Tag Archives: atonement

Yom Kippur: The Brokenhearted Offering

broken-heartedI hated Yom Kippur because it made me feel like a fraud. I would bang away at my chest all day, enumerating all my sins, promising I was repentant. But in my heart I knew that I would return to my mean self the moment the fast was over. I didn’t believe I could ever change, that I was really worthy of life and that I would ever be able to redeem myself. So I would go through the day anxious for it to be over, hating myself for being such a big, fat fraud.

-Eliana Cline
“Why I Hated Yom Kippur”

I’m writing this on Sunday, almost a full week before you’ll read it. Today, my Pastor’s sermon in church was on Yom Kippur. The timing was deliberate. Last week’s sermon, which I missed because I decided to skip church for the holiday weekend, was on Rosh Hashanah. It’s always interesting to hear a sermon in a Christian church about something that is so profoundly Jewish.

Aaron shall place lots upon the two he-goats: one lot “for Hashem” and one lot “for Azazel.” Aaron shall bring near the he-goat designated by lot for Hashem, and make it a sin offering. And the he-goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be stood alive before Hashem, to provide atonement through it, to send it to Azazel to the Wilderness.

Leviticus 16:8-10 (Stone Edition Chumash)

One of the things I’ve come to learn about Jewish holidays and festivals being preached in the church is that these Jewish events can never be allowed to just stand on their own. They always have to “point to Christ.” Otherwise, I guess, they just aren’t really worthy, God-given events all by themselves (that was a little sarcasm).

Anyway, it is Pastor’s opinion that each of these two goats represent the first and second coming of Christ. I have no idea where this idea comes from, but knowing Pastor, it comes from some Christian source or authority. Although I sometimes disagree with him, Pastor does his research and he hardly ever “shoots from the hip” in a sermon.

The analogy, which is how I think of it, falls apart when you realize the Azazel goat (Pastor called it by the more common name “scapegoat”) must bear the sins of Israel and be sent out into the Wilderness, presumably to die. One commentary in my Chumash on verse ten says:

Or HaChaim notes that the goat is referred to here and in verse 21, before the confession, as alive. After Aaron pronounces confession upon it, however, it is no longer called alive, even though it would be some time before it would go to its death. The confession had the effect of placing all of the people’s sins on the goat, which would then carry them off to the desolate Azazel. The presence of such contamination on the goat rendered it spiritually “dead;” thus it was called alive only before Aaron’s confession.

Even if you don’t quite buy what Or HaChaim says, the Azazel goat seems a poor symbol for the King of the Jews returning to redeem Israel in glory and power, leading an army of angelic beings.

But Pastor said a lot of really good things about Yom Kippur and how we Christians can learn from the Day of Atonement. Yes, he said our final atonement is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and who was resurrected to give us the promise of eternal life through faith in him.

struggling_prayBut he also deconstructed the mechanism of teshuvah (though he didn’t call it that) as the observant Jewish world sees it, and said point-blank that simply answering an altar call or raising your hand at Christian camp professing belief in Jesus doesn’t automatically grant you the aforementioned eternal life. Seeking atonement of your sins requires much, much more, and we aren’t fully disciples of the Master and Children of God until we do. After that, we still need to have a life of continual repentance, since we sin every day.

Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet wrote a rather lengthy article called The Dynamics of Teshuvah, which I won’t quote from here. I think it could be called “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Teshuvah But Were Afraid To Ask.” If you want to know more, Rabbi Schochet’s article is a good source.

But the heart of teshuvah and atonement is contained in the more modest missive written by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zelvin called The Master Key:

One year, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov said to Rabbi Ze’ev Kitzes, one of his senior disciples: “You will blow the shofar for us this Rosh Hashanah. I want you to study all the kavanot (Kabbalistic meditations) that pertain to the shofar, so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing.”

Rabbi Ze’ev applied himself to the task with joy and trepidation: joy over the great privilege that had been accorded him, and trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the Kabbalistic writings that discuss the multifaceted significance of the shofar and what its sounds achieve on the various levels of reality and in the various chambers of the soul. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each kavanah, so that he could refer to them when he blew the shofar.

Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah, and Rabbi Ze’ev stood on the reading platform in the center of the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue amidst the Torah scrolls, surrounded by a sea of tallit-draped bodies. At his table in the southeast corner of the room stood his master, the Baal Shem Tov, his face aflame. An awed silence filled the room in anticipation of the climax of the day—the piercing blasts and sobs of the shofar.

Rabbi Ze’ev reached into his pocket, and his heart froze: the paper had disappeared! He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone. Furiously, he searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes seemed to have incapacitated his brain: his mind was a total blank. Tears of frustration filled his eyes. He had disappointed his master, who had entrusted him with this most sacred task. Now he must blow the shofar like a simple horn, without any kavanot. With a despairing heart, Rabbi Ze’ev blew the litany of sounds required by law and, avoiding his master’s eye, resumed his place.

At the conclusion of the day’s prayers, the Baal Shem Tov made his way to the corner where Rabbi Ze’ev sat sobbing under his tallit. “Gut Yom Tov, Reb Ze’ev!” he called. “That was a most extraordinary shofar-blowing we heard today!”

“But Rebbe . . . I . . .”

“In the king’s palace,” said the Baal Shem Tov, “there are many gates and doors, leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. But there is one key that fits all the locks, a master key that opens all the doors.

“The kavanot are keys, each unlocking another door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one key that unlocks all doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the divine palace. That master key is a broken heart.”

Eliana Cline’s article captured what it is for a Jewish person on Yom Kippur in a more modern setting:

This Yom Kippur, I can feel the pain of not being in a state of connection and own the consequences of my choices. I can say to God, “This is not me,” and mean it. I feel repentant, not from fear – but from a genuine desire for connection, love and transcendence. Getting in touch with my higher self that yearns to be good has enabled me to sense the sadness of my past choices.

The Talmud teaches that on Yom Kippur we are compared to angels. I never really got the comparison. Until now. On Yom Kippur all the daily responsibilities and tasks are removed; it’s a day we transcend the physical and live with total purpose. It’s a day with one sole mission, like an angel, to pray, to think and to connect – to God and to our inner soul.

PrayingWe can choose whether or not to truly repent of our sins and approach God. Most of us most of the time (am I being too cynical?) repent by saying “Sorry” to God, knowing full well, or at least suspecting it in the back of our minds, that we will be revisiting our same old sins again by the by. Repentance for the moment, sin for a lifetime. No wonder Cline felt like a fraud. Most of us should feel the same way.

But Christianity doesn’t have an event on its religious calendar that’s anything like Yom Kippur. Easter probably comes the closest, but that’s a holiday of victory over sin and death, not taking responsibility for sin and repairing relationships with people and with God.

Yom Kippur can seem incredibly depressing if you don’t come at it from the right direction. If you see it as having to wallow in your sins, feeling like a fraud, feeling like an abject failure, then yes, it’s really depressing. You afflict yourself, usually by a complete food and liquid fast for twenty-four hours and a bit more, and hope that’s enough to appease an angry God. But only pagan gods need to be appeased. You can’t “buy off” the One Living God with a sacrifice unless that sacrifice is you!

For You do not desire a sacrifice, else I would give it; a burnt-offering You do not want. The sacrifices God desires are a broken spirit; a heart broken and humbled, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51:18-19 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

And by “you,” I mean your broken, humble, and contrite heart.

Take words with you and return to Hashem; say to Him, ‘May you forgive all iniquity and accept good, and let our lips substitute for bulls.’

Hosea 14:3 (Stone Edition Tanakh, verse 2 in Christian Bibles)

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

Hebrews 13:15 (NASB)

Whether you’re a Christian or a Jew, we all turn to the One God when we repent and ask for forgiveness, though we are unworthy. As Christians, we turn to God through our great intercessor Christ, and we pray that God reveals Himself and his compassion to us through him. I once heard a Jewish person tell me that no man stands between a Jew and his God. I can only ask, especially now, since as you read this, Yom Kippur is just a few hours away, that God reveals all truth, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.

Yom Kippur is a gift. It allows us to remove the barriers that separate us from a Holy God and to once again draw near to our Father in Heaven. The gift is offered by grace. All we have to do is accept it. The only cost to us, is to be sincerely brokenhearted.

Have an easy fast and may you be inscribed in the book of life.

12 days.



Make Teshuvah Now

TeshuvahWe have now gone well beyond Moses’ arguments with God. God’s power is not automatic or unbridled; it is, rather, an expression of God’s will. God can choose how and when to use that power. Teshuvah is God’s gift to us, a singular opportunity to sway God from anger to compassion. This distinctively Jewish idea also teaches that, ultimately, it is human beings who have the power to determine how God will use that divine power. We invoke this theme throughout the liturgy of the High Holidays.

-Rabbi Neil Gillman
“Chapter 2: God is Power,” pg 25
The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians

I often write about what Messianic Jews have to say to Christians, hopefully in a very positive light, but Rabbi Gillman’s book is what other Jews, those who don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah, have to say to Christians. By providing the Jewish viewpoint on God, Rabbi Gillman is attempting to be a “light to the nations,” showing us who he believes God actually is (as opposed to who Christians think God is).

We don’t often think we can change God’s mind but I think Rabbi Gillman may have a point.

Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

Jonah 3:4-10 (NASB)

Gillman calls Jonah the only successful prophet in the Bible. Typically, all other prophets call for repentance (usually of Israel) and they only receive a deaf ear in return. Often these prophets are killed by the very people they’re trying to save. The prophet warns Israel. Israel ignores the prophet and does not repent. God fulfills the prophesy by doing terrible things to Israel, which usually include war, exile, and death.

…and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB)

jewish-repentanceIf the people who are called by God’s Name would humble themselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from their wickedness, then He would hear from Heaven and forgive their sin and heal their Land. Seems pretty straightforward to me. But then, God set up the conditions. If you do this, then I will do that. If you do not do this, then I will do something else. God is prepared to respond to Israel depending on what choice Israel makes. It’s not as if God changes His mind as such.

But what about this?

The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.”

But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

So the Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.

Numbers 14:11-21 (NASB)

On the surface, it certainly seems as if God was ready to wipe out the Children of Israel, but Moses, appealing to God’s reputation, gets Him to change His mind. Or was God setting up the situation so that Moses would change his mind? Remember, it’s far easier for a human being to lose his cool than for God to do so. By deliberately putting Moses in between the Children of Israel and God’s wrath, God is forcing Moses to make a choice. Either Moses can side with God and advocate for the destruction of his people, or he can confront God as Israel’s protector…the very role for which God chose Moses.

Ultimately, if God is Sovereign and if His will and His decisions are always perfect, then He really has no need to change His mind. We, on the other hand, have to change our minds all the time, and I think God is at work trying to get us to do this. We are flawed, sinful, imperfect, self-centered creatures and God loves us anyway. It’s like being the Father to billions and billions of two-year olds. We’re all screaming “mine,” all fighting each other over our toys, all hording the goodies for ourselves, and we all don’t want to listen to God telling us to be good and to share.

Yom-Kippur-ShofarYom Kippur starts at sundown on this coming Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Although the Day of Atonement has very little meaning to most Christians, we can still allow it to remind us that there may be some people we have hurt and we have neglected to repent of that. We may have sinned against God and have neglected to repent of that. As long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to repent, to turn back to the ways of God, and to make amends with anyone we have injured.

But who knows when one will die?

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked him, “Does, then, one know on what day he will die?” “All the more reason he should repent today, lest he die tomorrow.”

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 53a

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

Even during the days of Mashiach, it will still be permissible for people to repent…but why wait? God is reminding us to make teshuvah now.

A Plea Against the Custom of Kapparot

kapparotRabbi Yonah Bookstein, an Orthodox Rabbi in Los Angeles, pleads with the Jewish community to stop using chickens for the kapparot ritual. He says using chickens for kapparot violates four different Torah laws: tzaar ba’alei hayyim, creating nevailah, ba’al tashchit, and dina d’malchuta dina.

I know I’m probably going to offend some people, probably Jewish people, but when I saw this, I felt it necessary to make the information public on my blog. I generally support the right of the Jewish community to define and practice their own traditions, but as Rabbi Bookstein points out, not only does this practice directly contradict the Torah, but it is obviously cruel to the animals and has no hope of atoning for sins or benefiting the community in any way.

I had this conversation with my Pastor last week. He lived in Israel for fifteen years, so he’s witnessed this practice many times.

But if you are a Christian or are otherwise not familiar with this practice, you may be asking what Kapparot is and what’s the big deal. Jewish Virtual Library is just one place that provides the answer:

Kapparot is a custom in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl. It is practiced by some Jews shortly before Yom Kippur. First, selections from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, and 17-21, and Job 33:23-24 are recited; then a rooster (for a male) or a hen (for a female) is held above the person’s head and swung in a circle three times, while the following is spoken: “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 hope is that the fowl, which is then donated to the poor for food, will take on any misfortune that might otherwise occur to the one who has taken part in the ritual, in punishment for his or her sins.

You can click on the link and read more of the details, and it’s to the credit of the creators of this content on Jewish Virtual Library that they list the significant objections to this Yom Kippur tradition, which does not appear in either the Torah or the Talmud.

The following video is about four minutes long and I think Rabbi Yonah Bookstein makes his case well. Be warned that some of the images in the video are graphic.

Addendum: September 11, 2013: According to VirtualJerusalem.com, there is a small but growing movement among Orthodox Rabbis and others in the Jewish community protesting this practice:

Last week, the recently elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, David Lau, warned kapparot organizers that the failure to treat animals decently is a violation of religious law.

And a number of other prominent rabbis have expressed concern that the ritual, in which chickens are hauled into dense urban centers by the truckload, makes it virtually impossible to adhere to the principle of “tzaar baalei chayim,” which prohibits inflicting suffering on animals.

Given that there are other appropriate methods of satisfying the kapparot requirement, such as waving money instead of chickens, it seems more reasonable and more in keeping with Jewish tradition to finally set aside the practice of using poultry.


Yom-KippurThese were the days before Yom Kippur. I was lonely and couldn’t figure out why. The loneliness had been there for months.

Things were good with my wife and kids. I’d been on the phone with my sisters and in close contact with my friends.

So, what was the source of this loneliness?

I was missing G-d.

-Jay Litvin
Commentary on Yom Kippur

We all miss God sometimes, if we choose to have an awareness of God at all. We’re all afraid of God sometimes, if we choose to be aware that God is a righteous judge. For many religious Jewish people at this special time of year, emotions can run high. Minds and hearts are turned toward God in a way that doesn’t have any sort of comparison in the Christian world.

Most Christians have little regard for Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. We’ve been taught that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and we are free from sin and death through his grace.

Does that mean Christians never get lonely and miss God? Does that means Christians can’t get angry at God?

As Yom Kippur drew close, I continued to wonder what was taking place between G-d and me. I worried that this day of prayer and fasting would be void of the usual connection that Yom Kippur brings.

And then in a flash I realized that I was angry at G-d. And had been for some time. I was angry about my disease and I was angry that I was not yet healed. I was angry about my pain. And I was angry at the disruption to my life, the fear, the worry and anxiety that my disease was causing my family and those who loved and cared about me. I was angry about the whole thing, and He, being the boss of everything that happens in the world, was responsible and to blame.

And so, I entered Yom Kippur angry at G-d.

Actually, Jay Litvin had a lot of reasons, at least from a human perspective, to be angry at God. I won’t reveal more until the end of this missive, but think about it. Have you ever been angry at God? Have you ever thought God treated you unfairly?

Nevermind that you know God is perfect, and righteous, and without sin, and cannot make a mistake, and cannot be unfair. Even the best of Fathers sometimes seems unfair to his children. So it is between us and God.

I once knew an elderly Jewish gentleman who was angry at God. He blamed God for the Holocaust. He blamed God for the execution of six-million Jews and the incredible torture of so many more who had survived. He was already in his 90s when I knew him and he said that when he died, he was going to confront God and give God a piece of his mind.

I know. It sounds ridiculous. But it also sounds very human. If you felt as if God had done you some wrong, could you learn to forgive God?

Forgive God?

I prayed for G-d’s forgiveness, and in my prayer book I read the words that promised His forgiveness. He would forgive me, I read, because that was His nature. He is a forgiver. He loves me. He wants me to be close to Him. And so He forgives me not for any reason, not because I deserve it, but simply because that is who He is. He is merciful and forgives and wipes the slate clean so that we — He and I — can be close again for the coming year.

I read these words, nice words, yet my anger remained.

Then I again remembered the email. In his cynicism, my friend had hit the mark: I needed to forgive G-d. I needed to rid myself of my anger and blame for the sickness He had given me. I needed to wipe the slate clean so that He and I could be close once again.

But how? On what basis should I forgive Him? If He was human, I could forgive Him for His imperfections, His fallibility, His pettiness, His upbringing, His fragility and vulnerability. I could try to put myself in His shoes, to understand His position. But He is G-d, perfect and complete! Acting with wisdom and intention. How could I forgive Him?!

ForgivenessBut wouldn’t it be an affront to God to even consider that He needed our forgiveness, regardless of the circumstances of our lives, regardless of our hardships, regardless of how we have suffered and how those we love have suffered? Isn’t God, regardless of what has ever happened to us, immune from being forgiven because He is perfect and His will is perfect?

But maybe none of that really matters to those of us “on the ground,” so to speak. God certainly understands how faulty we are and how screwed up our thoughts and feelings can be, especially when we’re under a lot of stress, a lot of pain, a lot of anguish, and a lot of grief.

In the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is expected that Jewish people will pay tremendous attention to how they’ve lived during the past year, recount any incident where they may have injured or offended someone, and then make every effort to make amends to those people, if at all possible.

Sometimes the human need in us to forgive means when we feel hurt and there’s no one else to be angry at, we get angry at God, and in that anger, we need to forgive Him. Even though God doesn’t really need our forgiveness. Even though on a cosmic scale, we understand that He hasn’t done anything wrong and, being God, that He can’t do anything wrong.

It helps us to forgive. It helps us to heal inside. It helps to heal our relationship with God. And out of that, our relationships with everyone else heal, too.

And in the last minutes of Yom Kippur, out of my unbearable loneliness and separation from G-d, I found my ability to forgive. I forgave simply so that we — G-d and I — could be close again. So that we would return to the unity that is meant to be between us. Out my love for Him, my need of Him, my inability to carry on without Him I found the capacity somewhere in me. I reached out to Him in forgiveness and in that moment the pain and blame began to recede.

For me, Yom Kippur has not ended. This forgiveness business is not so easy as to be learned and actualized in a day. My anger and resentment, frustration and intolerance still flare, still cause damage. On my bad days it is hard for me to accept all that is happening, changing, challenging my life. But some new dynamic has entered the process. A softening. An acceptance. A letting go. A…. forgiveness.

For, you see, the last thing I want during the fragility of this time in my life is to be separate from G-d or from those whom I love or from the rising sun or a star-filled night.

Yom Kippur is a gift. It’s God giving us the opportunity to repair the gaps in our lives that stand between us and the people we love. Through forgiveness and asking for forgiveness, we can repair what we have broken in the past year (or anytime in the past). We don’t have to be alone. If we feel alone, much of the time, no one is to blame except us. If we feel the absence of God, it is definitely because we have separated ourselves from Him.

candleGod gave Jay Litvin the gift of forgiveness on Yom Kippur. He forgave God and he repaired the rift between them. God came close to Jay again. Love makes people unforgettable. Love makes God unforgettable. But until we forgive, we remember not the love, but its absence and the pain it causes. Yom Kippur is a reminder. We can forgive at any time. We can stop the loneliness and isolation at any time.

Thankfully, G-d has provided me with the capacity to forgive and, now, in these days since Yom Kippur, he has provided me with the opportunity to reveal that forgiveness. He knows that both He and I, and all those that He and I love, will eventually, continuously do unforgivable things to each other. And despite the pain we will cause each other, we will need to forgive each other.

To not forgive would be an unbearable breach of the unity of creation.

Jay’s article, like Yom Kippur, is a gift. I didn’t realize how dear and precious a gift until I read the very end.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children.

This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Friday, September the 13th, and ends at sundown on Saturday the 14th. As the sun descends toward the western horizon late Saturday evening, will you know that you have been forgiven and that you have forgiven all others, especially God, with all your heart?

The Sacrifice at Golgotha

The Death of the MasterI am hoping you will be able to resolve a very important issue confronting the very foundation of Christianity.

God’s way of testing Abraham by calling for the sacrifice of Isaac…and then the abrupt staying of the knife…was intended to demonstrate that God abhorred human sacrifice and would not accept it (Gen 22.12). When the great central Law of Judaism (the TORAH) was revealed at Sinai, it called for animal sacrifices. The slaying of an animal and the offering of its blood according to certain prescribed rites, symbolized God’s mercy to the sinner, for this would have been his fate. Later in the Law, Moses gives warning to Israel not to worship God in the manner of the pagans (through human sacrifice) for it is an abomination unto the LORD in any way or form it is practiced (Deut 12.30-32).

Turning to the New Testament, Jesus states that he completely upholds the precepts of the Judaic Law until its complete spiritual enactment through-out the world. This great authorization of the central Law of Judaism renders it supreme (Matt 5.18). Nevertheless, here is where a trouble-some contradiction arises. According to Romans 5.6-11, Jesus’ death was a vicarious atonement. But this is a human sacrifice which is expressly forbidden by the very same Law sanctioned by Jesus.

True, Jesus is unique in being both human and Divine. But by sanctioning the Law He did not allow His uniqueness to detract from His subjection to the Law which is understandable since the Law is the perfect Word of God.

In sum, if Jesus was upholding the Law then His death cannot be sacrificial. Or, if His death is sacrificial, He has rejected the Law which He claimed to uphold. In either case, Christianity’s central doctrine of the sacrificial death of Jesus is proven to be scripturally untenable. Christianity is therefore in peril of crumbling away. The stakes are very high. If Christianity succumbs to an inner breakdown, the moral order in the world will soon follow….

This contradiction can only be satisfactorily resolved by reference to Scripture. Scripture is a single, self-consistent truth, but beginning to end. Each verse urges its own truth. When two verses appear to exhibit incompatible claims, a contradiction develops. We must then attempt to resolve this contradiction by reference to another verse(s) which will reconcile the two opposing viewpoints…

When reconciliation is not forthcoming, the contradiction remains and the verse(s) in question are not Divinely revealed facts, but have been spoken by the prophet out of his own authority…

The defensibility of Jesus’ sacrificial death has been troubling me for a long while. I am unable to resolve it according to Scripture. I would be very grateful to you if you could clear it up for me…

Quoted from christianthinktank.com

Have you ever been asked a question you were so sure you knew the answer to that you never even worried about it, and then, when you tried to answer the question, realized you didn’t really know how to respond?

That happened to me yesterday afternoon. Let me explain.

On most Thursdays after work, I meet with a couple of other guys for coffee and discussion. There’s no set agenda, but we usually talk about matters of faith and questions that come up in the Bible that sometimes drive us crazy. We are all reasonably comfortable questioning the traditional Christian assumptions and our coffee meetings give us an opportunity to ask questions we could never ask in church.

I commute to and from work with my son David. On Thursdays I usually drop him off at his place, then go to the coffee shop for my meeting. Yesterday, my daughter-in-law had an activity planned with some female friends at their place and asked if David and I could hang out together. I asked him if he wanted to join my meeting and he said, “OK.”

David was the first of my children to develop a sense of spirituality. When he was little, he went to church with my wife’s brother Steve whenever Steve was visiting from the Bay Area. After David went to church with Steve, he’d ask my wife and me why the rest of us didn’t go to church and believe in Jesus (this was years before my wife and I became religious). That was kind of awkward.

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, David set his faith aside but it’s always been on the back burner, so to speak. Thursday allowed him to revisit old territory and to ask some of those questions that would drive most Christians nuts.

The four of us were having a fairly stimulating conversation when the question of human sacrifice came up. David sees the death of Jesus on the cross to atone for the sins of the world as a direct violation of the commandment not to sacrifice a human being.

So here we are, three guys from different backgrounds but who all have the same fundamental belief in Christ as Messiah and Savior trying to address this question.

I shot off my big mouth first.

Understand, that this is a very troubling question with no simple answer. Also understand that one of the reasons that I am attracted to Jewish mysticism and particularly the Chassidim, is because I don’t think that there is any other way to explain certain things about the Messiah, including his bloody, sacrificial death, outside of a deeply mystic framework.

Just how can a human sacrifice, even that of the Messiah, atone for the sins of the world? What’s the mechanism that makes it possible and that doesn’t violate God’s prohibition against human sacrifice?

My answer was based on the understanding of the death of a tzaddik being able to atone for the sins of a community or even of an entire generation. Of course, my answer was founded entirely on the Chassidic mystic understanding of this process; something which most Jews, particularly in modern times, do not agree with.

So where is this explained in the Bible?

My friend Russ offered David what I would consider the traditional Christian explanation for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. As I listened to him answering David, I realized that I didn’t find the Christian viewpoint particularly satisfying. I know that I’ve had this explained to me before at some point, but my memory is a leaky container and a lot of stuff has dribbled away over time, so I don’t remember exactly what was said or when that conversation occurred.

This really bothered me.

The conversation ended with more questions than answers, which is fairly typical for our little group, but where was David now? He continues to focus on the Torah and the Prophets as the foundation of his understanding about God and the Jewish people, though I’m sure he would benefit from a review of his knowledge base, but the New Testament seems to him like so many exceptions and contradictions to his understanding of Torah. On the drive back to my place, David and I continued our conversation, and I decided to encourage David to start where he is. If the Torah and Judaism are the rock on which he now stands, then I will support him returning to and exploring the cornerstone of his faith.

But it still bothered me that not only could I not give a satisfactory answer to his questions about Jesus, but I couldn’t really answer my own questions. I can’t solely rely on the “mystic” explanation for how a tzaddik’s death provides atonement, and assuming the traditional Christian response to this query is also lacking, then what is the answer?

I don’t know.

I know that faith is sometimes the mortar that fills in the spaces in religious understanding, but I’m uncomfortable with it being the putty that replaces solid Biblical knowledge let alone logic.

OK, I know that logic is the beginning of wisdom and not its conclusion and that once we accept the existence of God, we also must accept the supernatural, but David did bring up what seems to be a huge disconnect between the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament in terms of death, atonement, and sacrifice. You’ve probably already clicked the link I provided above and read the christianthinktank.com reply to this question. I did too, but I’m not sure I’m buying it.

Do we see any example of the death of a righteous man providing atonement for the sins of other people in the Tanakh? Was any man in the Old Testament deliberately killed in order to turn away God’s wrath toward other human beings? We talk about men like Joseph, Moses, and David being “types and shadows” of the Messiah. But we don’t see that their deaths really did anything to illuminate the problem of Jesus being a human sacrifice to turn away God’s fatal judgment from all people everywhere across time who accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

I’m not that smart. Some people think I’m smart. My wife thinks I’m smart (except when she disagrees with me, then I’m not too bright at all *wink*). But it’s not really true. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that in this particular area, I’m not very well-educated. I feel ill-equipped to manage these sorts of questions. On some level, I think that it’s not very easy or maybe even not very possible to use human language and human logic to explain the mysterious, mystical way the death of the Messiah somehow atones for the sins of people.

And yet, that’s all we have to work with. Assuming extra-Biblical and particularly mystical (when my wife learned about this conversation, her response to me was to ask in an incredulous tone, “You talked to him about mysticism?”) sources are not considered valid in this discussion, then we must rely on scripture. But if the Old Testament and New Testament don’t agree that the Messiah must die to atone for sins, then what do we have?

A big, fat, furry mess, that’s what.

So I’m opening up yet another can of worms and throwing this topic out to the public via the Internet. I’m seeking out a greater imagination or at least a more scholarly believer. What’s the answer to how the death of Jesus isn’t human sacrifice? Is there an answer that doesn’t contradict the commandment to not sacrifice people?

The comments section is now open. What do you think?

The Elusive Unchanging Dove

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations.

Those are the set times of the Lord that you shall celebrate as sacred occasions, bringing offerings by fire to the Lord — burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices, and libations, on each day what is proper to it — apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts and from all your votive offerings and from all your freewill offerings that you give to the Lord.

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the Lord for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.

So Moses declared to the Israelites the set times of the Lord.

Leviticus 23:33-44 (JPS Tanakh)

The Midrash teaches: “Just as a dove (yonah) is simple and accepts authority, the Jewish people accept God’s authority by ascending to Yerushalayim during the holiday. Just as a yonah is distinguished to its partner, who can tell it apart from other birds, Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews by how they cut their hair, their fulfillment of milah and their care to wear tzitzis. The Jews comport themselves with modesty, like doves…Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Dove”
Kinnim 23

Wait a minute. Besides the part where it said “Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews,” what did that say?

Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Yes, that’s what I thought it said.

I was reading this passage this morning (as I write this) and tried to recall exactly where in the Bible it says that the sacrifices of Sukkot were intended to atone for the nations of the earth. Naturally, my middle-aged memory being what it is, I couldn’t pull up the data, so I turned to my favorite research tool: Google. Turns out that the plain meaning of the text in the Torah regarding the Sukkot sacrifices doesn’t talk about atonement for the nations. But there’s always this:

These seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world enumerated in the Torah who descended from the sons of Noah, and are the ancestors of all of the nations till this day. Israel brought these sacrifices as atonement for the nations of the world, and in prayer for their well-being; as well as for universal peace and harmony between them.

Thus our Sages taught, “You find that during the Festival [Succot], Israel offers seventy oxen for the seventy nations. Israel says: Master of the Universe, behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, in the place of my love, they hate me (Psalms 109).”

G-d appointed Israel a kingdom of priests to atone for all these nations, and appointed Jerusalem a house of prayer for all the peoples…

We pray for the day when Israel will be fully restored to its land, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and bring peace between G-d and man, and between all peoples. Amen.

-Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman
“The Significance of Succot Sacrifices”
15 October 2005/12 Tishri 5766
Ohr Somayach International

Here’s another look at the same picture:

The Talmud (BT Sukkah 55:B) teaches that the seventy bulls that were offered in the Holy Temple served as atonement for the seventy nations of the world. Truly, as the rabbis observed, “if the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1, 3).

-quoted from The Temple Institute website.

The irony involved in this commentary is that even though the nations hate Israel and destroyed her Holy Temple, still the Jewish people continue to pray for the peace and redemption of the nations.

Actually, we do find the number of bulls that are sacrificed during Sukkot is 70 in Numbers 29 starting at verse 12. There’s also another connection between the nations, Israel and celebration of the feast of Sukkot found in the books of the Prophets:

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day. –Zechariah 14:16-21 (ESV)

Sukkot is the only festival of the Jews when representatives of the nations of the world will be actually commanded to appear in Jerusalem to celebrate and, as you see, God desires this so much, that there will actually be penalties for nations refusing to be represented at this event in the days of the Messiah.

The Hebrew4Christians site adds a little more information to confirm this:

Prophetically, Sukkot anticipates the coming kingdom of Yeshua the Messiah wherein all the nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD during the festival.

But that’s all in the future. What about now and especially, what about in ancient times? Has Israel been atoning for us all along and have we disastrously ended our own atonement before God by destroying the Temple and scattering the Jewish people throughout the earth?

I don’t know, but pondering all these thoughts did bring the following to mind:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” –John 4:22-26 (ESV)

I’m not necessarily drawing a direct connection between all of these points, but they are rather compelling. Consider this. In ancient times, during the Sukkot festival, it is thought that the Israelites sacrificed 70 bulls for the atonement of the nations of the world. In the Messianic Age to come, the nations are commanded to come up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot with Israel. And in his Sukkot commentary, Rabbi Ullman alludes to not only Zechariah 14 but this other prophetic word:

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” –Isaiah 56:6-7 (ESV)

Salvation for the nations comes from the Jews. It seems like our atonement in ancient days came from Israel and for those of us who are Christians, it continues to come from Israel even though the Temple in Jerusalem currently does not exist.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. –John 3:16-17 (ESV)

We from the nations cannot escape the great gift that Israel has continued to bestow upon us from days of old until this very time. God made Israel a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) and that light has been allowed be spread from Israel and the Torah to the rest of us (Isaiah 2:2-4) so that we too can illuminate the world with that light (Matthew 5:14). But this is only possible because God sent the Jewish Messiah and King, our Master, to all of us. And this is only possible because the Messiah and Savior was as obedient as a dove (Matthew 3:16) and as silent as a lamb led to the slaughter (Jeremiah 11:19).

The Christian church hasn’t replaced Israel and we certainly haven’t merged into her so that Israel has ceased to be a people before her God. We among the nations are Israel’s beneficiaries. May we continue to bless the heart of Zion and her first born son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, King of the Jews.

That which can be grasped will change. That which does not change cannot be grasped.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Grasping Change”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Without mentioning it specifically, the Zohar sees great significance in the fact that the dove (and turtledove) is the only kind of bird permitted for sacrifice. In this way, the mysterious legendary dove with an olive leaf in its mouth becomes a representation of King Messiah…

-Tsvi Sadan
Yonah – Dove, pg 113
The Concealed Light: Names of Messiah in Jewish Sources

He is the elusive, unchanging dove.