As we move into the changes of the Fall season, the Jewish community is gearing up for the most important holy days in the biblical calendar. After the long, dry summer we move into several festivals packed into a 3-week period. The High Holy Days start with a focus on repentance at Rosh Hashanah (New Year). Yet the 10 days following are even more intense as we search our souls and evaluate our relationship with our Creator. On the 10th day of the Jewish month, we enter into the most holy day of them all known as Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). This solemn time includes a strict fast and numerous prayers as we seek to have our lives in order as we appear before the King. This year Jews worldwide, including some 75,000 here in San Diego, will gather on September 15-16 for this annual observance. Yet, it should be noted that the modern Yom Kippur service has greatly evolved for the observance of biblical times. When the Temple was standing in Jerusalem, the Holy Day was not only a time of prayer and fasting but also of some vital animal sacrifices. After all, that is the theme of Yom Kippur. Atonement and restoration must be bought by an outside sacrifice. It is not something we can muster up ourselves, even with our most sincere intentions. In the Torah itself (Leviticus 16), we are told that we must have the priest present a peculiar offering; namely, the 2 goats. One animal, called the Chatat/Sin Offering, was to be brought before the priest who in turn would lay his hands on the goat as he confessed the sins of Israel. After the confession, the goat was then slain as a symbolic atonement for the sins of the nation. The second goat has quite a different task. As the priest prayed over this animal, it was then set aside and not to be killed. In contrast to the sin offering goat, this second goat was then to be set free in the wilderness. It was fittingly called the Azazel or”scapegoat” in that it escaped while carrying away the sins of the people. In the Talmud we are told another fascinating detail about the scapegoat. It became a tradition in the days of the Temple to tie a crimson red thread to the horns of the goat to illustrate the darkness of sin. Yet we are told that every year the thread of the scapegoat turned from crimson to white to clearly show that the sins of the people had been forgiven. This was interpreted as a fulfillment of the verse in Isaiah 1:18 “though your sins be a scarlet they shall be white as snow.”
For hundreds of years, generation after generation, the ceremony of the crimson thread was fulfilled. That is, until one somber Yom Kippur day in the first century AD. In the Talmud it states “During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the lot for the Lord did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white” (Tractate Yoma 39b). This is an astounding statement when one realizes that the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The thread stopped turning white some 40 years previous, meaning around 30 AD. Up until that time God had consistently given a sign of forgiveness to our people. But something happened around 30 AD that changed things. Call it a coincidence that at that very time a man came to Israel named Yeshua claiming to be our long-awaited Messiah. He lived a perfect life and yet died at that time as an atonement for the sins of Israel and indeed the whole world. If it is true that He paid the full price for us, it makes perfect sense why the crimson thread never changed again. There was no longer a need for the scapegoat of Yom Kippur because Yeshua of Nazareth completed the work. This incident with the goat was such a dramatic sign that it is recorded in Jewish tradition. As believers in Yeshua (both Jews and Gentiles), may we have a fresh vision of what God has done for us this High Holy Day season. It is my prayer that as we enter the Days of Awe, many of our people will consider Godâ€™s sign on Yom Kippur. Lâ€™Shana Tova Tikateyvu!