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Yom Kippur: When a Nation Repents

September 22, 2015

by: Ilse Posselt

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Synagogue in Jerusalem Tuesday, 22 September 2015 | 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…

Offices and schools will send their staff and pupils home early today. Shops, markets and restaurants will shut their doors tightly at around noonday. Busses and trains will carry their last passengers to their 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 shutting down for the next 25 hours.

In the last of the noonday 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.

Yet 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 per His directives: by afflicting their souls. This entails abstaining from all earthly pleasures, including food and drink; and instead focusing on 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 on which the High Priest would 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.

Today is no different. Yom Kippur is a day of self-assessment and repentance of 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.

The same holds true today. Despite the severity of the fast—with complete abstinence from any food or liquids for more than 24 hours—some 85% of Israel chooses to observe Yom Kippur. At present, some 50% of Israelis consider themselves secular. Yet for the Day of Atonement, even those who claim not to believe or who observe little or nothing of their Jewish heritage year round make a special effort.

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…”

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

Posted on September 22, 2015

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 22 September 2015)

Photo Credit: DMY/

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