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This night, September 18, 2018, is Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur. As such I would like to share the traditional message I used to give when I was “acting” Rabbi (for about 1-1/2 years) at the Northeast Philadelphia Messianic Synagogue I had attended for 17 years.
Before we go into the message, I have a beautiful rendering of the Kol Nidre prayer which you can watch by clicking on this link: Kol Nidre.
For centuries, the Kol Nidre prayer has been used as a polemic against the Jewish people, accusing us of being untrustworthy and stating that our word is useless. At one point there was even a movement within Judaism to remove this prayer. That movement came to a stop once it was discovered that the prayer dates back to 17th Century Spain, where persecution of the Jews was taking place under the Inquisition. Many thousands of Jews were forced to forgo their beliefs and swear allegiance to Christianity or suffer torture and death. That is why even though the Torah requires us to strictly adhere to any oaths we take, this prayer seems to be an anomaly; however, we are not asking to be released from valid oaths and contracts we make but only from those oaths we were coerced into making.
On this day, when we ask God to forgive us our sins, we must realize that we have an obligation to forgive those that have sinned against us. And not just to forgive others, but to forgive ourselves, as well.
It is strange that we are willing sometimes to forgive others their sins against us but we will not forgive ourselves for sins we have committed against others. After all, if we love others enough to forgive them their sins, shouldn’t we love ourselves enough to forgive our sins? Doesn’t it say in Leviticus 19:18, “Love thy neighbor as thyself?” If we love our neighbor enough to forgive them, then shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?
If I ask God for forgiveness but refuse to forgive myself, then I am placing myself above God! So many times I have heard someone say, “How can God possibly forgive me for this?” That person doesn’t understand Grace and doesn’t understand that God is able to do so much more than we can. In Romans 5:20 we are told that where sin is increased, so too is Grace. There is no sin too great or too horrible for God to forgive.
And God is not just willing to forgive: he desires to forgive! He is so compassionate that he assumes our sins are accidental. Numbers 15:25-26 states that we will be forgiven from our sins we did “in error”; in other words, God assumes that we did not intend to sin but that we did it by accident! What a wonderful demonstration of the compassionate understanding and forgiving nature of God!
But let us not forget that disobedience of the Torah is still rebellion and a sin. And the wages of sin is still death (Romans 6:23.) However, because of God’s forgiving nature, he is willing to see our sins as his children making a foolish mistake. However, that is no reason for you to get comfortable with your sin- sin MUST be removed from our lives if we want to be with God eternally. He may look upon us with compassion and love but he is still God, and there can be no sin in his presence.
Too many people have been taught that “Once saved, always saved” is how things work under the blood of Yeshua. That is a lie. We are not to take advantage of God’s willingness to forgive us and just assume he will, which can only lead to an attitude of unrepentance. If we think it is OK to sin now and then, that is like trampling the blood of Messiah into the dirt. Even though God understands it is our nature to do so, it is NEVER acceptable to sin.
Because we cannot overcome our nature, Yeshua came to earth and sacrificed himself for us so that through his goodness we have the opportunity to overcome our sinfulness.
Today we pray for forgiveness and ask God for
- First, we must recognize our sin and take responsibility for it so we recite the Al Chet prayer, also called the Ashamnoo (we are guilty);
- We must choose to do Teshuvah (repent) and remove sin from our lives;
- Once we have done these two things, only then can we ask God to forgive us. Because we cannot sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, we ask forgiveness through the blood of the Messiah, who gave his life as a ransom for us over 2,000 years ago and through his innocent shedding of blood we can receive forgiveness (Messianic Jews/Hebrews 9:22.)
Some of you may be asking why bother to go through fasting and prayer to ask forgiveness when we already have it through Yeshua ha Mashiach? The answer is simple: because it is a commandment! Besides that, don’t we still sin? Don’t we still need to ask forgiveness? “Once saved, always saved” is hogwash and a lie from the pit of Sheol which is designed to keep us out of God’s Grace. We need to ask forgiveness of our sin(s) every single day! Maybe even more than once per day. So, nu? If we are to ask forgiveness any time we sin, why should we not ask on this day, the one day that God specifically said we should?
Another reason is to show solidarity with our unsaved Jewish brothers and sisters. Look at the prayers we recite on this day (the Al Chet and the Amidah) – they ask forgiveness for the sins WE have committed. Not the sins I have, but the sins we have committed. These prayers are community prayers because in Judaism God sees the entire nation of Israel as a single entity. We are not just responsible for our own sins, but for the sins of all Jews; those who came before us and those who are with us.
One last word: what we do on this day is not to be left in the Synagogue or Church- we are to take this attitude of Teshuvah and forgiveness for others out into the world. Going to Shul on the High Holy Days isn’t enough. We meet together to reinforce each other and to strengthen each other so that we are able to go back out there- back into the darkness to be a light. What we do today is what we should be doing every day.
So whether you are attending Shul all day or staying home and worshiping with God alone, take what you do out into the world with you tomorrow and every day thereafter.