Not long ago, a friend of mine asked me why HaYovel’s volunteers often return to Israel to serve on a second and third volunteer trip. Isn’t one trip to Israel enough?Isn’t it enough to make a single visit to HaYovel’s base on the Mount of Blessing? I wonder what Moses would have said if a friend of his asked him a similar question as they walked out of Egypt on that first Passover: “Moses, didn’t you already have an encounter with God at that burning bush on Mount Sinai forty years ago? Why do you want to go back there again, and why do you want to take us with you?” Amazingly, Moses not only returned to that mountain again, but he took a few million people with him and made at least three more trips up to the summit! So, what were Moses’ reasons for ascending Mount Sinai multiple times and what is the connection to the Fast of Atonement?
Each of Moses’ trips up the mountain had a special purpose. Firstly, Moses had a God encounter at the burning bush. Secondly, Moses received the law, and ascended again to obtain an unbroken set of the Ten Commandments. Lastly, God heard Moses’ intercession and gave complete forgiveness to the people of Israel at the end of his final journey. These trips to Mount Sinai were in no way repetitive for Moses because no encounter with the living God can ever be mundane. Moses humbly served God and others and returned to the location of his “God encounter” many times.
So, how does this connect to the Fast of Atonement? The biblical festivals were given to Israel to memorialize a vast array of events which took place throughout history: Passover vividly recounts the Exodus from Egypt, Pentecost beautifully symbolizes the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, and the Feast of Tabernacles tangibly teaches us how God dwelt with the people of Israel in the wilderness. But what was the original event that inspired the Day of Atonement? The answer may surprise you, but this day began because Moses wouldn’t stop travelling to that special mountain, and on the last day of Moses’ final expedition, on the tenth day of the seventh month, God granted the people of Israel complete forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf. This merciful act of God is what the Fast of Atonement commemorates.
Consider observing Yom Kippur this year. It begins begins at sundown on the evening of Tuesday, October 11th. There are so many personal applications that we can glean from Moses’ ascensions up Mount Sinai as we enter this magnificent day. Like Moses turned away from his own preoccupations to encounter God at the bush, let’s turn from distractions and renew our relationship with the Lord and our relationships with others. As Moses received the Ten Commandments, let’s focus our eyes and tune our ears to see and hear the words of Scripture. Moses received God’s answer to his prayers. Even so, let’s press into God in focused prayer and expect answers from our merciful Creator.
After some thought, this is how I will answer my friend’s question next time he asks why we keep travelling to Israel, “Travelling to Israel and encountering God never gets old. Please come join me on the mountain!”