Credit:Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein serving food at a Fellowship-supported soup kitchen in Jerusalem. (Photo: IFCJ)
“The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.” — Leviticus 16:32–33
Jews around the world have been observing the most holy time on the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, this season is marked by intense reflection and repentance. This is one of 18 devotions focused on this holy season, exploring its meaning and the many lessons we can learn from this biblically mandated observance. To learn more, download our free study on Jonah, which is traditionally read during Yom Kippur.
The central part of the Yom Kippur service is missing today. Chapter 16 of Leviticus is dedicated to the description and instructions for the Yom Kippur service that was performed when the Tabernacle and later the Temples stood. Today, we no longer have a high priest, nor do we participate in ritual sacrifices. So how do we achieve atonement?
There are three keys that take the place of the service performed in biblical times. Together, they unlock the doors of heaven and allow us to sweeten any harsh decrees, or even to remove bad decrees altogether. The three components are: repentance, prayer, and charity.
It’s easy to understand why repentance and prayer can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better, but why is charity singled out as one of the three components? In fact, the Jewish sages teach that charity is so powerful that it can save a person from death! What is so extraordinary about giving charity?
A story is told about the great Sage Akiva who lived during the time when the Second Temple was destroyed. The story goes that Akiva was on a ship when he caught sight of another ship going down. He knew a great Torah scholar who was on that ship and assumed that he had drowned. Later on, Akiva came across that scholar and was astounded that he was alive. “How did you survive?” Akiva asked him. “It must have been your prayers,” the man replied. “I was tossed from wave to wave until I found myself on the shore.”
Not satisfied, Akiva pressed, “Was there some great deed that you did before you boarded the ship?” The man explained, “Well, there was a beggar who approached me as I was boarding the ship and I gave him my loaf of bread. He thanked me and said, ‘Just as you have saved my life, may God save yours.'” At that moment, Rabbi Akiva understood the great merit of charity and proclaimed Ecclesiastes 11:1: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (NKJV).
When we give another person a life-saving gift, the life we are saving just might be our own. How we treat others is how God will treat us. This explains why when we give charity on Yom Kippur, as is the Jewish custom, we have the power to overturn any non-favorable judgments set against us.
I invite you to consider giving a gift of charity today. Remember that charity can come in different forms, not just monetary. We can donate our time and our talents to God’s purposes as well. As we give life and joy to others, may God bless us with another year of life and joy as well.