A special Day of Atonement
Each week I really don’t know what I’m going to share with you as a word of encouragement until it happens. There is usually a pivotal experience that occurs that guides me as to what the message is to be. This week, however, the most striking event that I knew was to occur did not seem to be one I wanted to discuss since I was struggling with it myself, let alone I could not at first blush think of it as an encouragement to others.
Last week I reminded us that even when we make wrong choices, HaShem will use these to teach us and to help us grow in our walk with Him. My bad choice this week was that for reasons that are not really justifiable, but unfortunately are a reality, I was going to have to miss services on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our year. Yes, I was there for the evening services on Erev Yom Kippur, but here I sit at this moment on Wednesday morning on a 6 ½ hour flight to Los Angeles. The good news is I will be fasting and not working. The bad news is I am not with my Ruach community which is where I belong.
So I was still fighting the thought that somehow this situation was supposed to be what my message was about this week. Inescapable thoughts kept coming to me of why I should share my misstep as part of this week’s encouragement, despite my personal embarrassment and feeling sinful by not being at Ruach for services. Could it really be that my personal stumble on such a holy day had a redemptive purpose? Well so it seems. . .
First, do not take away from this writing that it is okay to miss services on Yom Kippur, or generally, for it is not. But given the long flight to California providing hours for prayer and contemplation and the timing that my break fast would be the dinner on Wednesday evening before my presentation at the conference on Thursday, I do believe HaShem is making some lemonade of my lemons.
I had decided that although I couldn’t pray in community, at least I would pray individually so Rabbi Rich was kind enough to allow me to borrow a Yom Kippur Shacharit Machzor to use on the flight. Despite my disappointment at missing services, I was looking forward to studying the Machzor as I thought about being up in the clouds, feeling close to HaShem, praying on this Holy Day. As the plane took off and we lifted into the air, I closed my eyes and prayed to God to forgive me for not being at Yom Kippur services today, to accept my prayers, to know my heart, to see my weaknesses, to feel my love, to see and forgive my sins. And as the plane soared, so did the words I opened my eyes to take on an even deeper fullness of meaning:
“God has spoken to us at last,
Now in the end of days,
By the Messiah, the Son of God,
Whom God appointed the heir of all things
And through whom he made the universe.
The Son is the full radiance of God’s glory
And the flawless manifestation of God’s reality.
He sustains all things by his word
Full of power.
After he made atonement for sins
He sat down in the place of authority
Beside the Majesty in heaven.”
Our need for Yeshua, especially on this day of admission of our sinful nature, filled my heart and gave me comfort that my human failings on this Holy Day were forgiven, the point driven home profoundly as I read these words as a direct response at that precise moment to my seeking His forgiveness. Our Abba gave me even deeper clarity as to how forgiveness is obtained through Yeshua in these days, and especially on this Holy Day, how blessed we are to know the Son. We read these words at each of our services. And yet by that being what I was reading as I was focused on my sin on this Day of Atonement, it was revealed how deeply we, on behalf of our people, and we, as individuals gain atonement through our Messiah. While our mainstream Jewish brothers and sisters seek forgiveness personally and corporately on this Day of Atonement, we as Messianic Jews have a poignantly intimate as well as corporate relationship with Yeshua who took on all of humanity’s sins, atoning for all. On Yom Kippur, we participate in this holy drama, personally and corporately, in a profound way. And I must say, the personal piece of feeling the closeness of Yeshua at that precise moment, especially for me this year, was inescapable. He met me where I was. I saw our need for Him in these days more deeply than I had before. The oft spoken words were viscerally brought to life. A powerful, pointed, and personal reminder.
I suppose an even worse choice I could have made was to say that if I couldn’t be at services, oh well, attending Tuesday evening was good enough. Why try at all since I couldn’t be at Ruach on Wednesday? But instead, I tried a next best approach, praying the Yom Kippur Machzor individually, and God met me where I was, big time. How often we can become discouraged when we feel striving to honor our covenant with HaShem is too hard so we don’t even try. Or we already blew it, so why try? On Yom Kippur, is it not better to fast even in part, or try again, than to take an all-or-nothing approach if we have a moment of weakness during the day? Similarly, keeping kosher is not an easy task but it is far better to try by taking little steps in that direction, for our Abba will help us move closer to Him as we strive to honor this covenantal obligation. Is it better to not eat shellfish as a start than to not try at all, assuming our desire is to live more deeply in covenant with HaShem? The choices I made to resolve the dilemma of missing services shed light on the value of avoiding all-or-nothing thinking and enabled me to see God’s grace meeting us where we are through Yeshua.
On Tuesday, HaShem had affirmed for me that the lessons in my struggle were to be shared for the sake of the resulting insights that were revealed. After those services one of our congregants was telling me that he and his wife had actually started down the road of keeping kosher a couple years ago, and how meaningful it has been, how much easier it has become over time. He reiterated that the process has been gradual, step by step, each progressing toward a deeper relationship with Ha Shem and what a difference it has made in their lives. And these were cheeseburger lovers in the day! An affirmation of this week’s message. So much better to try, to pray, to become more observant, to work toward a more intimate closeness, than not to try at all under the self-defeating all-or-nothing mentality we often fall victim to so easily. Truthfully, when we give these holy challenges our effort, when we try to observe our covenantal obligations, our Abba will always take it from there, as a father leads his child, so He meets us and brings us to Him step by step. How sweetly we feel the intimacy of Yeshua as we walk alongside His holiness. A lesson to me as well to be careful to not let my human editing and self-doubting tendencies get in the way, even when it seems difficult, and to listen, listen, listen.
So I’m off to continue davening this morning, in spirit with my Ruach community, intimately with our Abba through Yeshua. As I was able to move to a window seat (thank you, HaShem), and as I gaze at the stunning clouds set against the bluest sky, I do feel close to Him, so close. Although not a perfect solution and lacking the depth of the community experience I missed, nevertheless, I feel God’s grace for my less than perfect choice. And I will do my penance as my fast will be three hours longer for I am flying to the Pacific time zone, and thus, I have a longer day of fasting. Perhaps a slight admonishment as part of His forgiving love.