The Appointed Times of YHVH—the Day of the Atonement
Ten days after the Day of the Trumpets, Yom Teruah, another appointed time of YHVH is set apart. This day known as the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, but more properly: Yom Kippurim. It is considered in Judaism (and rightly so) the holiest, that is the most set-apart day of the year. Why this day is given such a high status by the Rabbis, we will study in this article, but first let us keep on reading from Leviticus 23.
These are the appointed times of Yehovah, set-apart gatherings which you are to proclaim at their appointed times. (Lev 23:4)
On the tenth day of this seventh month is Yom haKippurim. It shall be a set-apart gathering for you. And you shall afflict your souls, and shall bring an offering made by fire to Yehovah. And you do no work on that same day, because it is Yom Kippurim, to make atonement for you before Yehovah your Elohim. For any soul who is not afflicted on that same day, he shall be cut off from his people. And any soul who does any work on that same day, that soul I shall cut off from his people. You do no work – a law forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It is Shabbat Shabbaton to you, and you shall afflict your souls. On the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you cease your Shabbat. (Lev 23:27-32)
Yom Kippur as the annual Shabbat of YHVH
On the tenth day of the seventh month the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is to be observed by a set-apart gathering and by afflicting the soul from the evening of the ninth until the evening of the tenth, by ceasing all work because this day is Shabbat Shabbaton. For the meaning of the phrase Shabbat Shabbaton, refer to the article “Shabbat Shabbaton, Shabbat Beloved.”
As we studied in the articles for the Shabbat and the Day of Trumpets, only the seventh day of the week and Yom Kippur are called Shabbat or Shabbat Shabbaton. No work is permitted on these days.
Not so for the rest of the appointed times. On them only work of servant is forbidden while cooking and other kinds of work for the preparation of holiday is permitted.
The disobedience to observe the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, of YHVH in a manner described in the Torah, leads to a cutting of that soul from his people.
We should note five key elements in the command of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur: (1) Yom Kippur is to be a set-apart meeting of all people before YHVH; (2) each one of the congregation of Israel (native and non-native) is to afflict his soul; (3) a peculiar offering is brought to YHVH on this day; (4) no work is to be done on Yom Kippur; it is Shabbat Shabbaton (5) Yom Kippur, is given to Israel to make atonement for the nation before YHVH.
Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, afflicting of the soul
The fasting commanded for this day, which we should note is the only fasting prescribed in the Torah, is directly connected with the signification of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur,. The Hebrew word which is commonly translated as to afflict or to humble, is עָנָה, anah, and from the context of its use in the Scripture it means to cause great unhappiness, distress, physical pain, or suffering.
There is great deal of debate among Messianic believers as to whether or not a fasting is commanded to be observed on that day. The opponents of the fasting stand on the position that no explicit command is given in Lev 23:27-32 to abstain from food on Yom Kippur.
The key word here to correctly understand the command concerning Yom Kippur, is עָנָה, anah. We read from Jewish Publication Society translation,
And He afflicted thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, … (Deu 8:3 JPS)
… I afflicted my soul with fasting; and my prayer, may it return into mine own bosom. (Psa 35:13 JPS)
From these two examples we see that the word עָנָה, anah, translated as “to afflict” couples with the words for hunger and fasting, hence we come to the understanding that anah has also to do not only with unhappiness, distress, or suffering, but with abstaining from food, as well. And indeed, fasting causes distress and suffering of the body, hence “to afflict the soul.”
But, the full meaning of this Hebrew word can be seen in the verse below where not only is anah coupled with abstaining from food, but also with “to bow down head” which in fact means “to humble.” We read,
Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? (Isa 58:5 JPS)
Therefore, to afflict one’s soul in the command of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, means to humble in humility and fast. This is achieved by restraining the earthly appetites of the body, which rest in the soul. By bowing his soul, the Israelite was to place himself in an inward relation to the sacrifice made on this day, whose soul was given for his soul.
How many times did Mosheh ascended the mountain?
With that being said, we may ask the question as to why Israel is called for a meeting before YHVH on this particular day, the tenth day of the seventh month, which is considered the most set-apart day of the year?
In order to answer this question, we need go back to Mount Sinai, where the Covenant of YHVH was revealed to Israel, and follow the course of events:
On the seventh day of the third month, on the first day of the week, which later would become the Feast of the Weeks or Shavuot, YHVH called Mosheh up to the mountain to give him the tablets of stone with the Covenant written on them. (For more on the chronology of the events of the Exodus from Egypt refer to Chapter The First Year at Mount Sinai from the present author’s book Reckoning of Time and also to the articles Israel’s Whoring in Egypt and Will All Israel Return)
On the seventeenth day of the fourth month, Mosheh returned to the camp after he was with the Creator forty days and nights. Mosheh descended from Mount Sinai to the camp to see that Israel had already broken the Covenant by having made an image of the invisible Elohim. In his anger, he broke the tablets of the Covenant into pieces (Exo_32:19-20).
On the eighteenth day he burned the golden calf and judged the sinners as about three thousand men fell that day. That day was a Shabbat.
What did actually happen in the camp while Mosheh was on the mountain?
The people went before Aharon and demanded to make an idol that would lead them to the Promised Land. Their concern was that Mosheh would not come down from the mountain. They made a golden calf presented to the people by Aharon as Ela Elohecha Israel, “This is the El of Israel,” which they believed would lead them to the land. By saying “This is the El of Israel,” Aharon defined YHVH as being ‘This’ which concretizes and makes El tangible or a single entity.
To make the Creator of the universe tangible, as the heathens do to their “deities,” is by definition the essence of idolatry.
Which Commandment did the Israelites break and why?
Now, the molten calf incident has led some scholars to believe and teach that the Israelites made an image of Hathor, the Egyptian cow-faced goddess. However, that might have not been the case. We need to know that every time the ancient Hebrews wrote the name El (God) in the ancient Hebrew pictographs, they saw before them a picture of an ox.
The word El in the ancient Hebrew pictographs is written with the letters alef and lammed, hence El. Alef is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and its pictograph depicts a head of an ox. Elef (written identically) also means an ox. The pictograph of the letter lammed depicts a shepherd staff; combined alef and lammed depicts one of power and authority, since an ox is a powerful animal. Hence, El is usually translated as “God” but more literally “one of power and authority.
For more information on the location of the image above, refer to the article “Where is the Real Mount Sinai?“
Thus, when the children of Israel made the golden calf, they might have attempted to depict El in a tangible way using the symbol of an ox, which for them must have been the most natural way to refer to their Elohim. Therefore, they did not violate the first commandment in the Covenant which states, “I am YHVH Your Elohim… You shall not have other elohim against My face”, as many today accuse Israel, but the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness…”
Why did they do that?
The golden calf sin originated when the children of Israel were so scared of the grandeur of YHVH’s presence on Mount Sinai that they chose not to continue to listen to and said to Mosheh “You speak with us and we hear, but let not Elohim speak with us, lest we die” (Exo 20:19). That was their grave error.
If they had chosen just to continue to listen to what YHVH commanded Mosheh, they would have heard the warning in Exo_20:23 , “You do not make besides Me gods of silver, and you do not make gods of gold for yourselves”, and would not have sinned by having made a gold image of YHVH. Nevertheless, what they did was a grievous sin.
On the next day [the 19th] Mosheh ascended early in the morning that he might atone for the sin of the children of Israel,
And it came to be on the next day that Mosheh said to the people, You, you have sinned a great sin. And now I am going up to Yehovah, if I might atone for your sin. (Exo 32:30)
That was his second ascending to the top of the mountain. He spent another forty days and forty nights with wrath of El with no bread nor water begging for mercy until the 29th of the fifth month when he descended to the camp.
It is not arbitrary to say that those forty days and forty nights Mosheh was begging for mercy for his people, because very clearly he told the new generation forty years later that he prostrated himself before YHVH forty complete days: I fell down before Yehovah the forty days and forty nights. It is important to note this in order to distinguish these forty days from the rest.
On the thirtieth day of the fifth month, Mosheh ascended early in the morning Mount Sinai with new tablets for other forty days and forty nights (Deu_10:3-5) after he made an ark of acacia wood for the broken tablets, as commanded by YHVH. He went up to the mountain and prayed before YHVH for forgiveness of Israel’s sin (Exo_34:1-9).
He spent as at the first forty days and forty nights with no bread, nor water (Deu_9:18). Note the words Mosheh used: as at the first, forty days and forty nights and that time once more:
And I took the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes, and I fell down before Yehovah, as at the first, forty days and forty nights. I did not eat bread and I did not drink water, because of all your sins which you committed in doing evil in the eyes of Yehovah, to provoke Him. Because I was afraid of the displeasure and rage with which Yehovah was wroth with you, to destroy you. But Yehovah listened to me that time once more. (Deu 9:17-19)
That was his third ascending. Because of the supplications, YHVH renewed the Covenant with Israel and wrote on these tablets the Words that were on the first tablets; and Mosheh spent another forty days and forty nights there in reconciliation (Exo_34:10-28). We read,
And I stayed in the mountain for forty days and forty nights. And Yehovah heard me at that time also, and Yehovah chose not to destroy you. (Deu 10:10)
Below are Rashi’s comments on the above passage in Deu_9:17-19,
As it says, “And now I will go up to the Lord, perhaps I will atone [for the golden calf]”. At that ascent, I stayed there forty days; consequently, these ended on the twenty-ninth of Av (5th month), since he [Moses] ascended on the eighteenth of Tammuz (4th month). On the same day, God was reconciled with Israel and He said to Moses, “Hew for yourself two tablets” (Exo_34:1). He [Moses] remained there another forty days; consequently, these ended on Yom Kippur [the tenth of Tishri]. On that very day, the Holy One, blessed is He, was joyfully reconciled with Israel, and He said to Moses, “I have forgiven according to your words” (Num_14:20). Therefore [Yom Kippur] was designated [as a day] for pardon and forgiveness. And from where do we know that [God] was reconciled [with Israel] in complete acceptance? Because it says referring to the forty [days] of the later tablets, “And I remained on the mountain as the first days” (Deu_10:10). Just as the first [forty days] were with [God’s] good will, so too, the last [forty days] were with [God’s] good will. We may now deduce that the intermediate [forty days] were with [God’s] anger. — [Seder Olam , ch. 6]
On the tenth of the seventh month YHVH was appeased and He forgave. Thus, on the tenth day of the seventh month the third period of forty days of reconciliation ended.
Thus, we see, Mosheh ascended three times to the top of the mountain and was with YHVH hundred and twenty days: three forty-day periods.
So, let us summarize what took place from the giving of the Covenant at Mount Sinai on:
(1) On the 7th of the third month, Mosheh went up onto the mountain. On the 17th of the fourth month, the tablets were broken. On the 18th, Mosheh burned the Golden Calf and judged the transgressors.
(2) On the 19th of the fourth month, he went up for a second set of forty days and pleaded for mercy.
(3) On the 30th of the fifth month, he went up to receive the second tablets, and was there for a third set of forty days until the 10th of the seventh month, YHVH by His mercy restored His goodwill with Israel and gave the people the Second Set of Tablets. This day would become later Yom Kippur.
Therefore, Mosheh spent three sets of forty days each, or total of a hundred and twenty days with YHVH: from the Day of Shavuot until the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
When were the laws of the Torah given?
After the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, we see that Yithro, that is Jethro, came into the camp of Israel to meet his son-in-law Mosheh. Yithro rebuked Mosheh for taking the whole burden of judgement on his shoulders. Mosheh explained what he was doing thus,
when they have a matter, it cometh unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws. (Exo 18:16 JPS)
In Mosheh’s answer we see a new element: ‘the laws.’
We should note that the coming of Yithro into the camp is not written in chronological order and its place should be after Mosheh’s return with the second set of tablets, since the statutes had not been possibly given before the revelation at the mountain. And from the time that the laws were given on the mountain until Yom Kippur, Mosheh did not have the chance to sit down to judge the people, as seen from the chronology of the events.
The understanding of the present author is that the laws in the Book of Leviticus, concerning how Israel can come in the presence of YHVH, were given because of the golden calf sin. And indeed, the nature of these laws and the appointed times is to teach Israel how to come near to their Creator when they have sinned unintentionally.
The reason being is that there is no single sacrifice in the Torah for intentional sin; all of the sacrifices brought before YHVH are for unintentional sins only, that is, sins done by mistake or lack of knowledge. And if there is no single law in the Torah to atone intentional sin, then the sacrifices for the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are sacrifices for unintentional sin. By the same token, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is constituted for atoning of unintentional sins.
If the present author is correct, then we may say that YHVH had considered the golden calf sin unintentional, that is Israel had erred because of disbelief in the words of Mosheh that he would return and lead the nation to the land. Had they broken the First commandment, that would have been considered a deliberate violation of the Covenant.
This comes to teach us not to judge the Israelites presumptuously, but to remember that they were slaves in Egypt. They did not have what we do today: Bibles to learn from.
In other words, had they worshipped the Egyptian deity Hathor, as many unfairly accuse them today, that would have been considered a violation of the First commandment and a deliberate act of defiance against their Savior, and then a wrath of a full proportion could have been expected.
But because they erred by having miscalculated the day of Mosheh’s return, as explained in the aforementioned chapter, and because of little faith they had, they sinned with the golden calf idol.
Also, had they not transgressed with the golden calf idol, there would have been no need for the laws given with the Renewed Covenant at Mosheh’s third ascend.
It seems like that was the understanding of Apostle Shaul when he wrote in Gal_3:19 that the law was added because of the transgressions:
Why, then, the Torah?
It was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come to whom the promise was made. And it was ordained through messengers in the hand of a mediator.
Again, the laws and statutes of the Torah were given with the new tablets of the Covenant.
What transgressions had Israel done between the revelation at Mount Sinai and the tenth day of the seventh month? The golden calf sin.
The leader sinned first and atoned first
So, the day when Mosheh returned to the camp after he was with YHVH the last forty days and forty nights was called the Day of Atonement, Heb. Yom Kippur, for the sole reason that YHVH heard Mosheh at that time also, and he chose not to destroy the people (Deu 10:10) because Mosheh atoned for their sin (Exo 32:30).
But, the sin of the nation could not have possibly atoned, if the sin of the main perpetrator was not atoned in the first place—that of Aharon.
We see this when Mosheh said (after the golden calf sin) in Lev_9:7, that Aharon was to make atonement for himself and the nation with his sin-offering and burnt-offering. This atonement for his own sin came immediately after the consecration of Aharon and his sons as priests of YHVH,
And Mosheh said unto Aharon: ‘Draw near to the altar, and offer your sin-offering, and your burnt-offering, and make atonement for yourself, and for the people; and present the offering of the people, and make atonement for them; as YHVH commanded.’ Lev 9:7
This referred not only to the sins the people had committed, but also to the guilt which the High Priest, as the head of the whole congregation, had brought upon the nation by his own sin. We read,
if the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer for his sin, which he has sinned, a young bullock without blemish to Yehovah for a sin-offering. (Lev 4:3)
So Aharon came near to the alter and slew the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself (for the golden calf sin) (Lev_9:8)
Therefore, the purpose of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is that on that day YHVH makes atonement for Israel, to cleanse, to clean from all their sins which they committed:
And this shall be for you a law forever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you afflict your beings, and do no work, the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. Because on that day he makes atonement for you, to cleanse you, to be clean from all your sins before Yehovah. It is Shabbat Shabbaton for you, and you shall afflict your souls – a law forever. (Lev 16:29-31)
That is why the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is considered the most set-apart day of the year, because on it YHVH cleansed the nation from the sin of the golden calf.
We will finish this study as we will quote the Sages from Midrash Tanchuma. We read,
A maid’s child once dirtied the royal palace. Said the king: “Let his mother come and clean up her child’s filth.” By the same token, G-d says: “Let the Heifer atone for the deed of the Calf.”
We will learn more about the sacrifices done on Yom Kippur when we come to the next article “The Appointed Times of YHVH—Day of Atonement and the Messiah.”
This article is a part of series of articles dedicated to the Appointed Times of YHVH and how His Messiah Yeshua has fulfilled them. For the rest of the set-apart days of the Creator, please, visit The Appointed Times of YHVH.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.