This is the 22nd of September, 2009. For the Jew it is the 5th of Tishri 5770. For many of us the most significant thing about today is that it is the first day of Autumn. Fall officially begins at 5:18 EDT this evening in the northern hemisphere. So as you read this you are just enjoying the last few fleeting moments of summer or fall has just overtaken you and summer is just a memory. The most important thing for a Jewish person is that we are in the middle of the "Days of Awe."
Five days ago, according to the Jewish lunar calendar, the month of Tishri began with the Feast of Trumpets. This feast is also known as Rosh Hashanah. It literally means "head of the year." While the Feast of Trumpets is 5 days behind us, the Day of Atonement, or "Yom Kippur" is only five days ahead. The intervening days are known as the "days of awe." According to Jewish tradition three books are opened in heaven between these two high holy days. The book of life for the righteous, the book of life for the unrighteous, and the book of life for those who are in neither book. If a person is deemed righteous he is written in the book of life for those who are righteous. If he is a bad person then he is written in the unrighteous book of life. He is not expected to live through the year. If a man is in-between he is given ten days, the days of awe, to repent before the book is closed and his destiny is sealed forever. This is a period of time for many Jews to do acts of kindness and service and repent.
At the end of the "days of awe" is the Day of Atonement which begins at evening this Sunday. This is the highest holy day on the Jewish calendar. When the Temple was still functioning in Jerusalem it was the day the high priest went into the Holy of Holies. This only occurred once a year. On that day he would enter the Holy of Holies three times. First he would light the incense to fill the room with fragrant smoke that represented the prayers of all the people before the throne. He returned a second time. There he would sprinkle a bulls blood on the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant. Yom Kippur, is literally day of covering. The blood of a the bull covered the ark and thus covered the sins of the people until the same time next year. He would then sacrifice a goat set aside for the Lord. He would return for the third time to repeat the sprinkiling procedure just as he had with the blood of the bull. After leaving the Holy of Holies he would stand at it's entrance and sprinkle the blood of both animals on the floor. Everyone who entered that room would have to enter by the way of the blood.
It is not hard to imagine how important it was to be represented in the Holy of Holies by the priest. During the ten days of awe much repentance and good deeds were done. It is interesting to note that because the Jews use a lunar calendar that the days of awe began when the moon was the darkest in the sky. The darkness would remind them of their sins and how they separated them from God. Isn't it true that all of us are more likely to be burdened the most by our sins in the darkest days of our life. Don't we most often repent when we are in darkness caused by our sin. In these days it is important that we make sure our names are written in the righteous book of life. We can know that because our High Priest, Jesus Christ, has entered into the Holy of Holies on our behalf. He has spilled His own blood on the Mercy Seat for our forgiveness. And anyone may enter into the presence of God by walking through the blood. In these days of awe let us covenant together to pray for one another until that last and final Rosh Hashana, "Day of Trumpets." On that day the dark days will be over when the Trumpet of God sounds to call us all home. Until then keep the faith!