How is the Day of Atonement Relevant Today?

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September 25th, 2020
Member Ministry, Teachings / By

Pastor of Kehilat HaCarmel Shares Personal Experience

Pastor Daniel Sayag of Kehilat HaCarmel, a congregation outside of Haifa, shared with FIRM what the Day of Atonement has meant to him, first as a young Jewish Israeli, and later also as a follower of Jesus the Messiah.

Growing up in Israel during the late 1960s and 70s, life was like the fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:24: “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.” In our building, you could hear so many languages daily. There were families from Iraq, Morocco, Spain, Algeria, Italy, Poland, and Egypt. But even though my father grew up in Arabic-speaking Iraq and my mother in French-speaking Algeria, we spoke only Hebrew at home.  

After I had my bar mitzvah at age 13, it was expected of me to fast on Yom Kippur. It was very hard for me and there were times I secretly cheated. I generally tried to sleep the day away to ignore the hunger. Sometimes I would go to the synagogue, but the prayers didn’t mean a whole lot to me. I looked on it as a tradition that our family have always followed. 

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the house took on a different atmosphere.  My mother, of course, spent a big part of the day in the kitchen, because both the meal before the fast and the meal after the fast were important and needed to be prepared in advance. The TV was covered with a big white tablecloth, and a unique solemnness came over the house as the holiday approached.

There were specific foods that we ate before the fast. Our Moroccan neighbor would always bring us her special “Yom Kippur” soup, called harira. To this day that taste reminds me of Yom Kippur. Since all traffic stopped before sundown, the whole town would go walking in the empty streets. It was a fun day for children who didn’t have to fast. We could ride our bikes and scooters in the middle of the street, not worried about being hit by a car. 

During the day, my dad would spend some time in the garden, preparing pomegranates for the breaking of the fast. Sometimes we would go to the synagogue towards the end of the day, to hear the rabbi blow the shofar indicating the end of the fast. He couldn’t blow that shofar fast enough for me! The breaking of the fast started with baked goods that my mother had made beforehand. She added rose water and sugar to the pomegranates, so we feasted on them before the main meal came out. The main meal was always big and such a treat after a whole day of fasting. 

A Complete Guide to the High Holidays

It was only after coming to faith in Yeshua that I really understood Yom Kippur.

I had grown up singing in the synagogue every Yom Kippur, “We have sinned before You. Have mercy on us.”  Suddenly, I understood the meaning of the Lamb who was sacrificed for my sins, and the Covering that He provided for me. Finally, this day started making sense.

Without that perfect sacrifice, I could keep doing my best year after year and never have my sins forgiven. As it is written in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” 

I needed a perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Messiah, who made that atonement for me.

After coming to faith, fasting also took on new meaning. Now I fast for my nation… I fast for the rest of our people to come to know the true Yom Kippur sacrifice. I still enjoy the old traditions, but now, the holiday has meaning to me. I love the stillness of this day. It is such a gift to have a whole day dedicated to God without any pressure to do anything else.  

Blessed be the Lamb who brought us atonement.

Daniel Sayag has served as a pastor at Kehilat HaCarmel since 2000 and is the lead pastor since 2016. With his wife LuAnne, they live in Haifa, northern Israel.  

Kehilat HaCarmel is a community of Messianic believers with the vision to reach Jews and Arabs in Israel and demonstrate the unity that Yeshua has accomplished for us. The congregation is committed to the gospel and to sharing the truth and love of Yeshua with Israel and the nations.

Learn More About Kehilat HaCarmel

You can show your support for Pastor Daniel and his congregation by sending a gift today! By giving through FIRM, you can be sure that 100% of your gift will go directly to Kehilat HaCarmel. 

Multi-cultural congregation on Mount Carmel that seeks to strengthen and equip the local body in Israel!

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FIRM Member Ministry
FIRM Member Ministries are dedicated to the work of the Kingdom of God and serving the people of Israel. The ministries proclaim the name of Yeshua (Jesus) as the only way to the Father in Heaven and bring hope to the hopeless. FIRM creates opportunities for believers to engage and connect to trusted ministries in Israel. We exist to serve and promote the vision of our Member Ministries by providing practical tools, finances, and resources.
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