Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. — Psalm 34:14
Today at sundown, Jews around the world will observe the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day marked by fasting, Bible study, confession, and repentance. Because this is a non-working holiday in Israel, these devotions have been prepared for you In advance. To learn more about the Jewish perspective on atonement and its connection to atonement in the Christian faith, download our complimentary Bible study.
William Shakespeare penned it like this: “To your own self be true.” It means to act in accordance with who you are and what you believe. To be true to yourself means to be who you really are—no more, no less.
When we live a life of pretense, pretending to be something we’re not, we are not true to ourselves. When we close ourselves off to others, we lose a bit of ourselves and we are not true to ourselves. So how do we get back to ourselves? Oddly enough, forgiveness and repentance bring us back to ourselves.
Repentance, or teshuvah, literally means “returning to one’s self.” It involves turning away from evil and returning to God and to our true (pure) selves. Psalm 34:14 says “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
On Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, Jews seek, and receive, atonement from God for those sins committed against God. It is a day of purification and reconciliation. Leviticus 16:30 says, “on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.”
The Day of Atonement covers sins committed against God. However, we must also seek forgiveness from others for sins we have committed against them. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jews seek forgiveness from others, and then on Yom Kippur, we seek forgiveness from God.
Although the focus on repentance and forgiveness can seem solemn, Jewish tradition regards Yom Kippur as a happy day because, by the end of the day, people have made peace with others and with God, so there is a deep sense of serenity and joy. Truly, this is the result of returning to one’s self through repentance.
If we want to experience the deep sense of serenity and joy that comes from making peace with others and with God, then we need to seek out those we have wronged and ask their forgiveness. And then we need to ask God’s forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed against Him.
In that way, we’ll feel like true selves again— the people who God designed us to be— free of sin and at peace with God and those around us.