Biblical Festivals/Holidays

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur

The close of Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) begins the Ten Days of Awe, the ten-day countdown to Yom Kippur. These awesome days emphasize our relationship with Elohim, His holy nature, and our sinful nature. Approaching Yom Kippur, we concentrate on how to reconcile the gulf of sin that separates us from Him. Traditionally, Yom Kippur is when the books of life and death are sealed, and Jewish people will receive their coming judgment. This is seen in the traditional greeting for this holiday, “G’mar Chatima Tovah!” “May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!” At this time, the rabbis have commanded the people to start the process of repentance in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by turning, or returning, to Adonai.

The Talmud says, “Remake yourselves by repentance during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah) and Yom Kippur and on the Day of Atonement, I [Elohim] will hold you guiltless, regarding you a newly made creature.” As believers in Yeshua, we know only the Messiah can make us new creatures, and that we cannot remake ourselves. What, then, is supposed to strike such “awe” at the coming of Yom Kippur? Let’s look further . . .

Yom Kippur is commonly known as the Day of Atonement. Yom means “day” and Kippur is a “covering” or “atonement.” A related Hebrew word, “Kapper,” means “to cover,” as in the covering of sin Elohim provides for His people when they come before Him with the appropriate sacrifice. Elohim has spelled out what this sacrifice is to be:

“For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for yourselves; for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 17:11).

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

“There is no atonement except with blood” (Talmud Yoma 5a).

The idea of sacrifice as an atonement for sins shows Elohim’s grace and willingness to forgive a sinful nation without them having to die. Elohim sees the person presenting the sacrifice as having paid the price for his sin, covered with the blood. This is the essence of the idea of the substitute of sacrifice, the death of the innocent for the sinful. It helps reveal the heart of the Brit Hadashah:

“ . . . the Messiah died for our sins . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Yeshua gave His life to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

Israel was to be set apart from all sin, which was spelled out in the Torah. The core of these instructions is the sacrificial system. This is evidence that Elohim knew Israel would not be able to uphold all the commands in the Torah. The Torah was given to the nation of Israel to keep them holy. The word holy, “Kadosh” in Hebrew, is used more than eighty different times in Leviticus alone. It means “holy,” “separate,” or “set apart.”

“Rather, you people are to be holy for me, because I, Adonai, am holy; and I have set you apart from other peoples, so that you can belong to me” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 20:26).

The B’rit Hadashah refers to the Torah as “good.” These commandments are the same ones that bring sin into the open.

“So the Torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just, and good” (Romans 7:12).

When we are aware of our sins, we can come to YHVH with the substitute sacrifice, and in His mercy, He will forgive us. The sacrificial system is the core of the Torah, and a foreshadowing of the grace that would be given to us through Messiah’s sacrifice.

Key elements of Yom Kippur

Leviticus (Vayikra) 23:26-32 gives us the commandment to observe Yom Kippur:

“YHVH said to Moses (Moshe), ‘The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to YHVH by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before YHVH your Elohim. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a Shabbat of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening, you are to observe your Shabbat.”

From this, we have the date for Yom Kippur as the tenth of Tishri, the seventh month. Its observance is to be perpetual in all dwelling places, ensuring that it still has significance for us today. We are to hold a “holy convocation,” Elohim’s people called together for His purposes. He calls for our undivided attention. We are also commanded to “deny ourselves,” or “humble our souls” under the penalty of excommunication if we do not obey. What is the nature of this “denial?”


Some translate this humbling to mean “affliction of the soul.” Not eating for twenty-four hours is considered by some as this type of affliction (for some of us, just skipping lunch is an affliction!) The rabbis interpret this verse to mean we must restrain from our earthly appetites . . . take time out from our daily ritual of meals. We are to feel that the natural course of life is suspended, as if we are dead, so as to better embrace life. The fast is so important to this day that it is also referred to as “The Day of the Fast,” or simply “The Fast.”

Psalms (Tehillim) 35:13 connects fasting with humbling oneself:

“Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.”

The same idea is seen in Isaiah (Yesha’yahu) 58:3:

“ ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, and, ‘you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’”

Our heart attitude is more important to Elohim, more than the mere act of fasting. “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” (Isaiah [Yesha’yahu] 58:3)

Elohim prescribes a fast that reflects our proper attitude:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah [Yesha’yahu] 58:6)

This is the way to get His attention . . . then He will hear our cry on Yom Kippur.

“Then you will call, and YHVH will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I” (Isaiah [Yesha’yahu] 58:9).

The “Shabbat of Shabbats”

Another commandment Elohim gives us during Yom Kippur is that we must do no work. It is said to be the “Shabbat of Shabbats” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:28-32). We are not to mix our daily routine with this holy day. The punishment for not obeying this commandment is to be cut off (verses 29-30)! Elohim takes this holiday very seriously and He wants it to be His day alone.


The next commandment Elohim gives us is that we are to present Him an offering. There are to be many offerings during the day. The whole chapter of Leviticus (Vayikra) 16 is dedicated to describing these offerings. It is also mentioned in Numbers (B’midbar) 29:7-11. These sacrifices are required because, during the time this feast was implemented, it was the only way to access Elohim. He could not look upon sin, so an offering had to be made to atone for the peoples’ sin before they could enter into His presence. The High Priest was used as the mediator between the people and Elohim. It was no easy task to be a High Priest, because there was much training and preparation involved. Unfortunately, during the time of the Second Temple, the system became corrupt and the Romans let the wealthy families compete for the honor of becoming the High Priest.

Aaron, the first High Priest, was given a warning from Elohim. His instructions were that he was not to enter the Holy of Holies except on Yom Kippur, or he would face death. Inside this most holy place was the Ark of the Covenant and Mercy Seat. Above this was the Shekinah Glory, the visible presence of Elohim in a cloud.

‘But my face,’ He continued, ‘you cannot see, because a human being cannot look at Me and remain alive’” (Exodus [Sh’mot] 33:20).

The order of the High Priest’s duties has been passed down through the centuries, and is reflected in the order of service used today in traditional synagogues.

The Tabernacle

The focus of the Yom Kippur ceremony was centered around the tabernacle. There was much symbolism associated with the Tabernacle, the Mishcan. The original tent-like structure was made of cloth and skins that would be carried from place to place as the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness, and later in the Promised Land. The floor plan of the temples was built by Solomon, rebuilt in Ezra’s time, and expanded under King Herod.

The contents of the Tabernacle (Mishcan) are as follows:

The courtyard was located in the middle of the Tabernacle. This courtyard was surrounded by a fence, and only had one gate.
A brazen altar was erected directly in front of the gate, on the inside of the fence. This altar was used for sacrifices and burnt offerings. This symbolized the one way to Elohim, through the sacrifice of an innocent animal that would bear the peoples’ guilt and shame.
A menorah of Elohim’s design was inside the Tabernacle. The light shed from this menorah illuminated the services of all the Holy Priests. This single light symbolized that only Elohim can provide illumination for the understanding of divine truth and worship.
An altar of incense was also erected inside the Tabernacle. The priests would burn this incense to symbolize the peoples’ prayers. The fragrant aroma from the incense would drift into the back third of the Tabernacle that was also known as the Holy of Holies. This paints a picture of our prayers continually coming into Elohim’s presence.
The Holy of Holies was separate from the rest of the Tabernacle by a heavy veil or curtain. The burning incense was thrust through the veil to symbolize the bathing of this place in prayer, to prepare the way into His holy presence.
Inside the Holy of Holies laid the Ark of the Covenant. Details on the construction of this ark can be found in Exodus (Sh’mot) 37. It was basically a wooden chest overlaid in gold. Two angelic figures, called cherubim (k’ruvim), were placed on the lid facing one another. Their wings spread out to cover the top of the ark, also called the Mercy Seat.

The significance of the Ark’s contents is described in Hebrews 9:4. The stone tablets were the second set of the Ten Commandments given to Moses (Moshe) on Mount Sinai. (The first set was broken when Moses [Moshe] came down from the Mount and found the people worshipping a golden calf in Exodus [Sh’mot] 32:4, 35).

A pot of manna was kept there to remind the people of their complaining when Elohim provided heavenly food for them in the wilderness (Numbers [B’midbar] 11:20).

Aaron’s staff was also placed in the Ark. This staff had miraculously sprouted leaves (Numbers [B’midbar] 17:8-10). This miracle occurred when a group of rebel leaders had tried to assume leadership of the nation from Moses and Aaron. Elohim performed this miracle to show the people why they should not reject His chosen leadership (Numbers [B’midbar] 16:41).

The inclusion of these three items in the Ark may allude to man’s utter rejection of Elohim. They first rejected His moral Law on the tablets. Then they rejected His daily provisions of food or manna. Finally, Aaron’s rod is a reminder of how they rejected His authorized leadership.

The word “transgression” in Leviticus [Vayikra] 16:16, 21 reflects this rejection. This is the only place in Leviticus (Vayikra) this word appears. The Hebrew word for transgression, “Pesha,” implicates revolt or rebellion. This is the gravest word for sin in the Hebrew language. In Modern Hebrew this word is used for “crime” or “criminal”.

Symbolism explained

This is the reason sacrifices were required; they covered the sins from Elohim’s eyes. For this reason, the lid of the Ark was named the Mercy Seat, in Hebrew, “kapporet,” or “propitiation.” The Mercy Seat was the seat of atonement. Elohim could only display His mercy when one came in faith with the atonement Elohim had prescribed. This all heralded the atonement Yeshua provided. To understand this more clearly, we must examine the Priest’s function in the Tabernacle. The blood of sacrificed animals had to be used. As mentioned earlier, Leviticus (Vayikra) 17:11 tells us the life of the animal is in the blood, and it was given to us on the altar to atone our sins. Notice that Elohim specified that the blood was given on the altar, the place He specified.

The High Priest

Before atoning for the sins of the people, the High Priest had to make atonement for his own sins. Even the High Priest Aaron had to first cleanse himself and his family before the people could be redeemed. He brought a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for the burnt offering. Before the blood could be applied to the altar, Aaron donned special linen garments. These did not include the breastplate with the urim (from the word that means “light”) and tumim (from the root word that means “purity of Elohim”) he and other priests would wear on other days. The urim and tumim were instruments of communication between Elohim and the people. The High Priest could communicate with Elohim in His very presence on the Mercy Seat only on Yom Kippur.

The High Priest sacrificed two young goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. The two goats were brought before the door of the Tabernacle. Lots were cast to determine which goat would be sacrificed, called “chatat,” and which goat would be the scapegoat, called “azazel,” to be led away to die in the wilderness.

Upon entering the Holy of Holies, the High Priest burned incense. The smoke from this incense shielded him from seeing Elohim, and symbolized the sweet aroma of the people’s prayers ascending to Elohim.

He then sprinkled the blood from the sacrificed goat, chosen by casting lots, on the Mercy Seat. The blood of the ram and goat were sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. This act made atonement for the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle, and the altar itself. Even these inanimate objects had to be cleansed, for they had become filthy with the peoples’ sins.

After these acts were performed, came the highlight of the Yom Kippur service — the ceremony of the scapegoat (the goat was not immediately sacrificed after casting lots).

“He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites — all their sins — and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 16:21-22).

The High Priest laid his hands on the animal, symbolically transferring the sins of the people to the scapegoat. This is the substitute sacrifice, or “akedah,” as mentioned in the story of the “binding of Isaac,” read on Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah).

The Goats

The two goats were considered one offering. This is seen in Leviticus (Vayikra) 16:5 when ADONAI said “He is to take from the community of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering . . .” The slaughtered goat showed the congregation that Elohim’s wrath was appeased, that their sins were covered.

The live goat, or scapegoat, was sent into the wilderness bearing the sins of Israel, showing the congregation their sins had been removed.

The benefits of the elaborate Yom Kippur ritual were short-lived . . . it was only effective as long as the Israelites remained completely obedient to the commandments and the Torah, which unfortunately, was not very long. So, each year the sacrifices had to be offered again and again. This contrasts the sacrifice of Elohim’s only son, Yeshua, done once and for all.

These two goats foreshadowed Yeshua’s sacrifice. He paid the penalty of death for us as with the first slaughtered goat, covering our sins. He also removed our sins, as seen by the second goat, the scapegoat: “Look! Elohim’s lamb! The one who is taking away the sins of the world” (John [Yochanan] 1:29). He was the final payment and sacrifice for sin, covering and removing them so we do not have to make atonement year after year.

Yom Kippur in Yeshua’s time

Yeshua celebrated Yom Kippur during the time of Herod’s temple. There were many striking differences during this time:

The High Priest had become corrupt. He had been appointed in Rome during Herod’s time, and won his office through treachery and bribes. The High Priest actually had to take a crash course the night before Yom Kippur to insure he would not make a mistake! (It was no accident Yeshua lived during this time to demonstrate the true sacrifice.)
There were also a few traditions added to the scapegoat ceremony. According to Mishnah (Jewish Commentary), lots were drawn to decide the fate of both goats. The lot for the sacrifice said “for ADONAI,” and the lot for the scapegoat said “scapegoat.” The people considered it a good omen if the lot “for ADONAI” came up in the Priest’s right hand. Also, a red sash was tied to the scapegoat’s horns, and a portion of it was also tied to the temple door. The sash on the temple turned from red to white as the goat met its end in the wilderness, signifying that Elohim had accepted their sacrifices, and their sins had been atoned. This idea derived from Isaiah (Yesha’yahu) 1:18, which says, “Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow . . .”

Also stated in the Mishnah, as well as the Talmud (Rabbinic Commentary), four events occurred during the scapegoat ceremony in the forty years before the destruction of the temple, foreshadowing its doom. (This would have begun when Yeshua was sacrificed once and for all). For forty years:

The lot that said “for ADONAI” did not appear in the Priest’s right hand . . . this was considered a bad omen.
The portion of the red sash tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrifice.
The westernmost light of the temple candelabra (menorah) would not burn. This was crucial, because this was the “Shamash” used to kindle the other lights.
The temple doors opened by themselves. The rabbis saw the ominous fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah (Z’kharyah) 11:1 that says, “Open your doors, Lebanon, so the fire can consume your cedars.” In fact, fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that had adorned the inside of the temple.

After the Temple’s destruction

After the temple’s destruction, animal sacrifices were not possible, as Elohim had prescribed, since the altar and High Priesthood were disassembled. The rabbis had to develop a “non-sacrificial” approach to Elohim. Moses Maimonides, an ancient sage, wrote, “Repentance atones for all transgression.” The synagogue ritual, by itself, was performed in place of the animal sacrifice. To fill the gap of the missing blood atonement, the rabbis substituted the “three T’s:” “Tefilah” (prayer), “Teshuvah” (repentance), and “Tzedakah” (charity). While these are admirable practices, they cannot replace Elohim’s blood atonement.

Self-affliction, performed through fasting and other deprivations, came to include flogging, called “Malkot.” Psalms (Tehillim) 78:38 was recited three times while a person received thirty-nine lashes. This is mostly symbolic, since the person usually wore a heavy coat. (It is interesting to note that the thirty-nine lashes are the same punishment Pilate gave Yeshua).

An echo of temple sacrifices is also seen in the Yom Kippur custom of “kapparot.” For this ceremony, a rooster for males, and a hen for females, was waved over the head three times while declaring these animals were substitutes for the people. The bird was then slaughtered and given as charity. In modern times, money is placed in a handkerchief, waved overhead, and given to the poor. The study of the Torah and Talmud are also seen as a substitute, as well as special prayers, “Shlicot,” offered at midnight the month prior to Yom Kippur.

We must note that Elohim has never changed! He still requires the sacrifices. Man implemented these customs and traditions to fill the gap when the ritual system was replaced with Yeshua’s atonement. Judaism has developed many other elaborate methods of atonement, as recorded in various rabbinic commentaries. However, traditional Jewish people still ache for the day the temple will be rebuilt and sacrifices restored. In Israel, plans are already underway for this new temple, complete with a restoration of the High Priesthood and the sacrificial items.

Yeshua’s fulfillment

Believers may rejoice during Yom Kippur, because we do not have to wonder if our repentance has been adequate.

“Elohim put Yeshua forward as the kapparah for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death” (Romans 3:25-26).

“Kapparah” translates as the “Mercy Seat.” When we receive atonement through Yeshua, we have a right standing with Elohim —better than any brought through the sacrifice of bulls and goats.

The book of Hebrews portrays Yeshua as the fulfillment of Yom Kippur (Hebrews 9:11-14, 22-24). Hebrews 7:26-28 portrays Yeshua as the perfect High Priest. Yeshua is innocent, undefiled by sin, and does not require atonement for his own sins, unlike the temple High Priests.

The priesthood was meant to last forever, but with the destruction of the temple the priests ceased to perform their duties and not all of Aaron’s descendants could be traced. Hebrews 7:24 tells us that Yeshua is to abide forever, and hold the permanent Priesthood.

Hebrews 8:2 states that Yeshua is ministering in the true, heavenly tabernacle, and is constantly in the presence of Elohim. This is a much more majestic sanctuary than any constructed on earth. Hebrews 9 and 10, as well as Psalms (Tehillim) 40:6-8, tell us the sacrificial system in Leviticus (Vayikra) was a foreshadowing of Yeshua. The blood of bulls and goats merely covered the peoples’ sins, but the blood of Yeshua removed them.

The average person could never approach the Holy of Holies, and the High Priest could only approach it once a year. When Yeshua was sacrificed, the heavy veil in front of the Holy of Holies was torn. This was symbolic that those who trust in Him can have a true Yom Kippur experience and may be shown Elohim’s mercy. We can rejoice in Elohim’s plan of forgiveness!

Hebrews 10:22 shows us how to approach Yom Kippur as believers in Messiah:

“Therefore, let us approach the Holiest Place with a sincere heart, in full assurance that comes from trusting, with our hearts sprinkled clean from a bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Yom Kippur compared to Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah)

We can now see the relationship between Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur. The shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah is a call to repentance (“t’shuvah”), or a turning from a sinful lifestyle. This change of heart must occur first before the redeeming sacrifices of Yom Kippur can be accepted. Elohim gave the Israelites ten days, the Days of Awe, to consider their ways and turn their hearts toward Him.

“For You do not want sacrifices, or I would give them; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice to Elohim is a broken spirit; Elohim, You won’t spurn a broken, chastened heart” (Psalms [Tehillim] 51:16-17).

The animal sacrifices on Yom Kippur were only effective when presented with this repentant heart. This was promised through Yeshua in the New Covenant. The Torah was to be written on our hearts:

“‘This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time,’ declares ADONAI. ‘I will put My Torah in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their Elohim, and they will be My people’” (Jeremiah [Yirmeyahu] 31:33).

The next fall feast is Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). This is traditionally called the “season of joy.” As it is true with all of us, the children of Israel could only rejoice once they were redeemed and their sins forgiven.

Elohim’s order can be seen in our fall feasts:

  • Rosh Hashanah brings repentance
  • Yom Kippur brings forgiveness
  • Sukkot brings joy

Kol Nidre

The Kol Nidre comes from a rabbinical decree rather than a Biblical command. In traditional Jewish services the Kol Nidre is one of the most emotional chants of the Yom Kippur service. It is translated “all vows,” as in a legal formula. It is required to be recited in a “court” of three witnesses, traditionally two people holding Torahs, standing on either side of the person reading. It is written in Aramaic. It formally renounces any oaths or vows that have been made unwittingly or under duress. This prayer of cancellation recalls some of the sad episodes in Jewish history when, due to religious persecution, Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism during the times of the Inquisitions. It recalls the times in history when the Jewish people have not always been free to worship as Jews.

This prayer was presumably constructed as a result of those times when Jews were forced to convert. However, as Messianic Jews we believe this was constructed by the rabbis to counter the vows and beliefs we made to the Messiah Yeshua. Therefore as Messianic believers in Yeshua HaMashiach, we do not say this prayer. We do not wish to renounce our vow made to Yeshua.

About The Author

Rabbi Amnon Shor

Rabbi Amnon and Rebbetzin Lynette Shor are international conference speakers on prophetic subjects, the Middle East conflict, Biblical holidays, and Jewish cultural life. Rabbi Shor has appeared on many radio and television programs which include CBS, CBN, TBN, and Jewish Voice. He has also worked with Promise Keepers as the international liaison to Israel and the Middle East, and with the Road to Jerusalem Ministry as global spokesman.

Rabbi Amnon Shor, was born in Israel to an orthodox Jewish family. His grandfather Zachariah was a Rabbi in the local synagogue. Rabbi Shor learned the Old Testament and the Jewish Law from early childhood. After his service in the Israeli Army, where he fought the Egyptian Army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he set out to see the world working for EL-AL Israel’s Airlines , where he met his wife of 41 years Lynette. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

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