Years ago a Chassidic Rabbi taught me the real meaning of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.
I was handing out pamphlets about Yeshua the Messiah at a New Jersey college when all of a sudden, the campus Chassidic Rabbi ran towards me and began handing out his own literature. Not only that! He stopped some of the students who had received a copy of my pamphlet, asked them if they were Jewish and then told them they should not read, what was obviously in his opinion – spiritual contraband. He virtually took it out of their hands and gave them a copy of his leaflet, telling them about the importance of living a more fulfilled Jewish life; keeping Torah, kosher, going to Synagogue and loving G-d in a more traditional Jewish way. He represented a group called Chabad, which now has close to 6,000 “missionaries” traversing the globe calling Jewish people – especially on campuses – to return to their spiritual roots and embrace a more faithful Judaism.
At first I was a bit concerned and felt he was unfair in doing what he did and I almost said to him – “go get your own crowd!” But, in the distance I noticed that students were watching and seemed to be wondering why the Rabbi was helping the man (me), wearing a sweatshirt that read something like. Yeshua is the Messiah – hand out his literature. I laughed and continued this unexpected few moments of “dueling pamphlets”.
It was just a few days after the Day of Atonement and thought I would take the opportunity to engage my self-proclaimed protagonist in meaningful conversation. So I asked the Rabbi – whose name I knew – “Baruch, did you have a good High Holiday season”? He looked at me and said, “of course”. I then asked if I could ask him a bit of a personal question and he responded with a quick “sure”. I asked Baruch, whose name means blessing, “do you know if you were blessed with the forgiveness of your sins on Yom Kippur”? He smiled at me, like a father whose young and precocious son had asked a naïve, but potentially reasonable question. He answered, “you believers in Jesus think it is so easy to be forgiven…you just say a little prayer and bingo…you are forgiven!” I returned the good-natured smile and said, “Baruch, I really want to know…you spent all day fasting, 10 days intensely repenting and now the Books of Life and Death are closed (according to Jewish tradition) and I am wondering…did you make it into the Book of Life”? I then in typical New York, Brooklyn fashion – since I knew he had lived in Brooklyn – said – “answer the question, Yes or No.”
He used a fatherly tone with me and said, “How can someone ever know they were forgiven? You think you get a certificate or something like that? It is a matter of faith and believing you did the right thing”. I pressed him one more time and said, “so, you do not know for sure that your sins are forgiven?” This time he became a bit exasperated with me (I don’t blame him) and using my Hebrew name, said, “and even if I was forgiven, I would walk out of the Synagogue and sin again and have to repeat the whole process the following year”…He continued, “ the point is this…a faithful Jew must keep repenting all the time in order to forgiven of sin…it is a constant process”.
I smiled and said “thank you”. He asked “why the thank you?” I then said to him that his answer reminded me of why I am so grateful for what Yeshsua the Messiah did for me and for him…that He died once for all, for all sins; for all time and for all people…and that though I do need to repent and live for Him that my eternal future rested in His mighty hands and not my own. He smiled at me and we wished one another a “Chag Sameach” – Happy Festival as we still had one additional Leviticus festival (and the one which was the most fun!), coming up – Tabernacles – Sukkot.
The Rabbi helped me appreciate the words of our Messiah who said, “It is finished”! It is a source of great personal joy to know that His work of redemption is completed and as the author of the Book of Hebrew writes,
For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10:14)
Hebrews 8-10 describe His once for all atonement for our sins, but read verses 1-16 of chapter 10 and you will be able to glean the heart of what He did for us through His sacrificial death.
I went to a wonderful Messianic congregation on Yom Kippur day and the Messianic Rabbis’ sermon encouraged us to go beyond repentance – to reconciliation and that reconciliation with God (and with other people) can only come through the death and resurrection of our promised Messiah – Yeshua. I could not agree more and am grateful for both Rabbis as I reflect upon Yom Kippur 5772.
One last thought. I am thankful for the forgiveness of sin and gift of eternal life given to all who believe in Yeshua the Messiah, but the encounter with the Chabad Rabbi also taught me another important lesson. That one’s love for God should never lead to silence! In fact it should produce the opposite – a joy that compels us to speak to total strangers, to risk our personal dignity and safety and to even respectfully resist those whose goal it is to turn people towards a spiritual path other than the One way we know to be true. I have a found a new, New Years resolution, thanks to some continued reflection on an event that happened many years ago – I pray that 5772 will be a year of new opportunities to tell others about my love for God and for His Son, and that He will give me the strength to take and even make these opportunities.