Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement


Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It is the 1o Tishri, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the culmination of 10 days of repentance beginning on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. All temple ceremonies were preparatory and anticipated the Day of Atonement when the High Priest Israel offered prescribed sacrifices asking God to redeem the sins of Israel.

Leviticus 23:27 summarizes Jehovah’s instructions for a day of atonement given in Leviticus 16.

Also the tenth daytime of this seventh month there will be a day of atonement: it will be a saint summons yours ; and you will have to distress your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.

I searched for Jewish resources online on Yom Kippur, wanting to know how this is observed in modern times without a tabernacle or temple, but have repeatedly returned to descriptions of the observances in the temple.

I particularly liked The Temple InstituteDetailed explanation of Yom Kippur, with pictures. I will quote and paraphrase their Yom Kippur observance and also share some of the images that struck me as I contemplated how I observe this holy day according to my theology.

Yom Kippur in the Holy Temple

The service of this holy day was the only one in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) that was fully and sequentially performed by a specific individual: the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

On that day, and only that day, the Cohen Gadol wore both his golden garments and his white garments, and performed all the service of Yom Kippur, on behalf of the whole nation. The service was extremely detailed and had to be performed with precision.

The Gemara (Berachot 7a) vividly describes Kohen Gadol’s culminating and solemn Yom Kippur entry into the Holy of Holies – the only time each year that anyone can. Reading the account, one gets the impression that the Kohen Gadol actually enters the Shrine Above and stands before the Throne of Divine Glory.

He alone is responsible for every aspect of divine service on this holiest and most awe-inspiring day: a total of fifteen separate offerings that are made, along with the menorah, incense, and other services.

For seven days before Yom Kippur, the Cohen Gadol immersed himself in the study of everything related to performing the Yom Kippur rituals. This study included completing all aspects of the sacrificial offerings during that week to become familiar with every aspect of those same offerings on the holiest day.

The Sanhedrin read Leviticus 16 to him every day. And he was also reading this biblical injunction aloud.

Significantly, the Cohen Gadol parted during these seven days by moving into the priest’s rooms in the temple.

While the Cohen Gadol prepared, another priest prepared as the Cohen Gadol replacement. If the Cohen Gadol somehow became defiled, his replacement would step in as high priest to complete the remaining tasks. Everything, including the golden garments, was prepared for the replacement priest.

Yom Kippur approaches and tension builds as all of Israel anticipates the coming of the great day when atonement is granted for sin and the true nature of man’s relationship with his Creator is revealed.

All eyes are on Kohen Gadol, who on this holiest day of the year will enter the holiest place on earth – the Holy of Holies – to make atonement for Israel and seek to rectify imbalances in his spiritual connection with her. Heavenly Father. …

On the morning of Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol ascends the stairs above the water gate, in order to perform his first of the five required immersions in the ritual bath of Yom Kippur.

The remaining four immersions that take place during the day are in a ritual bath at the top of the Parva chamber. A white lined sheet is stretched to separate the Kohen Gadol from the spectators. This is done to remind all onlookers that the Kohen Gadol will administer the Atonement service wearing only white garments.

Before entering the ritual bath, the Kohen Gadol first sanctifies his hands and feet by pouring water into them from a golden vessel. Coming out of the ritual bath, he again sanctified his hands and feet in the same way.

On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol would make three separate incense offerings. The first two offerings were made on the golden incense altar located in the Kodesh (the Sanctuary). Facing north, the High Priest pours incense on the altar, while the column of smoke rises.

At dawn, the doors open and the people begin to flock.

“You shall offer to G ‐ d a burnt offering for a soothing fragrance: a young bull, a ram and seven one year old sheep, making sure that all are free from blemish … There will also be a goat for a sacrifice for the peach… “ (Numbers 29:11)

Image from templeinstitute.org

With his palms, the Kohen Gadol places the incense on the coals of the shovel, on the side of the shovel away from where he is standing, so that it is not burnt when the flames ignite. He stands there and waits a moment, until the whole room is filled with smoke.

The Yom Kippur incense offering finished, he then leaves the Holy of Holies with extreme reverence – backwards, entering through the two curtains into the Sanctuary without having once turned his back to the holy place.

Offer a prayer with your hands raised

Yom Kippur
Image from templeinstitute.org

Standing alone in the Sanctuary, the Kohen Gadol successfully entered and exited the holiest place on earth – the center of Gd’s creation and glory. He made atonement for his people in the manner that Gd prescribed for this holy day. It would therefore be quite natural for him to reflect on this rarefied moment of divine communion by offering his own sincere prayer.

Although not mentioned, the image selected to show the Cohen Gadols prayer represents him in front of the curtain praying with his hands raised.

Second offering in the Holy of Holies

In the next stage of the Yom Kippur service, after the Kohen Gadol concludes the incense service, pronounces his prayer, and leaves the shrine, he returns to the kohen that awaits him outside the entrance. . This kohen has been waiting here since the ox was slaughtered, holding the mizrak and moving it around so its contents don’t harden.

The Kohen Gadol now receives this ship from her colleague and returns to the Holy of Holies a second time, exactly as she did before. Walking through the two curtains and carrying the vase containing the blood of his offering, he returns to locate “between the poles” where he placed the incense on the coals at the top of the foundation stone.

Yom Kippur
Image from templeinstitute.org

There, he sprinkles the contents of the mizrak in the air with his finger, towards the place of the lid of the ark. This is as specified by the verse (Lev. 16:14): “He will take some of the blood of the bull, and with his index finger he will sprinkle it over the east side of the lid of the ark. He will then sprinkle with his index finger seven times directly towards the lid of the ark.

Then he leaves the Holy of Holies (in the same way we discussed above) and places the vessel on a golden stand in the Sanctuary.


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