Saturday, September 03, 2005

Day of Atonement

Leviticus 16:29-31 reads, "This shall remain for you an eternal decree: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and you shall not do any work, neither the native nor the proselyte who dwells among you. For on this day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins before Hashem shall you be cleansed."

The (written) Torah has six hundred and thirteen commandments, and when you take into account all of the details listed in the Oral Law, the Talmud, you get into the thousands. A Christian friend of mine, who happens to be a pastor, once told me that to worship G-d by keeping some thousand commandments would be overwhelming and that he was glad that G-d sent Jesus to die for his sins. He was glad that G-d is a G-d of grace and love, and not law; too bad he's only two-thirds right.

The Day of Atonement is the most somber day of the Jewish year for it is the day in which G-d peers into each person's "book," into his or her very deeds (and thoughts) and decides whether or not that person is written into the Book of Life. During that day, the person beckons with G-d to pardon his sins. The ten days before this are just as important, for in those ten days, a Jew must right all wrongs with the people that he knows or that he has harmed, and must ask forgiveness. After asking forgiveness from other people, he then asks G-d for forgiveness during the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.

This process makes a world of sense. At the end of a person's life, G-d opens up the individual's own personal book and peers into it. At this point, an elaborate process begins, a process that I am not qualified to expound upon, the process of judgment. In this vein, it would make sense that at the end of all of the Days of Atonement, at the end of life, G-d looks at the composition, the sum of the parts. If a person goes through a heart-felt and genuine atonement each year during Yom Kippur, and if one was able to make a spiritual flow chart of that person's committment to his t'shuva (repentance) each year, you would see a steadily growing improvement in the character of that person. The result of this would be less and less sin, and at the end of his physical life, G-d would be able to measure his steadily growing level of good deeds. Throw in G-d's mercy and you have a pretty good deal.

The Torah has a "no nonsense" approach to sin; you FEEL the effect of your sins, so you must stop DOING them, and with dedication and effort, supported by G-d's help, ANYBODY can succeed.

Moment of Atonement

When a person goes though the very spiritual and impactful ceremony of accepting that Jesus died for one's own salvation, he goes away feeling purified of his sin. He feels that his sin; past, present, and future, has been eternally nullified. As the days, weeks, months, and years go by, he begins to repeat some of the actions in which he was partaking before he made his acceptance, and after a while, he realizes that he has aqcuired more sin, and that it has again amassed. This realization forces him to re-committ and to correct the path that he previously began to walk down. He has already accepted Jesus, so can he now accept Jesus again? How is this different from the Jew's path? If the Christian has already accepted Jesus, must he accept him again for his new sins? If Jesus died once for all sins, then a Christian who has accepted him never needs to repent.

He has accepted that Jesus literally died for his sins, but in reality, and due to his finite mind, he cannot stop trying to avoid sin and still live a spiritually, ethically, and morally healthy life; he must set up a visible boundary between him and it. Perhaps I am in error when I say this, but it seems that a person who has just been "saved," feels that to be a renewal, as erasing his sins up to that point in his life. The fact that he continues to try to avoid sin is strong evidence that he somehow believes that if he commits more sins, they too will add up like the ones of old (and he is right). Right after being saved, he feels free, but as his experience moves from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind, his feeling of liberation becomes gradually replaced with obligation -- an obligation to avoid sin. This is healthy, because the crux of the nature of any relationship between humanity and G-d MUST be obligation, not freedom. This obligation is freedom.

It would be fallacious of me to say that, since a Christian believes that Jesus' erased all of his sins, that he now feels like he can do whatever he wants. Clearly a "saved Christian" feels bound to proper behavior and to avoidance of sin. Yet, if the atonement provided for Jesus' death was eternal and perpetual, the Christian would, in reality, be freed from the worry of sinning. This highlights a very pertinent point; even a saved person understands the effect of sin on his soul, which is a negative and plainly visible. Even a saved Christian understands that sinning directly harms him. If all of his sins were already atoned for, in reality, every sin, as it was being committed, would be erased from his book simultaneously, yet no Christian truly believes that. The lingering of a sin's effect after it has been committed is identified by the negative feelings that reside on the soul in the aftermath; yet, Christians would agree that a saved Christian has this feeling even after being freed from sin. If a Christian feels the negative effect of a sin after committing it, has he really been freed from that sin? Was the freeing from sin effective upon acceptance of Jesus, or does the sin take time to dissipate after it has been committed? If a Christian has already accepted Jesus, does he have to repent?

Symbolically, Jesus' death frees him from the bondage of his sin, but due to the person's finite mind, he must go through a process that allows him to exterpate himself from that sin on his own; he must feel that he is succeeding in defeating his inclincation to sin. Psychology attests to this when it says that a person, for example, suffering from an addiction, must "go through with the motions," and those motions distance a person from a thing. If G-d hardwired us to be able to percieve Him, then He also hardwired our brains with an internal psychologically-based method of atoning for our sins. In this vein, an animal sacrifice (in the Temple) makes sense. Avoidance of sin is a clear indication that a human being feels a deep need to see the ending of his sin. Since he can SEE sin's effect, he must SEE its destruction, yet he cannot SEE Jesus' atonement for he cannot really imagine it. When a person takes repentance into his own hands, as he is supposed to, he does not need to imagine it taking place because he is seeing it take place before his very eyes, through his actions. This puts him in direct contact with his own repentance and into direct contact with G-d's plan, and with G-d Himself. This is why the need to atone for ourselves is eternal, and in this way, we become responsible servants.

"This shall remain for you an eternal decree: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and you shall not do any work, neither the native nor the proselyte who dwells among you. For on this day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins before Hashem shall you be cleansed."

May you be written in the Book of Life, my friends, and may the Temple be rebuilt speedily and in our days!