One of my favorite stories is of the house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A booming voice comes down from Heaven and decrees — “Repaint, repaint … and thin no more!” Yom Kippur begins Friday evening, September 29th! (It is the ONLY fast day that is observed on a Shabbos.)
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the anniversary of the day Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the second set of Ten Commandments. This signified that the Almighty forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Almighty. Transgressions against our fellow human being require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If one took from another person, it is not enough to regret and ask the Almighty for forgiveness; first, one must return what was taken and ask for forgiveness from the person and then ask for forgiveness from the Almighty.
In general, observant Noahides can (but are not required to) commemorate those Jewish festivals that in some way relate to Gentiles and the overall spiritual missions that G-d assigns for them. There are some of the Jewish festivals that Noahides have more of a connection to, and they can honor these as special days (for example, with prayers and selected Torah reading): for example, Rosh HaShanah (the annual Day of Judgment for all people), and Sukkot (the annual time of judgment for the rainfall that each nation will receive, which is also characterized by the themes of unity and joy).
But you should be aware that these days are not to be commemorated by Noahides in the same way that they are commanded to be fully observed by Jews. For instance, a Noahide should not refrain from normal activities on the Jewish holy days or Sabbath, and should not perform those Jewish commandments that are religious only, and have no practical benefit for Noahides (for example, waiving the four species of plants during the Festival of Sukkot, or fasting on Yom Kippur).
The Jewish festival days of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Yom Kippur, Purim and Shavuot have little relevance to Noahides, other than as reminders of constantly-relevant general Torah principles.
With regard to Yom Kippur, which relates to the relationship between the Jews and G-d, Gentiles should not be concerned that they are lacking in any way in their opportunity at any time for successful repentance. The fact that only Jews were given Yom Kippur, the day that Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments, should only be a positive influence, in that perhaps it may inspire a Gentile to do his or her own needed repentance on any day of the year.
Taken from “Asking G-d to forgive for breaking a Noahide Law: Does this relate to Yom Kippur?”
As you can see I’ve been doing a little bit of reading, particularly with the High Holidays rapidly approaching. There’s no real template for how or if the “Judaically aware” Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua should observe such events. Certainly we are not Jews and we are not Israel (yes, I’m going to be criticized for those statements I suppose), but it’s difficult to ignore such an august occasion, especially when one’s spouse is Jewish (though not particularly observant at present).
I borrowed some information from a Noahide site to gain some perspective, but I’m not convinced the Noahide makes a suitable model for people like me. They don’t take into account the blessings of the New Covenant being conferred upon us due to the merit and faithfulness of our Rav.
Yet what else is there?
I do take some comfort, especially at this time of my life, in the statement that Yom Kippur can be a reminder that I can sincerely repent before Hashem at any time at all (of course, Jewish people can too). I’m also glad the Orthodox Rabbis who administer AskNoah.org recognize that Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot have applications to both Israel and the nations, so in some manner or fashion, we can partake in those observances as well.
As with my last several blog posts here, I continue to state that what you get out of your relationship with the Almighty depends on what you’re looking for.
If you are an observant Jew, it seems that your praxis is well-defined, which is part of what “grinds the gears” of some “Messianic Gentiles,” since our model seems less distinct. Maybe that’s because it’s too easy to mistake form for substance.
I think some of Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, touched on how some Jews (perhaps converts to Judaism who had Yeshua-faith) mistook the mechanics of Torah observance for an actual relationship with Hashem. I’ve seen it in some Messianic and Hebrew Roots groups in the past.
It’s easy to get distracted by praxis unless you have the correct perspective.
If the High Holidays are to mean anything for the rest of us, I think it’s true that they can serve as a reminder that God is accessible to us too. He’s always intended that from the very beginning. We were never meant to be left out in the cold or to be considered “sloppy seconds”.
As time goes on and I attempt to do even such minor things as listen to Christian radio, I realize that I don’t have very much in common with the normative Christian church. However I’d be lying and a fool if I said that I had nothing in common at all.
The church is full of good people, faithful people, people who have repented and continue to sincerely repent and to walk before Hashem. They do much kindness, express compassion in word and deed, are at the forefront helping victims of Harvey and Irma, putting their time, money, and effort where others only put their mouths.
Whether you call yourself a Christian, Messianic, or anything else, that’s what really matters, how you live out your relationship with Hashem through your devotion to Rav Yeshua. That’s what we should take with us into the Holidays. That’s what we should always take with us everyday as we walk with God.
As just about anyone involved in some form of Judaism or in the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movements knows, the High Holy Days are coming up on us fast.
Of course this season may not have the same application upon Gentile believers as upon the Jewish people. “ProclaimLiberty,” who often comments here, said (I think) that perhaps Sukkot might be the better time for a Gentile to make teshuvah given our understanding of Zechariah 14:16-19.
I’ve also been giving some thought to prayer, particularly after reading Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Ki Tavo. The vast majority of what he’s written could as easily apply to the Gentile as to the Jew apart from his recommending the Artscroll Siddur.
Many non-Jewish Messianics use such a siddur for prayer and I have myself in the past, but there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid, such as any section that refers to the person praying as “Israel” or otherwise to being Jewish.
After all, we’re not Jewish.
As far as I know, there is no such thing as a Messianic Siddur just for Gentiles and there’s a simple reason for that. Most Gentile Messianics worship corporately with Jews, at least in some congregations. It would make spoken group prayer impossible to manage if the Jews were using a siddur worded very much differently from the Gentiles praying nearby.
However, even one Orthodox Rabbi advises that Gentiles can use an Orthodox Siddur as long as they avoid employing any of the language or prayers specifically set aside for Jews.
He also says that Gentiles are exempt from the obligations for prayer applied to a Jew. He states that we (or at least Noahides) aren’t obligated to specifically worded prayers or particular times of prayer. He suggests that maybe the Psalms (from a reliable Orthodox Jewish publishing company…probably as opposed to how he considers Christian Bibles) would make a good “book of prayer” for Noahides.
Something similar (I think) has been suggested by the Messianic Jewish community such as how Gentiles are allowed to pray at the specific times of prayer but are not actually obligated to do so. In other words, we can adopt the praxis but it’s not commanded of us.
In the Providence section we proclaim our understanding that: 1) the Creator has a one on one relationship with every human being 2) God cares about what we do with our lives and sees and remembers everything 3) there are Divine consequences for our actions.
To bring a tighter focus on the main point, he says “the Creator has a one on one relationship with every human being.” If that’s true, then the Almighty has made provision to interface with and connect to every individual human being, including you and me.
Sometimes in the Messianic world, we Gentiles get so hung up on Judaism that we forget we also have a specific invitation to pray to God as Gentiles.
On another blog where I write fiction, my latest chapter in a time travel series sends one of my protagonists back to the time of King Solomon and the dedication of the Temple. The most relent portion of that for “the rest of us,” is this:
“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.
–1 Kings 8:41-43 (NASB)
It wasn’t since just the time of Rav Yeshua that Gentiles could communicate with God through prayer. It was an expectation from the very beginning. After all, who were Adam and Havah (Eve) and their children and their children’s children? Who were Noah and his family, and until being declared a “Hebrew,” who was Abraham?
I belong to a private Facebook group dedicated to “Unchurched Christians” or believers who have left the organized church but who continue to have a faith. The public website is Unchurching.com.
I’m not particularly involved in its content and joined mainly because I think it’s an interesting idea and also because not only am I unaffiliated with a congregation, I am likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.
I was listening to Christian radio again on my commute home from work (I know…right?) and the Pastor was referring to a passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus was talking about the Church. The what? The sermon just reminded me of (in my opinion) what a massive disconnect mainstream Christianity has from what the Bible actually says since nothing called “church” existed in that place and time.
One of the Pastor’s points was that a Christian cannot subsist apart from the organized Church anymore than your hand could continue living if it were amputated from the rest of your body.
I don’t know about that. I have to believe continuing in relative isolation must be possible. After all, Richard Jacobson, who used to be a full-time Pastor in a church before quitting all of that and starting an online community for “Unchurched Christians” seems to believe otherwise, and more and more relationships are conducted online as we continue to rely on the internet for our extended social contacts.
Besides all that, God isn’t hiding. We don’t have to go to a church or synagogue to find Him. He’s there with us. If that weren’t true, He wouldn’t or couldn’t hear our prayers if we weren’t in a house of worship.
The one big flaw in my analysis, going back to Solomon, was his statement about a Gentile coming and praying toward the Temple, implying close proximity rather than merely facing in the direction of Jerusalem where ever you might be on Earth.
But I can’t help that and I do not intend to take Solomon quite so literally. Also, “church” isn’t the Temple, that is, the unique physical location where the glory of God appears physically.
God is accessible to us, Jew and Gentile alike. Yeah, I’ve said it before. We don’t belong formally to the Covenants, New or otherwise. We as non-Jews are wholly dependent on God’s mercy and grace, His desire and will that all human beings come to Him.
But that is His will, it’s what the Bible actually says, even though the vast majority of its content was written by and for the Jewish people.
While the High Holy Days may not have a direct application on the Gentile believer, Messianic or otherwise, it can serve us as a reminder that God also wants the people of the nations to make teshuvah and turn toward Him. What’s the harm if we actually accept His offer? In fact, what benefits might we discover the Almighty bestowing upon us if we do pray to our Father in Heaven?
There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.
Likewise, the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves, to enhance our souls by doing the mitzvot (613 commandments). It is up to us to sit down before Rosh Hashana and make a list of what we need to correct in our lives between us and our fellow beings, us and God and us and ourselves!
Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening, October 2nd, which is only a few days away. This has pretty much zero meaning in normative Christianity and immense meaning in normative Judaism, as well as in Messianic Judaism and some corners of the Hebrew Roots movement.
One of my readers, ProclaimLiberty, who is a Messianic Jew living in Israel, has suggested that Sukkot might serve for Gentile Messianic believers as a better holiday to observe what Jews typically practice during the High Holidays. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly Zechariah 14:16-19 has much to say about this.
In my own circumstance, I don’t plan to commemorate the High Holidays. I don’t doubt my wife will attend synagogue, but for personal reasons, I choose to make those observances within myself.
I hadn’t planned to blog again on this topic. My previous blog post The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian has gained a lot of traction and the conversation is up to 53 comments as of this writing. But then I saw the quote from Rabbi Packouz’s recent article and was reminded of the “Parable of the Talents” we find in Matthew 25:14-30. I’m certainly not suggesting a direct parallel. Rabbi Packouz would not have considered referencing the Apostolic Scriptures, and the classic Christian interpretation of the parable doesn’t touch upon the above-quoted midrash, but I want to play a game.
Specifically, I want to play a game of pretend. I want to pretend that the parable can have multiple, metaphorical meanings. Let’s just pretend that we can apply the commentary by Rabbi Packouz to the Parable of the Talents and say one of the things God does not want is for us to waste our very lives.
Let’s just say that one of the things that Yeshua wants us to make use of is God’s investment in our own personal value.
In the comments section of my blog post on Elul, it has come up multiple times that Gentiles in God’s economy have less value, perhaps much less value than Jews. I don’t necessarily believe this, but any non-Jew who has been around the Messianic Jewish community long enough can get the impression that, based on the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises of God, including the New Covenant, we don’t count for much.
So, to again quote R. Packouz, let’s just pretend that relative to being human, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, “the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves…”
Since the 613 commandments aren’t applicable to us, it becomes a bit if a head-scratcher as to what we are supposed to do to improve ourselves, but that’s only if we aren’t paying attention. Many of the things that Jews do to improve themselves are available to everyone.
Give to charity, pray, volunteer your time at a local foodbank, and generally act toward others in a kind manner, even when you have to go out of your way to do it.
It is said that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) are to love the Lord your God with all of your resources and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are just big containers that hold lots of other commandments, some having to do with your relationship with God and others with your relationship with human beings.
The point is, God gave each and every one of us our lives and He expects us to do something with those lives. Not just with specific talents or gifts, and not just with money, but with all that we are. Going out, we should be better people than we were when we came into this world.
We Gentiles who are in some manner associated with the Messianic movement or at least the Messianic perspective often complain about our status, as if the Jewish people have it all sewn up. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we get so busy being involved in our own angst, that we can’t see beyond it.
I read an article in the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish called Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray? The Jewish person asking the question is upset that Jews should have to buy a ticket or a membership to a synagogue in order to enter and pray on the High Holidays. He’s so upset that he’s deliberately boycotting the holidays.
The Aish Rabbi responds in part with this:
I must say, however, I’m surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: “That blasted synagogue! I’ll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!” Why not say: “I’ll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can’t afford tickets.”
It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people’s shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It’ll be my honor to pray with you there!
There may be some difficulty in defining the roles and duties of Gentiles who have chosen to become part of a Messianic Jewish community, but make no mistake, no Messianic Jewish person, no matter what their position or education, can interfere with your relationship with God.
If you feel there’s something about Messianic Judaism or some Messianic Jews that devalues you as a creation of God and a devotee of Yeshua, that may be your problem and not their’s. Even if an individual Messianic Jew (or anyone else) attempted to persuade you that God thinks of you as sloppy left overs compared to Jewish people, that simply is not true.
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Do not seek out Christianity, and do not seek out Judaism. Seek out an encounter with the Living God.”
If you’re here, that means God wants you here, and he expects you to fulfill whatever roles and tasks He has assigned you. Your job, our job, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, is to seek out what we are supposed to do and then to do it.
I believe the first task is to truly embrace the fact that God loves us and wants us to appreciate that love, not only by loving God but by loving ourselves. How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t love and value our own existence first?
Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time to review the past and look at where you’ve come in life. It’s a preparation for the upcoming “Days of Awe”—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—when we resolve to do better this year than last.
The theme of Elul is return to your essential self—a.k.a. teshuvah—helped along by prayer and charity. “The King is in the field,” they say, meaning that the G‑dly spark within you is much more accessible, as long as you search for it.
The month of Elul on the Jewish calendar begins this coming Sunday, September 4th. As the quote above testifies, it’s a month of preparation and personal reflection as the High Holy Days rapidly approach.
Two years ago, I wrote a rather lengthy blog post regarding the impact of Elul on both Judaism and (potentially) Christianity. Since then, things have changed a great deal.
I suppose if Christians have a “month of preparation” it occurs in the spring at the approach of Easter.
But I’ve always appreciated the formality of Judaism in endeavors of self-examination, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.
I suppose Catholicism has its rituals and ceremonies as well, but I’ve never found them particularly Biblical or attractive (though I know some will disagree with me on this).
As non-Jews, whether we call ourselves disciples of Yeshua or Christians, we don’t really have a lot of access to the Days of Awe unless we make that access for ourselves. That requires more from us as individuals, a greater personal dedication to approaching the Throne of God, abasing ourselves, praying for the strength to turn around, to turn back toward Him.
We don’t have a community (most of us, anyway) that embraces a specific praxis focusing on the path of returning to God or trying to find Him in the first place.
A few days ago, I wrote a fictional short story about a man struggling between discovering God and hiding from life. Ultimately, it’s God who finds him, and in a rather unusual venue, certainly not in a church.
I think that’s where many of us are much of the time. If we really make the effort to connect to God what will it say about who we are? Will we even like what we discover?
In observant Judaism, every day during the month of Elul, except for Shabbat, the shofar is sounded after morning services as a sort of “wake up call” to prepare for Rosh Hashanah or the New Year. Usually when writing a message such as an email or blog post, Jews will finish with the phrase “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.
Psalm 27 is added to the morning and afternoon daily prayers.
There are other customs and the link I provided above to Chabad will render that information if you’re interested.
For a Jew, a relationship with God is personal, but it’s most often expressed in community. Christianity has community as well, but technically, it is represented by many people, by the nations, whereas Jews are a single people, a specific nation called out by God.
The Jewish religious calendar maps out the practice of a Jew and I suppose, depending on your denomination, your church has its own traditions and rituals as well. I’ve never found Christian traditions satisfying, though.
We don’t have the shofar blowing and it would probably seem strange to our friends and family if we started ending our missives to them with “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.
If any of us choose to follow the prayers, we can acquire the siddur of our choice through any online Judaica store. There are probably some Messianic siddurim available. I imagine a Google search would yield appropriate results.
Thus we could follow the tradition of adding Psalm 27 to our personal prayer time. Just be mindful of context. After all, we are not Jews and we are not Israel.
According to the Chabad, selichot are prayers asking God for forgiveness. Christians believe that once forgiven, always forgiven, so this isn’t always a common practice in many churches.
My wife, who is Jewish, says that rather than being depressing because of the emphasis on sins and judgment, the High Holidays are exhilarating. God is offering to hit the “reset button,” so to speak, to lay out a brand new, squeaky clean year for His people Israel. Jews have a unique opportunity annually, to live the next year better than they did the last.
But according to the Bible, forgiveness and redemption are available for the non-Jew as well, and from a Christian perspective, it’s our devotion to Yeshua (Jesus) that allows us to access those blessings. However for people like me, who are non-traditional and Hebraically oriented in our theology, if we choose to use the month of Elul in a manner similar to the Jews, we have to create the context and practices for ourselves.
Both Christians and Jews know they can ask for forgiveness at any time of year, however, for Jews, the month of Elul is a time to concentrate on what they’ve done for the past year, to right wrongs, ask for forgiveness from those people they have offended, and to ask for forgiveness from God.
We may not belong to Jewish community, but as private individuals, we could choose to adopt some of what the Jews do during Elul anyway, though more spiritually rather than too closely mimicking Jewish praxis.
In the past, I’ve written about community for the “Messianic Gentile,” but my experiences over the past few years have taught me it’s not really available for the vast majority of us either physically or emotionally. Sure, we can create our own groups, but anyone who’s tried to run a small congregation or even a regular home Bible fellowship can tell you how difficult it is to maintain over the long haul.
Besides, trying to figure out how to have a “Hebraic” praxis for non-Jews while avoiding treading too heavily on Jewish identity and particularity isn’t easy. I’ve fought in those wars in the past and have concluded for personal reasons that since I’m not Jewish, I shouldn’t walk that path. It’s too much like stealing another person’s clothes and then wearing them as your own.
And trying to do any of this in a traditional Christian setting in most cases won’t be practical, since the “Hebraic” praxis will be alien in that context. In fact, it might be received by Christian peers adversarially.
So more and more, this is a blogspot about the individual non-Jew who is neither fish nor fowl, who doesn’t fit in either world, and yet can’t adjust his or her perspectives on the Bible to “get along” with a more traditional congregation, whether Christian or Jewish.
From that perspective, while the month of Elul and all that it holds is communal for the religious Jews, for the rest of us, well, those few who are like us, it remains individual, at least until the Messiah returns.
Adam trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain.
Then he stopped, spun around and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! You had this all planned! You put that fruit there knowing I would eat from it! This is all a plot!”
There was no reply.
Without failure, we can never truly reach into the depths of our souls. Only once we have failed can we return and reach higher and higher without end.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org
I previously said that in examining what the Bible says about how we non-Jews are to relate to God, I’d be staying mainly in the Apostolic Scriptures, since righteous Gentiles in the Tanakh (Old Testament) aren’t specifically oriented to Yeshua (Jesus).
However, since I’m writing this just before the start of Yom Kippur, and given that Adam, the first man, could not be considered Jewish but had a direct relationship with Hashem, I thought I’d write a little about how we Gentiles can fail and then return to God.
According to the above-quoted statement from Rabbi Freeman, God planned for Adam and Havah (Eve) to fail. Well, maybe He did and maybe He didn’t. However, if we believe God knows everything and is not bound by time or causality, then certainly before He “laid the foundations of the Earth,” He knew Adam and Havah would partake of the one thing in Eden that was forbidden to them.
So from Adam’s point of view, maybe it’s true that God “planned” for them to fail.
I can only imagine that, since they had nothing else to compare it to, Adam and Havah rather took their relationship and intimacy with God for granted…that is until it was severely damaged by their fall.
Is God as concerned about the sins of the Gentiles and their potential for repentance as He is for the Jews? A traditional Christian would automatically answer “yes,” but what would a Jew think? My opinion, based on a lot of years of study, tells me that most observant Jews would believe that God is more concerned about the spiritual state of the Jewish people than of Gentiles (and particularly Christians).
But is this true?
In an absolute sense, unless we can read God’s mind, so to speak, we can’t know.
However, we can take an educated guess and Yom Kippur sets the stage for this.
The Book of Jonah is read in the synagogue on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the sacred Day of Atonement. Why, of all books in the Bible, this book this most holy day?
The answer is clear. The major themes of the book are singularly appropriate to the occasion—sin and divine judgment, repentance and divine forgiveness.
What is remarkable is that the work is not at all about Israel. The sinners and penitents and the sympathetic characters are all pagans, while the anti-hero, the one who misunderstands the true nature of the one God, is none other than the Hebrew prophet. He is the one whom God must teach a lesson in compassion.
It’s actually an astonishing revelation when you think about it. Almost without exception, only Jews observe Yom Kippur in any fashion at all, and yet, we see in the reading of the Book of Jonah, that the main objects of God’s concern for repentance, redemption, and reconciliation are a large group of pagan Gentiles. Further, the only Jew involved is reluctant to be an agent of redemption for these Gentiles, so much so that he literally “jumps ship” in attempting to get away from his responsibilities.
The brief article goes on to say:
It is precisely these aspects of this sublime prophetic allegory, and in particular the subthemes of the book, that inform Yom Kippur. These motifs attracted the ancient Jewish sages and led them to select Jonah as one of the day’s two prophetic lectionaries (The other is Isaiah 57:14–58:4). Its universalistic outlook; its definition of sin as predominantly moral sin (The “evil” of Jonah 1:2 is defined as injustice in Jonah 3:8); its teaching of human responsibility and accountability; its apprehension that true repentance is determined by deeds and established by transformation of character (Jonah 3:10), not by the recitation of formulas, however fervent; its emphasis on the infinite preciousness of all living things in the sight of God (Jonah 4:10–11); and, finally, its understanding of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness” (Jonah 4:2)—all these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur.
The “universalistic outlook” to how sin is defined as primarily moral, human responsibility and accountability to God, and how repentance is accessible to everyone through deeds and established by transformation of character.
So for the Gentile as well as the Jew, God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness.”
While the essay’s author Nahum Sarna states that “these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur,” we also see (apparently) that these “noble ideas” are equally applied to Gentile repentance and reconciliation to God.
As I said some months ago, we aren’t so much chopped liver after all. Although God sent a Jewish prophet (yes, in the Bible, we do find a few non-Jewish prophets) to redeem Gentile Nineveh, God’s primary purpose was to redeem Gentile Nineveh.
And guess what? Everyone, from the King down to the lowliest commoner, mourned, fasted, and repented and were subsequently forgiven by God.
I was explaining to someone at work, a Christian (we were discussing Yom Kippur), how the process of repentance and forgiveness of willful sin was the same in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the days of the Temple as it is today. There was no sacrifice for willful sin. Psalm 51 teaches us that how we are to repent hasn’t changed over time.
The Book of Jonah teaches us that a Gentile is of just as much concern to God as a Jew and that He seeks repentance from all.
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 (NASB)
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
–2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)
So non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah can take heart and realize we too have our hope in the God of Israel, because, no matter how special Israel is to God, all people, even the lowliest from the nations, are special to Him (though probably not in the same way as Israel) as well.
One of the unintentional messages I think some non-Jews think they hear from Messianic Judaism is that in Israel’s specialness to God, we non-Jews who are “Judaically aware” are pretty non-special as well. I think that’s why some Gentiles have chosen to leave Messianic Judaism and either transition to Hebrew Roots, which they may see as more egalitarian, or return to Church, which is very much a “pro-Gentile” environment.
It’s also probably one of the reasons some Gentiles who have been involved in Messianic Judaism, have rejected Messiah and converted to (usually) Orthodox Judaism.
However, the non-Jewish believer, whether they are Judaically aware or not (although such awareness gives we Gentiles, in my opinion, a better and more accurate understanding of the Bible), even isolated from community on some metaphorical deserted island, can be comforted by the fact that God wants us to return to Him, too.
In creating the whole of existence, G‑d made forces that reveal Him and forces that oppose Him—He made light and He made darkness.
One who does good brings in more light. One who fails, feeds the darkness.
But the one who fails and then returns transcends that entire scheme. He reaches out directly to the Essential Creator. Beyond darkness and light.
And so, his darkness becomes light.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org
The Torah establishes no explicit association between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The former is briefly described as “a day of blowing the horn” (Num. 29:1), while Yom Kippur is more elaborately defined as “a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord…and ye shall afflict your souls” (Lev. 23:28; 32).
Note: I wrote this blog post a number of days before listening to and reviewing yesterday’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon by D. Thomas Lancaster, which also addresses issues related to Yom Kippur and atonement.
I know I’ve asked a strange question in the title of this blog post from a Christian’s point of view. The Church teaches that sins are not forgiven unless we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior over our lives and convert to Christianity. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or any other sort of person. There is one standard of righteousness and one path to salvation, and that is through Jesus.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
-John 14:6 (NASB)
Of course the Master also taught:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Effectively, this is saying that to come to faith in Messiah is impossible unless God draws that person to such faith, so the ultimate onus is upon God for our salvation, or so it would seem. I think a Calvinist would see it that way, interpreting the verse further to mean that God only draws certain people to Jesus and not others. However, it could also mean that God extends a universal invitation to such faith but that invitation does not automatically override human free will, thus some accept while others reject.
But that doesn’t answer the question I asked in the title of this blog post.
Who, O God, is like You. Who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgression for the remnant of His heritage? Who has not retained His wrath eternally, for He desires kindness! He will again be merciful to us; He will suppress our iniquities. And cast into the depths of the sea all their sins. Grant truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham, as You swore to our forefathers from ancient times.
–Micah 7:18-20 (Stone Edition Chumash)
from the Haftarah Portion of Torah Reading Haazinu
when Haazinu falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
This week’s Shabbat, coming as it does between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, bears the name Shabbat Shuvah, “the Sabbath of Returning.” The name derives from the opening words of the haftarah, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God…Say unto Him: give all guilt and accept what is good…Never again will we call our handiwork our god.” (Hosea 14:3-4) The passages from the prophets Hosea, Joel, and Micah, which are joined to make up our haftarah, breathe a worldview far less deterministic than the one that animates Ha’azinu. Without the possibility of righting our wrongs, who needs prophets? Their very mission is predicated on the promise of a second chance, if merited…
…By rejecting fatalism of any sort, Judaism gives us a measure of control over our lives. As we reach for self-improvement and not perfection during the High Holy Days, we find ourselves buoyed both by the prayers that envelop us and by the community that surrounds us. Our struggle ended, we leave the synagogue at peace, cleansed and transformed to start living afresh.
Far from what most Christians think about Yom Kippur, it is not a time of great tragedy among Jewish synagogues world-wide, but rather, a time of hope, when people can take hold of their responsibility to repent in the presence of God, and feel assured that they don’t have to be perfect in order for their sins to be atoned for, but rather dedicated to increased spiritual development, to owning up to their commitment to be better in the future than they have been in the past.
But does God honor that commitment year by year on Yom Kippur? Even if we believe that ultimate atonement and redemption is an effect of the New Covenant, since my understanding of the Sinai Covenant is that it was not designed to permanently redeem from sin, by faith in the accomplished work of the New Covenant mediator, Messiah, what about in the meantime? I firmly believe we continue to live in Old (Sinai) Covenant times, since the New Covenant only enters our world in full upon Messiah’s return and at the resurrection. Thus even though we are taught we must behave as if the New Covenant is completely present, even though it isn’t, then the Old Covenant for the Jewish people, even as many of us long for the New Covenant to be completed, remains fully applicable upon them, for if the New Covenant is not yet totally present, then the Old Covenant, by definition, must remain.
All that being true, and I believe it is, then it is not a vain thing for Jews, Messianic and otherwise, all over the world, to continue to uphold their covenant responsibilities to God under the Sinai Covenant.
For if it [the Torah] is not an empty thing. And if it is, the emptiness lies in you, because you have simply not exerted yourselves in the study of Torah.
-Yerushalmi Peah 1:1
To be counted as a Jew, one ought to have a link of some sort with the canon on which our covenant with God rests. it is a relationship, a measure of engagement that expresses membership. As long as the Torah draws us to explore its sacred contents, the possibility of God entering our lives still exists. A closed book signals the end of the relationship. That is why the Torah is chanted publicly in the synagogue each week, and when at Simhat Torah we have finished the final parasha, we hurry right back to the beginning without a break.
You might say to yourself that without the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and the other institutions that makes Torah observance possible, including the commandments surrounding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that there can be no atonement of sins for anyone, including the Jewish people, without faith in Christ. That would mean, for the past two-thousand years, all Jews who have not set aside their Jewish heritage and the Sinai Covenant along with it, and converted to Christianity (either voluntarily or by force), have died in their sins and are destined to burn for all eternity in Hell, regardless of their utter devotion to the God of their Fathers and their faithful attendance to the mitzvot as commanded by the Torah of Moses.
You see, from the point of view of these Jews, they don’t believe that God abrogated the promises of the past as found in the Torah and the Prophets, and replaced them with a Goyishe King who is to be worshiped and which for all the world feels like pagan idolatry and quite possibly polytheism.
Not that we Christians see it that way, but for the vast, vast majority of Church history, that’s exactly how we’ve been “selling” Christianity to the world, including and especially the Jewish world.
But without the Temple, how can Jews atone for sin? We forget that this isn’t the first time in Jewish history that there has been no Temple. Did God forsake the Jewish people and not forgive sin when they entered the Babylonian exile? Did the Prophets and the righteous among their generations, remain in their sins and die in iniquity? What of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the others among the righteous of Israel? Did the lack of a Temple and the absence of a Messiah result in their damnation?
If not, then why do we automatically throw all of the Jewish people who have lived and died as faithful to Hashem, the God of their Fathers, under the proverbial bus now?
Oh, because in the meantime, Jesus was born, lived, died, was resurrected, and ascended. Something new indeed has been added. But maybe not to the result you’ve been taught to believe.
With the destruction of the Second Temple, its awesome Yom Kippur ritual became a liturgical memory preserved by the synagogue. The theme of owning up to our misdeeds remained central to the tenor of the day as shaped by the synagogue, but it now fell upon Jews to confess their sins themselves. The synagogue eliminated the priestly intermediary.
How heartbroken God must be when He encounters this realization among His people Israel, and that, for a time, the majority of the Jewish people will miss the message provided by the writer of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews that even if they are (temporarily) without a Temple in Jerusalem and thus without an Aaronic priesthood, they still have access to the Heavenly Temple and a higher intermediary in Moshiach. But the day will come indeed when God will fulfill His promises and all Israel will be saved (Jeremiah 31:34; Romans 11:26-27).
What is striking about the confessions of Yom Kippur is that they are all formulated in the plural. By reciting them in unison as a faith community, we are spared individual humiliation. Yet for each of us, the words are highly personalized. In our private space, we confess to God alone. And what of the sins we did not commit? We assume a share of guilt, “for all Jews are responsible for each other.”
At Sinai, all of Israel answered God as one man (Exodus 19:8) that they would do everything God commanded in His Torah as their responsibility for upholding their covenant relationship with God. God (or Moses) didn’t approach each individual present at the foot of the mountain and ask for their personal acceptance or rejection of the covenant. God has always treated Israel as one, both in the blessings and the curses, regardless of the relative merits of each individual.
Thus if Israel, as a whole, the good and the bad among them, were all exiled, so will they all be redeemed, restored, and gathered back to their Land and their relationship to the Almighty.
How this will happen, I don’t know. I only know that if God doesn’t do it, then He violates His New Covenant promises to Israel that all of their sins will be forgiven.
But then there’s this:
Here, the efficacy of Yom Kippur is limited. Without seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt and without public confession, Yom Kippur offers us little relief or comfort. The ritual of fasting and praying on its own is not sufficient to remove the stain.
Here we see there are individual variables involved, and that man’s free will does play a part in God’s redemption of Israel. Specific Jewish people are indeed responsible. In this rendition, they are responsible to appeal both to God and to their fellow human beings who they have injured, perhaps, at least from my point of view, in response to the Master’s understanding of the essential essence of Torah:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
–Matthew 22:36-40 (NASB)
And keeping the individual Jew among all Israel in mind:
Who, O God, is like You. Who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgression for the remnant of His heritage?
–Micah 7:18 (Stone Edition Chumash)
How are we to resolve the apparent conflict between the language of Jeremiah 31:34 and Romans 11:26-27 which promises salvation for corporate Israel and the “remnant” spoken of in Micah 7:18?
I don’t know. One theory is that after the great wars, all of the unbelieving Jews will be killed and all of the Jewish survivors will be believers. That doesn’t sound quite right to me although I guess it fits the criteria. Another theory is that upon Messiah’s return, all of Israel living at that time will see him and acknowledge him and in that confession, will be saved. But that doesn’t address all of the Jewish souls who lived and died before the advent of Messiah, nor the Jews who have not accepted the revelation of his identity from that advent until now.
But I’m just guessing, of course. All I know for sure is that based on the aforementioned scriptures, God promised that Israel will be saved in the last days so I know He will do it, even if I don’t know how.
But what about the annual event of Yom Kippur? Are Jewish sins of the past year atoned for on that date without faith in Messiah? Isn’t faith in God (the Father) enough?
I can’t see from God’s point of view and the Bible doesn’t specifically address this circumstance, but not being God, I’m willing to be compassionate with merely a human heart and believe that yes, God hears the prayers of the Jewish people, all Jewish people when they pray, when they repent, when they seek the forgiveness of those they have wronged in sincerity, even if some of what they may believe isn’t correct, even if they have not yet come to the realization of the revelation of the identity of Messiah, that God does not callously discard their prayers of repentance and that He does forgive provisionally and annually in the spirit of His future ultimate and eternal forgiveness under the New Covenant promises.
No, I can’t prove that, I can only believe by faith that God will and has continued to keep His promises that He has made in the Bible, that Israel will always be a nation, His nation, and will always be before Him as His special and beloved people.
Thus says the Lord,
“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.
–Jeremiah 31:37 (NASB)
Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger, in My wrath and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.
–Jeremiah 32:37-41 (NASB)
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’”
–Jeremiah 33:19-22 (NASB)
Thus, on the basis of these “better promises,” I choose to believe that God still hears the voices of all of the Jewish people everywhere, as they pray, as they make teshuvah, as they call upon the Name of the Lord their God who made those promises. I choose to believe that their sins are forgiven for another year with the realization that a final judgment is yet to come. But even in that final judgment, God will still keep His Word that He gave in the Torah and the Prophets, and save Israel from her sins through the New Covenant He will make with them through its mediator Messiah, may he come soon and in our day.
If you want to believe I’m wrong, I understand. All I can do now is proceed with hope, for if God breaks His Word and His Covenants with Israel, then the rest of us are also utterly forsaken, and all humankind will perish forever.
One last question. If it is true that God forgives observant Jews of their sins on Yom Kippur based on the promises of the Sinai Covenant as the currently existing agreement between the Jewish people and God, will God forgive those Jews who we call “Hebrew Christians” who are in our churches and who have been taught to forsake the Sinai Covenant and set aside the Torah of Moses?