Thoughts on Yom Kippur
There once came before the Rabbi a man whose life, having been marked with many sins, wished to make repentance. He sought direction in ordering whatever acts might be necessary for a complete return.
Rabbi Elimelekh consented and told the man that first he would have to liquidate all his assets. The furniture, the jewelry, the real estate, the inheritance. And with everything thus converted into cash he was to come back. Only then would the Rabbi help him to make repentance. The man did so and stood now with everything he owned as a pile of money on the table in front of the sage. It was a great liquid fortune. The bills were paid. The last links severed.
“Now we are ready to begin to order the repentance. Write for us,” asked Elimelekh, “all you sins and evil doings and transgressions on a sheet of paper and give it to me.”
Again, the man did as he was told and Elimelekh then began to read the confession aloud. The man was overcome by the weight of his own shame and guilt but the Rabbi read on. After a short time even the Rabbi seemed shocked by the enormity of the sins and himself cried out in pain. “How could one do such things?” The man swooned and fell to the floor unconscious. But Elimelekh revived him and went on with the reading. Again the sage cried out in astonishment and again the man collapsed at the recounting of his own wickedness, only to be reawakened by the sage. This crying out in disbelief and fainting and reviving went on seven times during the reading of the list.
When at last the ordeal was completed, Rabbi Elimelekh shook his head. “For sins as grave as these there can be but one atonement: death. Such would have been the verdict of the High Court when the Temple still stood. The means for such an execution is burning.”
And the Rabbi then explained how such a capital punishment was to be carried out according to ancient legal tradition. They would take molten lead and pour it down the throat, thus burning the condemned man from the inside. But even when the man heard this, his desire to make repentance was so great that he willingly accepted the verdict and with trembling, the punishment. “I will do whatever must be done.”
He took a few coins from the pile of money before him and bought a metal spoon, some tin (for the flux), and some lead. He then returned to the Rabbi’s house. There Elimelekh told him to make the fire and melt the tin and the lead in the spoon, being careful to see to it that they were properly mixed. The man did all this with complete devotion.
And when he reported the smelting done, the Rabbi asked him to lay himself on the floor and put on a blindfold. Rabbi Elimelekh then had him recite the final confession which the man did with a broken heart and great trembling. He took upon himself full responsibility for his sins and their punishment. He recited the six words of the Shema, the declaration of God’s unity.
“Now open your mouth so that I may pour the molten lead down your throat…” At that instant, the Rabbi took instead a spoonful of marmalade and put it in the man’s open mouth.
“You have made full atonement. Now get up, stand on your feet, serve the One whose Name is blessed, for you are another being. Take this money on the table and use it as a righteous man …”
The Scriptures teach that every word we speak and every choice we make…everything we do are meticulously written and recorded in the scrolls of heaven and one day these scrolls will be opened as a testimony about what we did with our lives (Daniel 7:10; Matt 12:36-37; 1 Cor 3:13, 4:5). Just like the man who went to the rabbi for help and he listed all of his sins and sat there and listened to them all. He fainted at the sound of his choices and life’s actions.
There is a day of reckoning in store for every one of us. The Apostle John said this in the book of Revelations:
“And I saw the dead, both the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which was the Book of Life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” – Rev 20:12.
The truth about our lives will be an “open book” that day….and every word, every deed…will be accounted for before HaShem.
Now, I don’t know about you, but humbles me. When I spoke to you on Erev Rosh HaShannah, I mentioned how we need to let go and repent of the “secret” things we hold onto in our lives. We need to turn over every single part of our lives to Hashem. We can’t hold on to those sins in our lives that we just so love to have. We can’t say to God that we’ll obey everything and anything He wants us to do, while holding an area of our lives apart from that statement. We can’t say we’ll obey everything He wants us to do…except for one thing. No, He wants 100% of our lives.
And repentance, true repentance comes with a brokenness, with a regret and forsaking of our sins. Like the man who went before the rabbi and was so intent on repenting and was so overcome with guilt that he passed out form it several times…we too…have to have that brokenness…regret and forsaking of our sins.
In these High Holy Days that we are in, we go through this season with the theme of repentance and turning back to God and then we have a party at the end. During this time we are looking back at our past…reflecting on our actions…crying out for forgiveness. Then we look forward to the future…to the day when we will all stand before the Holy One and give account for our actions. All of our deeds will be read from the Heavenly scrolls.
We also look forward to the day that He will reign from Jerusalem as the King over all the earth. However, we must not forget the middle part. The middle part being our life. The here and now.
I wear a bracelet….that I’ve worn for years. On it is the Hebrew word “Emet”…which means “truth.” I wear it for several reasons, but one is what I’m talking about right now. It uses a bit of gematria.
In Hebrew the word “Emet” or “truth” contains the First, middle and last letters in the Hebrew Alef-bet. In that exact order. The first and last letters of the Alef-bet are Alef-Tav..the beginning and the end. They encompass all of the letters…they encompass all things. The rabbis use “Alef-Tav” for that purpose. When you learn Hebrew, you are told that “Alef-Tav” or the word “Et” has no meaning in English…it can’t be translated. In a way…that’s true, but not completely. The rabbis sometimes use it for the purpose of “encompassing all things.” In other words, “all that was, all that is, all that will be.”
We use it in our liturgy, “Barchu et Adonai hamvorach” “Bless the L-rd, who is Blessed.” It has that “et” in there…the Alef-tav. Bless all that was, all that is, all that ever will be the L-rd. Bless all that He is.
The first sentence in the Torah, in Hebrew:
“Bereshit bara elohim et hashamayim ve’et haaretz”
“In the beginning God created et hashamayim ve’et haaretz.”
“In the beginning God created et the Heavens and et the earth.”
“In the beginning God created all that was, all that is, all that ever will be the Heavens, and all that was, all that is, all that will be the earth.”
In other words, when God crated, He created everything that was, is and ever will be. It created it all. He is the author of creation.
Yeshua said in the book of Revelation that He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega (Greek Alphabet)…in Hebrew He is the Alef-Tav. He is saying He encompasses all things.
Agree with me or not…this will make you think a little bit.
But if we remove the first letter of “Emet”…the Alef…we are left with the Hebrew word “met” which means “death”.
The alef we remove from the word “Emet” or “truth” represents oneness and the pre-eminent glory of God. The Hebrew word “Echad” or “one” begins with Alef. “Echad” means more than just “one”…it stands for God’s supremeness…He is the only God. So if we remove the Alef…ignore ignore or suppress God in our understanding of “truth” we end up with death.
The Tav, the last letter of the Alef-bet has a numerical value of 400. 400 years the children of Israel where in the land of Egypt as slaves.
In Rabbis teach that the letter Tav represents the word “Emit” or “Truth”. Why does the last letter of the word represent the word instead of the first letter? Well…I’m glad you asked! The rabbis teach that we often doen’t know the full truth of a matter until we have fully investigated it…until the end of our journey.
The mem, the middle letter in the Alef-bet….which is my whole point here…what I’m getting at….has a numberical value of 40. 40 is the number of testing (Yeshua was tested for 40 days) and is also the number of days that Noah was in the ark, and “mem” is also representative of “water”, the Hebrew word for water is “Mayim.” Water is what we use in the mikvah and it cleanses us. Mem, thereore, tests us, judges us (like the flood), and is our deliverance in Messiah (which also starts with mem).
So the Mem is the middle….the part between the beginning and the end…the part between our birth and death…the part where “life” happens. It’s where the rubber meets the road, where what we do maters. How you live your life defines the “Emit” or “Truth” about your life.
If you are ever contemplating “life”…our days between the beginning and the end, the book of Ecclesiastes is a great place to camp out for a while. The full theme of the book is the “shortness of life.” And nothing makes this more clear to us than the High Holy Days….when we are examining our past while looking forward to the future…and not forgetting the middle…life.
In a few days, we will build sukkahs. A sukkah, as we know, is suppose to be obviously temporary….and most importantly…the roof must have an opening to see the night sky. This is the whole point of Ecclesiastes…our life in these bodies is a temporary dwelling for our souls. When we look up through our sukkah and see the night sky…we are reminded of our permanent dwelling in God’s presence.
The most common word used in the book of Ecclsiastes is “Vanity” or in Hebrew “Havel.” Havel can also be translated as “breathe” and “nothingness.” This can help us better understand what the writer of Ecclesiasties is saying when he says:
“Vanity of vanities,” says Koheleth, “Vanity of vanieties! All if vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2
To understand this, we have to understand the word “Vanity” in Hebrew. Let us use the other meaning of “havel”, “Breathe.” When its cold outside and you breath out into the cold air with your mouth…we understand this in Colorado…you see a mist cloud briefly. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it’s gone. That’s “havel.” That’s the “vaity” the book is about. The breath you breath out seems like something of substance for a brief moment in time. The next moment it’s gone as if it never existed.
“…what is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little while and then is gone.” – James 4:14
So this is one of the meanings of the High Holy Days. We are here on this earth for only a brief moment. Our bodies are temporary; yet our soul is eternal. Even though we know this life is temporary, we treat it as if it is not. We treat it as if it will last forever. It’s only when we look up through the roof of the sukkah we’ve built to the sky that we are reminded of the temporal. We are reminded of the Most High.
So, why am I not giving this message during Sukkot? Tonight is the beginning of Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. What usually comes to our minds when we realize that our time on earth is short? That we’ll be standing before the Throne of the Ancient of Days soon enough? What have we done with our lives? We’ve got to give account for it.
When you’re young, time seems like it drags on and on. But when you’re older, time flies. Before you know it, you wake up and you’re 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70. What are you doing with your “middle”…with you’re time between the beginning and the end?
Are you serving HaShem or are you serving your own desires? Our time here on earth is a testing ground, a time to make things really count.
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes finishes up his book with this:
“A final word, when all has been heard: Fear God and keep His commandments! For this applies to all mankind. God will bring every deed into judgment, including everything that is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” – Eccl 12:13 & 14
The Master echoes this in Luke 8:17:
For nothing is hidden that will not be made known, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light
So here is my whole entire point tonight. Our lives on earth, our “mem”, our “middle” is short. We are all a puff of smoke that is here for a moment, and then one day, its all over…we’re no longer here. We’ll stand before the throne and the scroll of our life will be unrolled. All of our deeds will be read. All of our secrets known. Will you be like the man in the parable at the beginning…and faint from your shame and guilt? Or will you be able to say you made your life…your “mem”…your “middle” count? Did you make it count for the Master? Did you live it for the Master?
We are all like that man in the parable at the beginning. We long to return to Him. And all of our evil deeds, our sins….our transgressions…the only punishment for such things is death. The Torah says so. But for us who are believers in Yeshua…He took it on for us…He erases from the scrolls our evil deeds. Instead of a spoonful of molten lead…He gives us a spoonful of marmalade jelly. And our names are written in the Book of Life.
But don’t stop there…..fill up the scroll about your life with deeds of serving Him. Fill them up with adventures of spreading the word about Him. Fill up the scrolls of Heaven with things that make Him smile….and instead of fainting…we can leap for joy. Amen!