The Days of Awe are the week or so between Rosh Hashanna (Feast of Trumpets) and Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement). During this time many Jewish people begin to think about sin, forgiveness, and their relationship with God.
It is quite customary for people to apologize to one another, in particular for anything they might have done over the past year. When chatting, a common parting blessing is “G’mar chatima tova.” Literally, this means “final seal good,” but it when translated, the meaning is “May you be written in the Book of Life.”
Without even raising the subject, people are more sin conscious and more God conscious at this time of year. In the past I was often able to share with others by answering to this closing statement,” “thank you, I have one” (Todah, yesh li תודה רבה, יש לי—). But so far this year, I’ve not been able to.
The Day of Atonement can no longer be sacrificed as mandated Biblically. This leaves the Jewish people in a dilemma: is the Bible false? Are the rabbis correct and advising that prayer now replaces sacrifice? What if the Bible is true? How can I be forgiven?
Some religious Jewish people have a special ceremony sometime between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur. A white chicken is waved over one’s head three times while reciting a prayer. The chicken is then slaughtered according to Jewish law. If performed by the sea, the chicken is thrown into the sea. In some cases its monetary value is also donated to the poor. (For more information visit the Chabad website.)
But this does not replace the explicit demands of the law, does not give us a temple sacrifice, and even if it did, the sin is merely covered over for one year—not completely forgiven.
This year it seems like so much of my Bible reading has pierced my heart in new ways. An ongoing realization of the corruptness of sin and how it destroys us, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with God. I remain amazed at what God did for me through my savior and messiah Jesus. No amount of fasting or prayer can save me; no good deed or sacrifice on my part can save me.
It is only when we see our need that we realize how much we need a savior. In Jesus’ death and resurrection I have the perfect and final sacrifice. Truly salvation is free, but never cheap. Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel paid for all our sins on the cross. When Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was torn in two—from top to bottom—signifying a new entrance into the Holy Place to meet with God. Being perfect, fully human and fully divine, He did not stay dead, He was raised up from the dead.
I don’t hope to have my name written in the Book of Life, it is written there. And maybe that is why I find it difficult to answer, “Todah, yesh li.” It falls arrogant on my ears, and I do not want anyone to think I am proud of who I am. Rather, I am eternally grateful to God who has saved me, and given me a blessed eternal hope. He has made me right with Him and written me in His book. I am not better than the one extending this blessing to me, rather, I happen to already be forgiven. And so, this year, I pray for my friends, colleagues, people, and nation, that the day will come soon when the veil is removed from their eyes, and we can rejoice together in our common salvation.