We are now in the midst of an important 10-day period known as the Days of Awe (Yamin Nora’im), which started Sunday night with Rosh HaShanah (Head of the Year) 5779 and will end Wednesday night next week with the close of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
A more common name for this 10-day period is the 10 Days of Repentance (Aseret Yemei Teshuvah).
Traditionally, Rosh HaShanah, also known as Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpet Blasts) is a day of judgment when God opens His book, examines our deeds, and decides who will live, who will die, who will have a good life, and who will have one filled with troubles.
During these Days of Awe, we repent of our sins of the past year, ever mindful that God is a righteous judge; all His ways are just and true. He will reward the righteous and not allow the wicked to go unpunished.
“Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.” (Psalm 58:11)
The concept of the Book of Life and its connection to judgment is entirely scriptural. The Bible, in fact, contains many references to the Book of Life.
The Hebrew Prophet Daniel wrote that “everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered.” (Daniel 12:1)
We also see references in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament):
“He that overcomes… I will never blot his name out of the Book of Life.” (Revelation 3:5)
“Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)
May our family, loved ones, and the Jewish People be found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Teshuvah and Tzedakah
Judaism traditionally holds that actions consistent with teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer), and tzedakah (charity/good deeds) during the Days of Awe can alter God’s decree that He issued on Rosh HaShanah.
For this reason, it’s customary during these 10 days to spend time getting right with God and with our fellow man.
Spiritual and Orthodox Jews will seek forgiveness from anyone they have wronged and try to make amends.
Also, shortly before Yom Kippur, ultra-Orthodox (Chassidic) Jews and some Orthodox Jews perform a ceremony called kaparot from the Hebrew root k-p-r, meaning to atone, where a person’s sins are symbolically transferred to a chicken.
A live chicken is held over the head by the right hand and moved in a circular motion three times around the head while reciting this prayer:
“This is my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement (kaparah). This rooster (hen) shall meet its death, but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace.”
The origin of this practice is unknown. It isn’t mentioned in the Talmud (Rabbinic writings), and many rabbis view it as a foolish or pagan custom.
Nevertheless, the practice has survived in some communities. The chicken is slaughtered afterward and given to the poor.
The hope for this ceremony is that it will inspire people to teshuvah—return to God through repentance and mend their ways.
In another ceremony of penitence, some religious Rabbis will use a belt strap to inflict light lashes to the back of a boy or man so that the person feels a small amount of pain or discomfort, which symbolizes repentance from their sins.
The person then recites prayers of repentance and gives money to the Rabbi, which he directs to charity (tzedakah).
However, most people offer tzedakah rather than sacrifice a chicken or take the lashes.
Instead of waving a chicken, they wave coins, which are then given to charity. Some Jewish people practice this custom simply out of religious ritual without any real understanding of the concept of atonement.
Hoping to obtain divine pardon through the sacrifice of a chicken or the giving of tzedakah is a vain hope.
No amount of silver or gold can deliver us from the wrath of God.
“Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” (Zephaniah 1:18)
We have been redeemed without money through the precious and costly gift of the blood of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). (Hebrews 9:12)
“You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.” (Isaiah 52:3)
Though we cannot atone for our sins with gifts of money, God does command that we be generous to the poor and needy in the Land.
He promises that if we are obedient to this, then He will bless all that we set our hands to! (Deuteronomy 15:7–11)
“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” (Deuteronomy 15:10)
In the Torah, giving to the poor in the land of Israel is not optional:
“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.” (Deuteronomy 15:7–8)
According to Jewish tradition, tzedakah is so fundamental to Judaism that if a Jewish person fails to show mercy to the poor, his or her lineage is considered suspect.
Throughout these Days of Awe, however, tzedakah will be offered over and above what we would normally give throughout the year.
Nilah: Closing the Gate
On Yom Kippur, the closing service is called Nillah, which means the closing of a gate.
Jewish tradition holds that up until this very last moment, we can repent and pray for God’s mercy. In fact, it is said that access through this gate is never easier than in the hours before Yom Kippur. This is a time when the heavens are open wide.
However, when dusk comes and the fast of Yom Kippur is finished, the gate is closed and judgment is sealed.
In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus) said He is the gate for His sheep. That Gate is open wide all year long for those who want to enter through Him.
“I am the Gate, whoever enters through Me will be saved.” (John 10:9)
To understand what Yeshua mean by this, let’s examine the purpose of a gate.
1. A gate gives us access to a place; to get to the other side, we go through the gate. Through Yeshua, by faith, we gain access to eternity:
“Those who believe in Me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in Me, and will never perish.” (John 11:25–26)
2. A gate also provides a way through a barrier.
Our sins separate us from God, but through Yeshua, Jew and Gentile have access to the Father in Heaven (Abba b’Shamayem)
“Yeshua said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the Life; no one can come to the Father but through Me.’” (John 14:6)
3. Yeshua tells us that anyone trying to climb in by some other way is a thief and robber:
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1)
4. A gate controls who may or may not enter:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Revelation 22:14–15)
That None Would Perish
God’s desire is that everyone would repent and no one would perish. (Matthew 18:14)
That was the reason for instituting atonement and for sending Yeshua the Messiah. His very name means salvation!
Yeshua did not come to judge or condemn, “but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17)
Even while dying on the execution stake between two criminals, Yeshua offered a place in Paradise to the one who placed last minute trust in Him.
Yeshua told him, “This day you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Even until someone’s very last breath, the gateway to salvation through the Messiah Yeshua is still open.
As we pass through these Ten Days of Awe (Yamim Nora’im), let’s take time to get our lives right with God and one another.
This is the time to let go and forgive, as well as seek forgiveness.
These Ten Days of Awe are an opportunity to seriously seek the face of God, to examine our lives, and repent before Him for our sins.
It’s a time to call upon His mercy for ourselves, our families, our nations, and for Israel.
It’s a time to call upon His mercy for ourselves, our families, our nations, and for Israel and to take practical steps to be instruments of reconciliation, forgiveness, and love.