We have now reached one of the most significant periods of the Scriptural year – the period also known as the Ten Days of Awe – the ten days between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur. The blowing of the shofars on Yom Teruah (The Feast of Trumpets) was, among other things, a wake-up call to look into our own hearts, to remember our ways and our words and our attitudes and our thoughts of the past year and to get ready to be reconciled with Yahweh, our Maker and our Redeemer. “Kippur” or reconciliation is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It needs to happen on a regular basis. That is why Yahweh wants us to observe a feast year after year, called Yom Kippur. That is why the word “reconciliation” starts with “re–”: It is in the nature of our human existence that atonement should happen again and again. We need to move forward continuously to that point where we find ourselves in the right standing with Yahweh. And when we do or say things that make us fall back from that position, we need to start the whole process again. Yahweh’s forgiveness is perfect, but his forgiveness is not a license to sin again. Yahweh’s favour and mercy is everlasting and limitless, but favour does not cancel out the need for forgiveness. Y’shua died to take the punishment for our sins upon Him, but that can never mean that we should stop looking for restoration and wholeness in our relationship with Yahweh. There is a prayer for Yom Kippur that illustrates this point very clearly:
“We turn to You once more to cry out our longing and the longing of all men and women for a beginning of that wholeness we call peace.”
There is another prayer called “Sim Shalom” (“Grant us peace”) that is sometimes recited during Yom Kippur. The words (slightly changed, to include the Father’s Name) are as follows:
Let us live in peace, Yahweh. Let children live in peace, in homes free from brutality and abuse. Let them go to school in peace, free from violence and fear. Let them play in peace, Yahweh, in safe parks, in safe neighborhoods; watch over them. Let husbands and wives love in peace, in marriages free from cruelty. Let men and women go to work in peace, with no fears of terror or bloodshed. Let us travel in peace; protect us, Yahweh, in the air, on the seas, along whatever road we take. Let nations dwell together in peace, without the threat of war hovering over them. Help us, Yahweh. Teach all people of all nations and faiths, in all the countries all over the world to believe that the peace that seems so far off is in fact within our reach. Let us all live in peace, Yahweh. And let us say, Ahmain.
The connection between “kippur” (atonement) and “shalom” (wholeness or peace) is obvious. Shalom without Kippur is not possible. Wholeness implies restoration. Something that was broken cannot become whole or fixed, by itself. It needs to be repaired. It needs to be restored to its original form and shape and condition. That is why atonement is needed for shalom to be achieved. It is not optional. It is a necessity that cannot be escaped. While looking ahead to Yom Kippur today, we can think about the words of the Sim Shalom prayer above. Don’t we need atonement for those homes where children have been abused and brutalized? And for those schools and so-called safe parks and protected neighborhoods where children and young girls have been exposed to violence and fear? What about reconciliation in our marriages and homes and families – where cruelty and distrust have crept in between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between siblings and between families and in-laws? And do we not need restoration and forgiveness in our areas of work where suspicion and jealousy and gossip have created an environment that is broken and incomplete? Is it not true that our own country is very far from the point of wholeness and reconciliation? We sometimes boast about our wonderful rainbow nation, but most of the times this rainbow has a distorted shape, and thereby completely lost its beauty and attractiveness. Has the time not come for us to intercede for this nation of ours – and to pray especially that Yahweh will once again restore person to person, neighborhood to neighborhood and community to community – that He will make us whole again as a nation and cause us to return to Him, wholeheartedly? Indeed, the shalom that seems so far off, is in fact within our reach – at least within reach of those who acknowledge the need for reconciliation and also acknowledge the fact that only Yahweh can give it to us.
The word “shalom” has become almost a household word among those who love Israel and keep the Shabbat. Most people assume that the word “shalom” simply means “peace”. The fact is, it means much more than peace. A much better translation of the Hebrew idea of shalom is “wholeness” and “completeness”. In the Hebraic way of thinking, wholeness is the combining together of opposites. That’s why in Israel people would say “shalom” when they greet friends and then would use the same word when they wish them farewell. In the most opposite of situations (coming and going) they use the same word, “shalom.” Coming and going is linked together. When I come from somewhere, I am going to someplace else. It is only when I make the connection between these two opposite actions, that I feel “wholeness,” and can therefore also experience peace. So, when I come across a man and wish him “shalom”, it is my wish for him not to feel disconnected because he is a newcomer, or because he had to leave another place to arrive here. My wish for him is that he would continue to walk in wholeness and a mindset of peace. Shalom is the most radical union of opposites imaginable. Shalom brings together people who disagree with each other so that each will listen deeply to the “other” side. It is the people you do not agree with who have the greatest gift for you – the gift of the potential for wholeness. Shalom also joins together the most extreme and contrasting emotions and experiences and life-changing events – in a way that restores within us the quality of wholeness and completeness.
To illustrate this rather unknown meaning of “shalom”, let us look at the well-known Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) 3, known to us all as the chapter in Scriptures that teaches that there is a time for everything. In chapter 3, verse 8, it says: “There is a time of war and a time of peace” (“shalom”). In this verse, the word “shalom” seems to indicate simply the absence of war, in other words, peace in the general sense of the word. But in the chapter as a whole, we find a long list of opposites, and the idea of this entire chapter is to help us cope with these opposites in our lives. So, one verse only (verse 8) is about shalom in the narrow sense of the word (the absence of war). But the chapter as a whole is about shalom in the deeper sense of the word – the bringing together of opposites and the ability to find wholeness between these extremes. How do we find peace in the knowledge of the shortness of life – the fact that there is a time to be born and a time to die? How do we cope when we realize that there is a time to break down and a time to build up? How do we make the switch in our hearts when we realize that one moment it is a time to laugh and the next, a time to weep, or that one moment a time to dance and the next, a time to mourn? How do we connect the times of seeking and losing, the times of gathering and throwing away, the times of embracing and embarrassing? The answer has to do with shalom – finding again that wholeness that I believe was the essential element that Yahweh saw when He looked at Adam and Chawwah (Eve), having created them, and said, “Hinei tov” – Behold, it is good! Behold, there is a wholeness and completeness that will enable man to stand tall and to face life with all its opposites and contrasts – even the things that will not be easy to understand and to process.
Yom Kippur is putting before us the reality that Yahweh is set-apart, righteous and perfect and we, on the other hand, have done things whereby we have brought shame and guilt upon ourselves. YeshaYahu (Isaiah) 59:2 says our crookedness has separated us from our Elohim. So, we are standing on the opposite side from where we are supposed to stand. How can we be restored to Him again? How can we find wholeness and shalom again, in a situation like this? The answer is, only through Kippur. Only through atonement. And for us today, knowing about Y’shua, only through believing that it was for our sakes that He as the set-apart, righteous and perfect Lamb of Elohim, had to die and make atonement for us. What He did, was to provide a “kopher” (from the same root as the word “kippur”) for our trespasses. A cover, a ransom, a redemption price, a clean slate, a forgiveness that includes the elements of wiping-out and purification, a complete restoration of something that was broken. Nothing can be more contrasting than Yahweh in his faithfulness and man in his sinfulness. And nothing can be more rewarding than the shalom of Yahweh combining these two opposites and bringing about the wholeness without which we cannot find meaning in this life.