish people and that He also understood the deepest intentions of their hearts. Kol Nidrei expresses faith in the goodness and love of God.
Therefore, in a rather unusual way, Kol Nidrei reminds the Jewish people that our failure to keep promises and obligations, under more usual circumstances, requires God’s forgiveness, as our word is our bond not only to man but God. Jesus himself emphasizes the importance of one’s spoken word in Matthew 12:36, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” The prayer elevates our commitments to life, family, and business to a higher level by giving these obligations a divine dimension.
When we fail in our earthly obligations, we understand that we have sinned before God and need His release and forgiveness. This is beautifully expressed in the words of the Psalmist, who wrote, “Your vows are binding upon me, O God; I will render thank offerings to You. For You have delivered my soul from death, indeed my feet from stumbling, so that I may walk before God in the light of the living” (Psalm 56:12–13).
 Translation of the Kol Nidrei prayer as found in Philip Birnbaum, High Holiday Prayer Book (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1951).
 Gil Student, “Explaining Kol Nidrei,” The Real Truth About the Talmud, accessed September 4, 2020, http://www.angelfire.com/mt/talmud/kolnidre.html#Kol.
The above passage gives us insight into the conflicted heart of the psalmist. He mourns his failings, yet still trusts in a good and forgiving God who can keep him from sin. He does not blame God for demanding that he keep the commandments, nor does he demand license to disobey, as he takes full responsibility for his sin. On the one hand, he recognizes that God is the only one who can keep him from failing, but on the other hand, understands that sin is his failure and not God’s inability to “keep” him.
We can also be conflicted. We trust God to give us the power to be obedient and to walk with Him in purity, but we still sin. In these moments we are tempted to say that God is complicit in our sin because He did not give us the strength to resist it. Do you ever feel as if God did not keep His part of the agreement in giving you power over sin? It is understandable to feel that way, but it is not true. He empowers us to choose His will over our own, and we must make the right choice. We cannot blame the Holy One for our sin, and we cannot knowingly make the wrong choice because we know that He will forgive us. His grace is a not a safety net for sin and disobedience.
Give it your all! Resist sin but know that failure will come. I pray that you will be honest with God at that moment and fall upon His mercy, knowing that He also forgives.
I encourage you to read and meditate upon my favorite Psalm, which captures the heart of King David after being confronted by the prophet Nathan with his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah. The lessons in the passage will give us hope and strength to obey, knowing that if we fail, (and we will), that we are never beyond His ability and power to forgive.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:1–17)
Abba, as we meditate on Psalm 51, we ask You to reveal any hidden sin in us that we have not confessed. We pray that as the Jewish people read this psalm, they would recognize their own need for forgiveness and fall upon the mercy You offer through Your Son. Thank You for the truth that no failure of ours is beyond Your ability and power to forgive!
THE MEANING OF YOM KIPPUR
In this devotional, a Jewish believer in Messiah shares what Yom Kippur means to him personally as one who has received atonement for eternity. We end this series by praying once again for the salvation of the Jewish people as well as for boldness to share the message of Jesus with all the world.
Scriptures to Read:
Years ago, a Chasidic rabbi taught me the real meaning of Yom Kippur. I was handing out pamphlets about Yeshua the Messiah at a New Jersey college when, all of a sudden, a determined, black-coated, bearded, hat-wearing campus Chasidic rabbi ran towards me and began handing out his own literature. Not only that, he stopped some of the students who had received a copy of my pamphlet, asked them if they were Jewish, and then told them they should not read what was obviously (in his opinion) spiritual contraband. He virtually took it out of their hands and gave them a copy of his leaflet, telling them about the importance of living a more fulfilled Jewish life: keeping Torah, kosher, going to synagogue, and loving God in a more traditional Jewish way.
He represented a group called Chabad, which now has close to 6,000 “missionaries” traversing the globe, calling Jewish people—especially on college campuses—to return to their spiritual roots and embrace a more faithful Judaism.
At first, I was a bit concerned, and felt he was unfair in doing what he did. I almost said to him, “Go get your own crowd!” But, in the distance I noticed that students were watching, and seemed to be wondering why the rabbi was helping the man (me) wearing a sweatshirt that read something like Yeshua is the Messiah hand out his literature. I laughed and continued this unexpected few moments of “dueling pamphlets.”
It was less than a week after the Day of Atonement, and I thought I would take the opportunity to engage my self-proclaimed antagonist in meaningful conversation. I asked the rabbi, whose name I knew, “Baruch, did you have a good high holiday season?” He looked at me and said, “Of course.” I then asked if I could ask him a bit of a personal question, and he responded with a quick “sure.” I asked Baruch, whose name means “blessing,” “Do you know if you were blessed with the forgiveness of your sins on Yom Kippur?” He smiled at me, like a father whose young and precocious son had asked a naïve but potentially reasonable question.
He answered, “You believers in Jesus think it is so easy to be forgiven. You just say a little prayer and bingo, you are forgiven!” I returned the good-natured smile and said, “Baruch, I really want to know. You spent all day fasting after ten days of intensely repenting, and now the Books of Life and Death are closed (according to Jewish tradition), and I am wondering. Did you make it into the Book of Life?” Then in typical Brooklyn, New York fashion (since I knew he lived in Brooklyn), I said, “Answer the question, yes or no.”
His tone of voice warmed, and he became almost pastoral and said, “How can someone ever know they were forgiven? You think you get a certificate or something like that? It is a matter of faith, and believing you did the right thing.”
I pressed him one more time and said, “So, you do not know for sure that your sins are forgiven?” This time he became a bit exasperated with me (I don’t blame him) and, using my Hebrew name, said, “Menachem, even if I were forgiven, I would walk out of the synagogue and sin again and have to repeat the whole process the following year.” He continued, “The point is this: a faithful Jew must keep repenting all the time in order to be forgiven of sin. It is a constant process.”
I smiled and said, “Thank you.” He asked, “Why the thank you?” I told him that his answer reminded me of why I am so grateful for what Yeshua the Messiah did for him and for me. He died once for all, for all sins, for all time, and for all people. Though I need to repent and live for Him, my eternal future rested in His mighty hands and not my own.
He smiled at me, and we wished one another a Chag Sameach (Happy Festival), as we still had one additional Levitical festival (and the one which was the most fun!) coming up—the Feast of Tabernacles—Sukkot. The rabbi helped me appreciate the words of our Messiah Jesus who said, “It is finished!” It is a source of great personal joy to know that His work of redemption is completed.
The author of the book of Hebrews helps me appreciate more of the details regarding the finality of the work of Yeshua in dying for my sins. He was a perfect Levitical High Priest, who now intercedes on the basis of His once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for you and me so that we can fellowship with God today, right now, and forever more.
The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:23–28)
And again, one of my favorite short verses in the Bible that is all the more meaningful as you consider what was written, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
The above passages and a careful reading of Hebrews 10:1–16 will enable you to glean deeper insight into what He did for us through His sacrificial death and powerful resurrection. I am thankful for the forgiveness of sin and gift of eternal life given to all who believe in Yeshua the Messiah.
However, the encounter with the Chabad rabbi also taught me another valuable lesson. One’s love for God should never lead to silence! In fact, it should produce the opposite—a joy that compels us to speak to total strangers, to risk our personal dignity and safety, and even to respectfully resist those whose goal it is to turn people towards a spiritual path other than the one way we know to be true.
I have a found a new New Year’s resolution, thanks to some continued reflection on this encounter that happened so many years ago. I pray that the new Jewish year will grant you many opportunities to tell others about your love for God and His Son, and that He will give you the strength to show His forgiveness and love to others.
Be sure to wish your Jewish friends and family a Happy New Year, or as the standard Hebrew greeting for this time of year invokes, “May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life”— L’shanah tovah tikatevu!
Thank You, Abba, for Yeshua! Please open the eyes of our Jewish friends and neighbors to see that He has indeed perfected for all time those who are sanctified through His offering. Forgive us for the times we have allowed fear, apathy, or other distractions to thwart us from sharing the gospel with the lost. May we have the courage and conviction to take every opportunity You give us in the coming year to share our love for Jesus with others. Abba, as we come to the end of the Ten Days of Awe, may many more Jewish people’s names be added to the Book of Life!