Ending and Beginning“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him,

‘I saw the Lord always in my presence;
For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.
‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted;
Moreover my flesh also will live in hope;
Because You will not abandon my soul to She’ol,
nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
‘You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to his seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to She’ol, nor did his flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:

‘The Lord said to my Lord
“Sit at My right hand,
until I make your enemies a footstool at your feet.”’

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Acts 2:22-42 (NASB)

I have a personal tradition of reading this passage from the Book of Acts on Yom Kippur every year along with the other Yom Kippur readings. It is a reminder that people can be confronted with the truth and by the Spirit of God, change at the core and become new again in Him. These words provide hope and a certain warmth in my heart along with the Yom Kippur Haftarah portion:

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
From pursuing your affairs on My holy day;
If call the sabbath “delight,”
The Lord’s holy day “honored”;
And if you honor it and go not your ways
Nor look to yours affairs, nor strike bargains —
Then you can seek the favor of the Lord.
I will set you astride the heights of the earth,
And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob —
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. –Isaiah 59:13-14 (JPS Tanakh)

For another year, Jews all over the world feel a lightening in their souls as they approach the world and a new year with much excess baggage lifted from them. For Christians, there is no analogous time on our calendar in which we specifically approach the Throne of God in humility and perhaps in shame, and beg our Creator to make everything clean between us again. We can approach God through Jesus Christ on a daily basis, so there’s no need for a “Christian Yom Kippur”, right? Believe it or not, Jews think this way about Yom Kippur too and ask:

Question: Regarding Yom Kippur, why is there a necessity in Judaism to designate a particular day for atonement when one could atone any minute of the day as he or she chooses? Isn’t G-d listening all the time? Why designate a day that could potentially encourage sinful behavior during the year only to repent on Yom Kippur?

Answer: Maimonides addresses both your questions in his “Laws of Repentance”. In Chapter 2 he states,

Even though repentance is always good, during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it is more desirable, and is accepted [by G-d] immediately… Yom Kippur is the time for repentance for the individual and community, and it is the end time of forgiveness and atonement for Israel. Therefore everyone is obligated to repent at this time…

During the year, a person has the option. At this time it is obligatory, and easier to accomplish. Consider the difference between flicking a bug off the table, and pushing a tiger off the table.

In Chapter 4 he says that one who sins with the intent of obtaining forgiveness on Yom Kippur is held back from repenting. We all know, the guy who says, “my diet starts tomorrow” never loses weight.

Best Wishes,
Shlomo Soroka

Inner lightAre there times of year when God is closer and repentence is more at hand? Remember, traditionally Jews prepare for the Days of Awe for over a month prior to the actual Day of Atonement. I hardly think the intent and anguish built up over that period of time in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be compared to asking for God’s forgiveness in your prayers each morning (but who am I to know).

Rabbi Mordechai Dixler, Program Director at Project Genesis – puts it this way:

Many have had the experience of offering an apology, only to be told that “sorry isn’t good enough.” It’s fundamental to Judaism that G-d always accepts a sincere apology, is always ready to welcome us back. There are, however, times that a person can commit such a breach that the relationship with G-d needs major repairs, where a simple apology is not enough by itself.

On Yom Kippur this all changes. The Nesivos Shalom writes (based on the Zohar) that Kol Nidrei‘s annulment of vows erases all spiritual decrees. Major repairs are no longer needed. The opportunity to approach G-d and ask forgiveness for the past and make a commitment for the future is suddenly open to everyone. That is why on Yom Kippur, a simple apology is indeed all it takes. As all obstacles vanish, all hearts and souls open up.

You may not see any validity in Jewish mystic teachings, but if your faith is a Jewish faith, then the entrance to the gates of Heaven are open a bit wider at a certain time of year than at other times. Even without a Jewish faith, in preparing yourself over the course of time to stand and face God as the person you are, you can only be assumed to have a greater readiness to pour your soul out like a drink offering at His feet in this most holy of encounters. We can see God’s desire for this, not only in the Yom Kippur service, and not only in Kaballah, but in Christianity’s own mystic writings:

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. –Revelation 21:5-7 (NASB)

In Yom Kippur, we can see the imagery of “He who overcomes” and at the breaking of the fast, as “one who thirsts” we can receive “the spring of the water of life without cost.”

But the day after Yom Kippur is also like another day we have yet to see.

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it… –Revelation 21:10-12; 22-26 (NASB)

Throughout the Bible, the chronicle of God’s interaction with human beings, we see an unbroken thread of God’s intent to live with us, from Eden, to the Mishkan in the desert, to the Temple in Holy Jerusalem, to the Spirit which has always lived in the heart of the faithful, and finally to a New Jerusalem descending from Heaven, with God and the Lamb as its Temple. Here, both Christianity and Judaism have a tradition of the Song of the Lamb (Revelation 15:2-3) and the Song of the Messiah representing “a new song, shir chadash”; a “universal vision of complete redemption and the perfection of the world” as a “promise of a glorious future for all humanity” and “one of Judaism’s greatest gifts to the world.”

The Lord is with youChristians tend to create a dichotomy between the secular and the holy, between man and God. We also see some of this symbolism of division in how Judaism presents the Shabbat in opposition to the rest of the week. We strive for God in His Heaven above while we struggle with our mortality and humanity on the earth below. Christians talk about “going to Heaven” to be with God when they die, but we see in the vision of Eden and New Jerusalem that in the end, we do not go to God; God comes to us…as it was in the beginning.

The teachings of the Rebbe are not just a collection of advice and nice thoughts —just as a year is more than the sum of 365 days. The teachings of the Rebbe make up one simple whole. All revolve around the same essential concept: The fusion of the loftiest spiritual heights with the most mundane physicality. In the Rebbe’s words, “the highest with the lowest”.

The concept is not only radical but powerful: It means I can be myself, living a “down to earth” existence, and yet fulfilling a transcendental goal. It means that there is nothing we are trying to escape – other than the notion that we must escape something. We don’t run away from this world to join a higher one, instead we work to fuse the two. We aren’t in the business of “making it to heaven” – we’re busy bringing heaven down to earth.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

It’s no coincidence that the expression of God’s desire to live among men comes right before the Festival of Sukkot which will be upon us in just a few days. We will pitch our tents in our backyards and at the synagogues and invite all His holy ones to dwell with us in an imperfect container, with God providing the sheltering roof over us, making the incomplete, complete.

May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, HASHEM, my Rock and my Redeemer. –Psalm 19:14

God is with us.

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