Preparing for His Presence
The appointments which arrive in the Fall are the most important in the Jewish calendar. They are called the High Holy Days and include both the Feast of Trumpets, also known as the Jewish New Year, as well as the Day of Atonement.
Next month, we will take a deeper look at these important Biblical observances, but this month, let us consider together this traditional time of spiritual preparation preceding the High Holy Days and the Fall Feasts.
Get Ready, Get Set, Pray!
Preparation for the High Holy days of Trumpets and Atonement begins in the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar, Elul (corresponds to August or September on the Gregorian calendar). One of the customs is the reciting of Selichot, special prayers for forgiveness, which are also said on days of fasting. In the Sephardic (Spanish, Arabic) tradition, these prayers are said throughout the month; whereas in the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) tradition, the prayers are added to the morning services toward the end of the month. These prayers continue through the High Holy Days as individuals consider the profound issues of life and death, sin and forgiveness.
The significance given to these prayers in traditional Jewish thinking shows up in the three levels of forgiveness which people hope to attain. Traditionally, these three levels are identified by three Hebrew terms:selichah (pardon), mechilah (wiping away), and kapparah (atonement). They are all related to forgiveness, but each has its own shade of meaning.
In Israel, a common word for “pardon” or “excuse me” is selichah. This is the first step someone takes if a sin has been committed, whether against God or man. One asks for forgiveness, saying to the offended party, “I am sorry for what I did; I sincerely regret having done it, and will never do it again.” It is considered cruel to disbelieve a person’s sincere apology and not accept it.
Mechilah is usually translated as “wiping away” and it responds to the request, “can we normalize our relationship back as it was before I offended you?” At this level, the relationship gets a “reset button.” It is more difficult than selichah, but not impossible.
Kapparah is usually translated as “atonement,” (as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). This level is the deepest of all and deals with a person’s guilty conscience. It is recognized that only God can heal and comfort the conscience of a person. In traditional Jewish circles “Kapparah” completes this three-part process on Yom Kippur.
What can truly bring the deepest level of forgiveness between man and God? We remember how the Jewish people sinned at the giving of the law at Sinai when they created and worshipped a golden calf. Beginning in the month of Elul, Moses prayed to God for Israel’s spiritual restoration. God’s favorable response was to provide a new set of tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and to renew His Presence in the people’s midst. It is said by the sages that when Moses went up the second time to receive the two tablets, our people blew the shofar to remind themselves not to fall into idol worship ever again. Thus the shofar is also blown at the beginning of the month of Elul to remind us of our frailty and of how easy it is to stumble.
The New Covenant shows us that there is One who can fully forgive sins, even to the core of our being and to the cleansing and healing of our souls (Matthew 9:6).
How much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)
Our prayers are now of praise and thanksgiving. Because of His once-and-for-all atonement, there is never a need for any other offering for sin (Hebrews 10:18). As we confess our sins, it is Messiah’s atonement which is enough to enjoy the renewal of our souls before God (1 John 1:9).
In Messiah’s atonement, we have the grace of God to forgive one another for any offense done against us (Ephesians 4:32). Indeed, by that same grace we have in Messiah’s atonement, we can not only forgive but also comfort any who are guilt ridden by their consciences (2 Corinthians 2:7). In Messiah’s atonement is full forgiveness, not merely restoration to a previous relationship, but “forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18).
Therefore, let us be prepared, indeed! The Feast of Trumpets reminds us of the day when Messiah will return; let us prepare our hearts that we will not be “ashamed at His coming” (1 John 2:28). The Day of Atonement reminds us of the day when Israel will nationally trust in Messiah’s atonement, and therefore, will be restored back to God in service (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1). So let us plant those seeds of faith by sharing Yeshua with all we can, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. The Lord loves all people, even as the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that one day He will reign over all as He is glorified by all peoples (Zechariah 14:9).
As we approach the High Holy Days during this month of Elul, let us commit to pray not only that we would be prepared, but that in the true forgiveness which comes only through Messiah, Israel and all people will be prepared to meet with the Lord.
“Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:12).