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Themes Of Yom Kippur

Besides the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur has other significant themes such as:

  • Face To Face
  • The Day (The Great Day)
  • The Fast
  • The Great Trump (Shofar HaGadol)
  • The Closing Of The Gates Of Heaven (Neilah)

Face To Face

The high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies once a year (Leviticus 16:2; Hebrews 9:6-7). But no man could see the face of God and live (Exodus 33:20). Thus, God chose this special day whereby the high priest could go into His very Presence, beholding Him face to face and yet live. Because of this, Yom Kippur became known by this phrase face to face.

This term was used in 1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am know."

When the high priest went behind the Veil, the nation had to hold its breath because their destiny was dependent upon God's acceptance of their sacrifice. At this awesome moment, the high priest was standing before the Mercy Seat of God. This Mercy Seat was the place where Moses met and spoke with God face to face (Exodus 25:22; 30:6; Numbers 7:89).

By the time of the Second Temple, the high priest's ceremony had been somewhat elaborated. On three separate occasions, in a grand crescendo, the high priest appeared before the people and recited a confession in their hearing. The first confession was on the account of his own sins and those of his household; the second, on the account of the priestly tribe of Levi; the third, on the account of the whole people.

Only on this holiest day in the entire year, the only one and holiest person who could use the name of God, embodied in the Hebrew letters YHVH, was the high priest. This was the name that God gave and explained to Moses at the burning bush - I Am That I Am or more correctly I am Becoming Who I am Becoming. This awesome name of God reveals that the He is not Somebody Whom we can call to attention, command and control. His name cannot be taken in vain and called aloud! All year long, whenever YHVH appeared in the Holy Scriptures, it could only be read or uttered as Adonai or The LORD. Only on Yom Kippur was the name YHVH said aloud in all its original awe. How this name was pronounced was so thoroughly protected from record-keeping, so that nobody might profane it, that today nobody know exactly how it was done.

In each confession, the high priest would recite the name of God. When the people heard the Holy Name, they would fall on the ground in reverence. They would prostrate themselves and say aloud, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchu-to Le'Olam Va'ed (Blessed be the Name of the radiance of the Kingship, forever and beyond).

The third recitation was the climax – the confession for the sins of the people. By then, the high priest had already entered the Holy of Holies thrice. This time around he had come to confess on behalf of all the people and put their sins upon the head of the scapegoat.

The result of this triple entry into the Holy of Holies, this triple recitation of God's most holy name, and this triple prostration by the entire people, was an overwhelming awesome presence of God. Atonement was made for the people, cleansing them of all their sins, permitting them to begin the year afresh and renewing their lives. The transformation was so great that the mood of the people shifted from solemn awe to joyful celebration. The young, unmarried men and women went to dance in the fields and to choose spouses for themselves. Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av were the only days in the year when this kind of mass public espousal would take place.

The Day (The Great Day)

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It is on the tenth day of the month of Tishri. It is also the last day of the Ten Days of Awe. The Jews believe that those who have not been good enough to be written in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah are given ten days to repent. They can pray for forgiveness and do good deeds until Yom Kippur when their judgment will be decided and sealed. They will spend the entire Day of Forgiveness in fasting and praying.

Because this day is the most solemn day in the year, it is known as "The Day."

The Fast

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and affliction of the soul. This day was set aside as a day of national fasting. The spiritual understanding of this fast is in Isaiah 58:1-12. The intention of fasting is not to torture ourselves or to punish ourselves. Rather, fasting helps us to transcend our physical natures. Praying without concern for food allows us to be completely focused on the prayers.

Fasting is essential in leading the people to their atonement. The Torah emphasizes three times, "And this shall be to you a law for all times: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you shall practice self-denial" (Leviticus 16:29; 23:27; Numbers 29:7). The Jewish understanding for self-denial is fasting.

For this reason, Yom Kippur is known as The Fast Day.

The Great Trump (Shofar HaGadol)

There are three primary trumpets related to the Feasts of the Lord. They are:

  • The First Trump blown during Pentecost (Shavuot)
  • The Last Trump blown during the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah)
  • The Great Trump blown during the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)

It is on Yom Kippur when the Great Trumpet, known in Hebrew as the Shofar HaGadol, is blown (Isaiah 27:13, Matthew 24:31).

The Closing of the Gates of Heaven (Neilah)

Neilah is the closing or final service of Yom Kippur. It is the Jewish belief that the gates of Heaven are open during the days of repentance to receive prayers for forgiveness. The gates will be closed after the Neilah service.

These gates are open on Rosh Hashanah to let the righteous into heaven and remain open until the Neilah service of Yom Kippur. When the final blast of the shofar (the Shofar HaGadol or the Great Trump) is heard at the end of the Neilah service, those who have observed the day with sincerity should feel that they have been inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.