YOM KIPPUR, or the Day of Atonement,
falls on the 10th day of Tishri. This year, the sacred day begins
on the evening of Oct 12. It signals the release of the human
being from the past. On this day both the individual and community
will receive pardon regardless of the past mistakes or errors.
Prayer, fasting and charity are the three essential means that help a person to understand the arrival of this state of atonement. The prayers emphasise on the confession of sins and supplication for forgiveness. Both individual and communal prayers are an acknowledgement of man's fallen state and helplessness.
Fasting commences from sunset until nightfall the next day and this discipline links the acknowledgement to a spiritual awakening that produces sincere repentance. This can be seen in the selected readings from the books of Isaiah and Jonah that stress the importance of rituals performed (Leviticus 16; Numbers 19:7-11) to be accompanied by a spirit of devotion and penitence without which the message of divine forgiveness for genuine repentance would be meaningless.
This spiritual awakening is demonstrated through charity that requires one to give money or food to the poor. On the day before Yom Kippur, collection boxes (tzedaka) are located in every Jewish community and a ceremony (kapparah or kapaort) takes place in which, according to ancient custom, a chicken or hen is waved over one's head. Either the animal or its equivalent monetary value will be given to the poor. Today, most communities prefer to donate money to charity following the ceremony.
Both spiritual and exterior disciplines must be understood in the context of the relationship between God and man. The spirit of Yom Kippur for us is the Love of God. This love is channelled through charitable acts whose purpose is, besides demonstrating love and kindness for fellow men, to bring a transformation of the giver at the internal and external levels.
An internal transformation involves the development of a loving relationship between the giver's soul and God in which the giver experiences the redemptive force of divine love. The communication, spiritual awakening and exterior discipline transform the human life by creating a deeper encounter of God and the unfathomable riches of His Kingdom.
Thomas Merton rightly maintained that "in the economy of divine charity, we have only as much as we give. But we are called upon to give as much as we have, and more: as much as we are. So the measure of our love is theoretically without limit" (No Man is an Island, 164).
Charity enables us to seek to love God in other men, and in doing so leads us to grow in intimate knowledge of God and enlarge our capacity to love. This results in an increasing desire to express our love for fellow men through kindness, mercy, justice and forbearance.
An external transformation involves our Christian attitude to charity. Do we treat charity as an act? Do we demonstrate our love of God in the name of "society", "humanity" or "common good"?
These terms are useful in clarifying the understanding of our relations with one another. However, this knowledge does not prevent us from seeing others as obstacles to our own happiness. Charity is not a matter of knowledge or obligation. Both mind and will must work together to seek the good of others. The readiness to show kindness, mercy and forgiveness is the measure of our hopes.
OUR charity does not require us to ignore the faults of others, but rather to forgive, while we remain clear-sighted to the reality of evil. To those we have forgiven, our message is clear - we love God in you, we will share the burden of your guilt, and we become your brother and sister in Christ.
Jesus draws us to Himself through His death on the Cross. He is the focus of all charity and His love unites both the giver and recipient. Scripture declares the Day of Atonement as an everlasting statute (Leviticus 16:29-34) and this commandment requires our remembrance of God's saving act in history. As we receive divine mercy, we would respond by seeking God in others through charity.
This Christian approach to charity clarifies the reasons for our participation in charitable works. These are not provided only for the sake of reliving the poor, giving another chance to the needy or educating us the importance of social ills. Instead, Christian charity demands us as forgiven sinner and community to address these questions.
Who should take the lead in charity? Who should share the burden with those seeking another chance to live a normal life? Should our community leave the acceptance of the forgiven to the individual member? Our answers to all these questions would certainly add a new dimension to the familiar lyrics of "put the blame on me if I don't see a yellow ribbon round the oak tree".
Chan Yew Ming, a lecturer at Trinity Theological College, worships at Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.
JESUS THE FOCUS OF ALL CHARITY
'Jesus draws us to Himself through His death on the Cross. He is the focus of all charity and His love unites both the giver and recipient. Scripture declares the Day of Atonement as an everlasting statute (Leviticus 16:29-34) and this commandment requires our remembrance of God's saving act in history. As we receive divine mercy, we would respond by seeking God in others through charity.'