After Yom Kippur, How Do We Find Our Way?
by Ben Volman
by Ben Volman
As the final shofar sounds at the end Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), a long, powerful blast that blends into a mystical moment of reflection, the words of my late sister always come to mind: “So, were our sins really forgiven?”
She said it many times after we’d passed through the day of fasting, the day often stretching into a lengthened evening service to fulfill the command of “afflicting” ourselves. As I look back, I realize that her words also meant something else: “If that’s it, where do we go from here?”
Over the years as I’ve reflected on the passing of friends and so many beloved family members, her words still come to mind. Did we really know forgiveness? Was there peace with God? If we had received a feeling of peace with God, surely there’d be no reason to fear, whatever happens—no matter what life brings, even the tragic, heart-shaking losses. Like the loss of my sister, who died far too young.
I won’t speak for anyone else but, after Yom Kippur, I knew hunger, exhaustion, and even some level of aggravation, but not peace. Spiritually, I was going nowhere.
Through all the journeys that I’ve travelled since, everything I’ve known and experienced about peace with God has come from knowing Yeshua and came at His expense. Since the very first moment I prayed to receive Him as Messiah (which was the first time I truly felt peace), He has been the source of comfort, assurance, hope and direction.
Looking back over the paths of my life, I recall an ancient confession of faith associated with Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles): “My ancestor was a nomad from Aram…” [Its more familiar phrasing says: “My father was a wandering Aramean…”] (Deuteronomy 26:5). Yes, we came from nothing—a family of drifters who would have disappeared from history if God hadn’t found us.
The faith of our fathers wasn’t inadequate, but I didn’t know how to receive or fully appreciate its depth of spiritual truth and insight. The pilgrim path of life is meant to bring us to the sacred ground of these special days so that we can see with eyes wide open to the furthest horizon of faith. The Day of Atonement is another way of removing any barrier to experiencing the fullness of God’s love; another form of a “new beginning,” just as we felt it at the first shofar blast of the New Year. It leads us into days of awe that are meant to be a sacred oasis from the brutal storms of life where the doorway between the everyday world and the world of the spirit does not seem so far apart. As if the membrane between the world of the tangible and the spirit has been worn thin by prayer and the active mind in reflection.
After all, a pilgrim is not just a religious observer of life. We enter into these moments because we want live more fully, more self-aware, and more honestly; grappling with life’s ultimate questions in the grace of our Father’s “shalom shalom”—His perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). And spiritually, that’s what I’ve received in Yeshua, just as the prophet promised.
‘…he was wounded because of our crimes,
crushed because of our sins;
the disciplining that makes us whole fell on him,
and by his bruises we are healed.’ (Isaiah 53:5)
In the hours before his own death, Yeshua was taking His disciples toward the doorway into a new era: a situation they could not imagine. They wanted to follow Him, but He knew that they were about to be thrust into an experience that would at first shatter their hopes and break their hearts.
Yeshua begins by warning his disciples—“where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33). There is confusion and avid discussion between them so that, ultimately, when pressed by his faithful disciple, T’oma (Thomas), the rabbi tells them, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to Father but by me” (John 14:6).
Those words command our absolute trust in His sovereignty even “in the valley of the shadow of death”—you’ll recall how malchuyot, the sovereignty of God, is one of the three great themes of the High Holy Days. We’re equally reminded of the injunction given to Martha when she confronted Yeshua near the tomb of Lazarus. She insisted that her brother wouldn’t have died if He’d come earlier, and Yeshua was bold to respond, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life! Whoever puts his trust in me will live, even if he dies; and everyone living and trusting in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26, CJB).
How do we know that we are forgiven? Perhaps one way is that we can find in ourselves the inner strength to forgive. One morning I heard the story of a youth pastor I’d known for several years. He had a wonderful, genuine quality to his faith and he was a blessing to many young people who were in his spiritual care. He told the story of growing up in a in a small Canadian mining community where everyone knew each other. Not long after becoming a Christian, his father—a man known for great integrity—was killed in a terrible, senseless heavy equipment accident. The family was devastated and many others struggled to make sense of what had happened. And that’s when the future youth pastor insisted that his family go to the home of the one who had been responsible for his father’s death. Together with them, he extended forgiveness.
In the face of so much loss and tragedy in the world, I believe that the living reality of Yeshua’s atonement is an immense source of healing, if we’ll receive it. If we’ll receive Him.
“I will not leave you as orphans,” Yeshua says; “I will come to you… Because I live you also will live…” (John 14:18). That is why sometimes we have to go back to the place where faith faltered and let that place belong to Him. When they heard Miriam’s (Mary’s) testimony, John and Peter ran to his tomb, the place where their faith had failed, and found it empty. And that was when John first believed.
What lies beyond Yom Kippur? The end of the High Holy Days initiates a new year and a new pilgrimage drawing us closer to the Lord. When I was a theology student, my history studies led me to read about Christ Church, the chapel in Jerusalem whose foundations were laid by a great Jewish believer, the first Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Rev. Michael Solomon Alexander. He began building the chapel in the 1840s for Jewish believers in Yeshua. In those days, there was virtually no history of our movement available. I was a young Messianic Jew and wondered how about our historical roots. The message was clear—we had a past, a community with roots in Israel. I had no idea what the church looked like. But I longed to be there.
Twenty years later, I worshipped in Christ Church for the first time and was overcome with tears. When the pastor approached me, I told him, “It has been a long journey.” (Later, we would become good friends; he and his wife staying in our home in Toronto.) But at that moment, there was also a remarkable feeling. I felt as if my arrival there was as certain and pre-determined as if I had stepped out of my library chair and into that remarkable, arched sanctuary. And I felt at peace.
So, some time along the journey, we who have read and heard and believed against all odds the message of hope beyond hope, life beyond life, will step into a new dimension. We’ll find that we’re no longer in a place where life is seen with eyes of faith and will find our way into the presence of the Master. We who have heard the call will meet the One who has always known the way.
By Ben Volman, Toronto Ministry Team Leader and Messianic Rabbi of Kehillat Eytz Chaim / Tree of Life Congregation (Toronto).