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Yom Kippur: When a Nation Repents

October 11, 2016

by: Ilse Posselt

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Jewish ÒSlichotÓ prayer service with shofar during the Days of Repentance preceding Yom Kippur at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, 2008.

Prayers of repentance at Western Wall on Yom Kippur (Photo: Mark Neyman/ GPO/ Wikipedia)

Tuesday, 11 October 2016 | Today is no ordinary day for the people of Israel. The frantic hubbub on city streets as a country goes about its morning routine is somehow more subdued. The nation prepares for the Shabbat of Shabbats

Offices and schools will send their staff and pupils home early today. Shops, markets and restaurants will shut their doors tight around noonday. Buses and trains will carry their last passengers to destinations long before dusk. Traffic will die down to a trickle and then disappear altogether from the usually congested highways and streets. Radio and television stations will wish their listeners and viewers an “easy fast” before signing off for the next 25 hours.

In the last moments of the day’s heat, a holy hush will fall over the Land of Promise, as sundown ushers in Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the year for the people of Israel.

The Jewish nation is not the only one who views Yom Kippur as sacred. Leviticus 23:26–27 tells us that this biblical festival is also holy to God. “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls…”

Today, thousands of years after God gave Moses these instructions, the people of Israel are once again preparing for God’s appointed time as He directed: by afflicting their souls. This entails abstaining from all fleshy pleasures, including food or drink, and fasting and praying for a 25–hour period.

The purpose of Yom Kippur is explained in Leviticus 23:28, “… for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.”

In biblical times, this was the only day of the year when the High Priest was to enter the Holy of Holies to call upon the name of God, offering a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins on behalf of the people of Israel. Yom Kippur is thus a special day of repentance.

It is no different today. Yom Kippur is a day of self-assessment and repentance for the sins of the past year. Synagogues throughout Israel are usually filled to capacity and snatches of prayers can be heard drifting through the quiet streets all day.

Throughout the ages, Yom Kippur has acted as a unifying and regenerating factor for the Jewish people. Regardless of physical location, conviction or belief, the Day of Atonement would stir a spark in the heart of many a Jew.


Roads empty of cars on the holiest day of the year (Photo: Stand With Us/ Facebook)

The same holds true in modern times. Despite the severity of the fast—with complete abstinence from any food or liquids for more than 24 hours—some 85% of Israelis choose to observe Yom Kippur, even though some 50% of Israelis consider themselves secular.

The awe and reverence that wraps itself around the country and its people on this day is spectacular to behold. Pam Edwards, a Bridges for Peace representative, shared her thoughts after her first experience of Jerusalem during Yom Kippur.

“Can you imagine?! What a fascinating concept… that people actually take an entire day off from working and buying to reflect on their lives, talk to God and seek forgiveness…”

This year, Yom Kippur falls within a particularly tense time in the Jewish state. In the past, the fall holidays of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot have marked heightened tensions and increased clashes, specifically in Jerusalem. As a general safety measure, police presence within Israel’s capital is thus markedly increased ahead of these High Holy Days with thousands of security officers stationed throughout the city.

Sunday’s terror attack, in which two Israelis were murdered, only served to increase the already high tension levels, Israeli media reports. According to The Jerusalem Post, police announced yesterday that “extensive security measures” are being implemented throughout the capital with “nothing being left to chance.” More than 3,500 police officers from multiple units have been deployed in Jerusalem, focusing specifically on protecting the thousands of worshipers who are expected to flock to the Western Wall starting tonight.

As the city outside grows quiet and a holy hush descends over the nation, we at Bridges for Peace join our hearts with the Jewish people as a nation repents.

Posted on October 11, 2016

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 11 October 2016)

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