A Prayer for Yom Kippur

My, what important, interesting things are going on all around us in the world: wars in the Middle East, economic collapse from New York to Singapore, political campaigns and baseball playoffs, and in the cracks all the cultural clutter—O.J., Caylee, and the like.

And right there in the middle of all this really important stuff comes a day of prayer, reflection, and turning toward God.

Today is Yom Kippur.

That is a Hebrew phrase for Day of Atonement. It comes from the Bible: Leviticus. “The priest who is anointed and ordained … 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 people of the community.”

It happens once a year on the tenth day of the seventh month (of the Jewish calendar). That is today, starting Wednesday evening at sun down and concluding Thursday evening at sun down; it is the blowing of the ram’s horn, the shophar, which officially signals the end of Yom Kippur.

These days Yom Kippur is a day of prayer. In the old days it involved a lot of blood: a bull and a goat were killed and the blood was sprinkled here and there. This is all odd to us, of course, but it is the third animal that plays the most curious role. “The priest is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat.” The Lord’s goat is sacrificed; but the scapegoat is brought before the priest. “He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert….The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place.”

You always wanted to know the linguistic origins of the word scapegoat and here it is.

These days, it is only a metaphor, but it is significant that right in the middle of all our really important stuff—see above—there is a day of prayer, a day set aside to meditate upon God, and sin, and change, and forgiveness. One day when we don’t read the stock ticker, the news bulletins, the poll numbers, or even the political blogs.

We need days like this. They puncture holes in our inflated sense of significance. They pull us away from all these worldly cares and cultural crises. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist wrote.

It is a Jewish holy-day (that is, holiday) but it is not only for Jews. It is for all of us—how does the text above read: “all the people of the community” and it is right and proper to insert the word “human” right before the word “community.”

In the small collection of cds that ride with me in the front seat of my yellow ptCrusier is one entitled “A Hymn for the World.” It features Andrea Bocelli, the incomparable, blind Italian singer. His most famous offering is a duet with Celine Deion of the Foster-Segar song, entitled “The Prayer.” I will play it today, on Yom Kippur, and forget for these few hours all the stuff we think is so important.

Listen to “The Prayer.”

1 comment so far

  1. Terry Clark on


    As I was reading your blog, I couldn’t help thinking, “What happens if the poor soul whose job it is to lead the scapegoat into the wilderness, cannot get the goat to stay there? What if it keeps trying to follow him back to town? Then what? Does he have to stay out there as well to save the community? Isn’t it sometimes much more difficult to put the past behind us, to be rid of what we’ve done wrong?”

    The notion of a scapegoat that refuses to wander away might create a somewhat comical scene, but this image might also lead to deeper reflection on the ways we attempt to deal with our own sin.

    Thanks for your blog today.

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