Friday, September 20, 2013

On the High Holy Days, Hebrew Liturgy, and Studying for the Competency Exam

If Greek is math, Hebrew is poetry.

Greek is logical, systematic, and linear.  I am therefore a sub-par Greek student.

Fluid and full of nuance, Hebrew connects us to ancient roots and calls us to worship.  I am remembering how much I love Hebrew.

I took my final exam for first semester Greek last week and immediately dusted off my Hebrew books to begin studying for the competency exam in January.  Maybe it wasn't the best planning to try to relearn two semesters of Hebrew in four months while working full time and taking three other classes at Conwell.  But as my dad likes to say, I do nothing easy.

In perfect timing, as I was just beginning to review the Hebrew alphabet after a four-year hiatus, my former student Abby, now a college girl in New York, contacted me about the observation of the High Holy days and Messianic Judaism.

"Didn't you use to go to a Messianic synagogue and how can we celebrate Yom Kippur?" she wanted to know.  So off we went to West Haven last Saturday morning to sing the liturgies and proclaim with Jewish believers that Jesus has indeed made the final atonement for our sin.

Singing in Hebrew, I learned during my college-girl days in Richmond, is the best way to learn the language.  Slowly as we recited the blessings from Yom Kippur siddur (prayer book), I found the old words and rhythms coming back to me.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, G‑d of Abraham, G‑d of Isaac and G‑d of Jacob, the great, mighty and awesome G‑d, exalted G‑d, who bestows bountiful kindness, who creates all things, who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and who, in love, brings a redeemer to their children's children, for the sake of His Name.

The Hebrew prayers are always reminding us of this God who promises a Redeemer, and in Messianic worship we rejoice that he has come in the Person of Jesus. 

Appropriately, it is the writer of the Book of Hebrews who tells us about this connection between the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur and our great once-and-for-all Redeemer:

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance...But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:7, 11-12).

Reciting the blessings and praises of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar calls our attention to the reality of a risen Savior, who has "done away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26).

As I do, I am thankful for this poetic native tongue of the people of God, preserved for us that we might praise Him more.

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