Preparing for Yom Kippur (Sept 17) — Why Do We Fast?

What Is Fasting?

It [the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur] is a day to afflict your souls (Lev 16:29 and 23:27) or literally “to humble ourselves.” The word afflict is the Hebrew word anah (Strong’s H6031) meaning “to oppress with the idea of humility or meekness in mind coupled with the idea of a suffering life rather than with one of worldly happiness and abundance” (The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, p. 682). The JPS Jewish Study Bible translates the phrase afflict yourselves as “you shall practice self denial.” Although this verse does not specifically mention fasting as a component of Yom Kippur, Jewish understanding on the term afflict your souls is firm that this refers to fasting (the ArtScroll Tanach Series Vayikra/Leviticus Commentary, p. 404). With this view in mind, the pre-eminent nineteenth-century Orthodox Jewish sage, Samson Raphael Hirch in his commentary translates afflict your souls as “starve your vital spirits” (The Penteteuch-Leviticus, p. 678). However, there is a scriptural link to be found between afflicting one’s soul and fasting (i.e., abstaining from food). That link is to be found in Isaiah 58, which some Bible commentators believe is a reference to Yom Kippur. In verses three and eight, the terms afflict [one’s] soul and fast are used synonymously. The word for fast is the Hebrew word tsuwm (Strong’s H6684) meaning “to abstain from food.” We also see the connection between fasting and afflicting the soul in Psalm 35:13 where David states, “I humbled/afflicted my soul with fasting.”

Yom Kippur-afflict soul

Additionally, rabbinical thought teaches that Leviticus 23:27 suggests five afflictions that one must endure on Yom Kippur: no eating and drinking, no washing oneself, no anointing oneself, no wearing leather shoes, and no cohabitation. It is suggested that these five afflictions correspond to the five times the term soul/nephesh are found in this passage (i.e., verses once each in 27 and 29, twice in 30, and once in 32; see Baal HaTurim’s commentary on Lev 23:27).

Christian commentators, Keil and Delitzsch begin to connect the dots for us as to why fasting is tied to atonement. We read, 

If the general atonement made on this day was not to pass into a dead formal service, the people must necessarily enter in spirit into the signification of the act of expiation [atonement], prepare their souls for it with penitential feelings, and manifest this penitential state by abstinence from the ordinary enjoyments of life. To afflict (bow, humble) the soul, by restraining the earthly appetites, which have their seat in the soul, is the early Mosaic expression for fasting (oum/tsuwm) … ‘By bowing his soul, the Israelite was to place himself in an inward relation to the sacrifice, whose soul was given for his soul; and by this state of mind, answering to the outward proceedings of the day, he was to appropriate the fruit of it to himself, namely, the reconciliation of his soul, which passed through the animal’s death’ (Baumgarten) (vol. 1, p. 591).

The Purpose of Fasting

The purpose of fasting is not to torture or punish oneself for the sins that one has committed during the past year. Rather, it is a time to deeply reflect on one’s need for atonement, and to appropriate to oneself through deep heart reflection the sacrifice for one’s sins that YHVH has made for us through Yeshua the Messiah, to whom all the animal sacrifices of the ancient Levitical sacrificial system pointed. This is best accomplished by sublimating or “afflicting the soul” through fasting. The soul is the mind, will and emotions of man.

Furthermore, in sublimating the soul (man’s carnal mind) within each of us by afflicting it causes the spirit of man within to rise up. To have a deep and vital relationship with YHVH Elohim, the degradation of the soul with its earthly and carnal passions is necessary, since it is the spirit in man that most suffers as a result of the sin-bent tendencies of the soul. In fact, the spirit can even become defiled by the carnal mind or soul of man and need to be cleansed (Heb 9:14; 10:22; 12:23 cp. 1 Tim 4:2). When the soul is “pushed down,” the spirit can rise up and connect to or commune more efficaciously with YHVH. It is the spirit in man, as activated by the Spirit of Elohim, which is man’s spiritual connecting link to his Creator (Rom 8:16; Job 32:8; 1 Cor 2:10–14; 1 John 2:20,27; 4:2–3; Prov 20:27). In brief, fasting helps us to transcend our physical natures and to focus without distraction upon YHVH.

In conclusion, Christian commentator, Matthew Henry says of the Day of Atonement,

He that would do the work of [the] Day of Atonement in its day, as it should be done, had need lay aside the thoughts of everything else.… [T]hey must lay aside all their worldly business, that they might the more clearly and the more reverently hear that voice of joy and gladness.… They must mortify the body, and deny the appetites of it, in token of their sorrow for the sins they had committed, and mortifying of their indwelling corruptions. (A Commentary on the Whole Bible, by Matthew Henry, p. 539, World Bible Publishers)

More on Afflicting the Soul

The biblical holy day of the Day of Trumpets (or Shofar Blowing, Shouting; Heb. Yom Teruah), which occurs just ten days prior to Yom Kippur, is the day of the awakening blast signifying the time for the righteous to awake from spiritual lethargy and lukewarmness and to be ready for the coming of Yeshua, our Bridegroom.

How do we awaken spiritually?

  • We must seek the light of YHVH’s word to shine in our hearts and to illuminate the dark and sinful areas of our lives.
  • We must pray for the Set-Apart Spirit to reveal YHVH’s truth to us and to convict us in the areas where we fall short of his high spiritual standards.
  • We must enter into a time of serious reflection and self examination.
  • We must humble ourselves through repentance.
  • We must pursue consistent and persistent prayer and fasting by which we can become attuned spiritually to the heart and will of our Father in heaven.

Man is comprised of three parts: body, soul and spirit (1 Thess 5:23). We must be soberly aware of the struggle between the soul and the spirit for domination over what we do, say and think (Rom 7:14ff).

It is the soul that sins (Ezek 18:4), for out of it come all the carnal passions and impulses to go contrary to the Word and will of YHVH (Matt 15:19). Because the soul is in opposition to the Spirit of Elohim (and thus, to our own spirit, which is connected to the Holy Spirit), it must be afflicted or repressed!

Characteristics of the Soul 

The soul of man is squirrelly (restless, nervous, unpredictable). It likes comfortable circumstances and resists being stretched or inconvenienced. This reflects the soul’s lack of character, lack of commitment, unfaithfulness, lack of reliability, and inconsistency.

The soul of man is rebellious to authority, for the Bible tells us that the carnal mind is at enmity with the will, the law or Torah of YHVH (Rom 8:7).

The soul man wants to cover its sinful tracks, to hide its sin. It hates the light of truth. When Adam and Eve sinned, their first act was to cover and to hide themselves from Elohim. Sinners hate the light of truth (John 3:19). The soul man resorts to blame, accusation, deception, lies, self-preservation, self-defense, and self-justification to cover its sins. Notice the prominence of self? The self is number one to the soulish man.

The soul man is narcissistic; it loves, adores, idolizes, and worships itself. It creates gods in its own image to serve. This path is the downward spiral of humanism, which Paul discusses in Romans chapter one, and that leads to the sins of idolatry and to the sexual perversions of homosexuality.

The soul man acts like a spoiled, angry, rebellious, self-willed child. If it doesn’t get what it wants, it becomes fretful, irritable, angry and throws a temper tantrum, sulks and pouts. By contrast, those who have experienced the working of YHVH’s Spirit in their lives are meek, easily entreated, sensitive, not talkative, arrogant, boastful, and opinionated. They are slow to speak, respectful, and transparent.

How Are We to Treat the Soul Man?

The soul man must be suppressed so that the spirit man can rise up. Yeshua said, “Whoever seeks to save his [soul; Gr. psuche] life will lose it, but whoever will lose his [soul] life for my sake will find it [spiritual life]” (Matt 16:25; Luke 17:33). The soul wants to preserve itself so the flesh can dominate and have its own way — be its own god. On the contrary, the spirit man wants to submit to the Spirit of Elohim and wants the soul man to be subservient to YHVH, for it knows that this is the high way that leads to everlasting joy, peace and happiness and to an eternity in the presence of YHVH Elohim as a member of his spiritual family.

Why Do We Fast on Yom Kippur?

Fasting (abstaining from food) on the high holy day of the Day of Atonement (Heb. Yom Kippur) is a biblical command (Lev 23:27). The Scriptures teach us that it is the soul that sins (Ezek 18:4), therefore it must be sublimated to and dominated by our spirit, which is connected to the Spirit of Elohim. When the mind of Elohim is in charge through his Spirit dominating our spirit, which in turn will dominate our soul, we can then walk in sinless righteousness. This in turn puts us in perfect accord with YHVH and in oneness with him.

The soul must be afflicted (meaning “to bow down or be humbled,” Lev 23:27). It was the sins of our soul that caused an innocent person (Yeshua) to have to die as a sacrifice in our place and to pay the price for our sins. At the cross, Yeshua poured out his soul as a sin offering for our sinful souls (Isa 53:10, 12).

YHVH requires us to deal with our unruly and rebellious soul, and fasting or afflicting the soul is a way to do this. David teaches us that the soul must be afflicted or humbled with fasting (Ps 35:13). By fasting, we loose the bands of wickedness (Isa 58:6–7). The soul must be saved (Heb 10:39; Jas 1:21); be preserved blameless (1 Thess 5:23), be changed or have its thinking transformed (Rom 12:2); be weaned (Ps 131:2); be controlled (Luke 21:19); purified through obeying the Word of YHVH (1 Peter 1:22); be shepherded by spiritual leadership (1 Peter 2:25); and be anchored so that we won’t grow weary and faint during difficulties (Gal 6:9).

Yeshua Is the Rock That Crushes Our Soul

Matthew 21:42–44 speaks of being broken on Yeshua who is the spiritual Rock. He wants to grind our stony heart or sinful soul man into powder. This occurs as we “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save our souls” (Jas 1:21) Our souls needs saving. When we are spiritually regenerated by YHVH’s Holy Spirit, our spirit man is reborn, and we become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20). If we resist the Word, YHVH will resist us because of our pride. Therefore, we are to humble ourselves under YHVH’s mighty hand so that he can exalt us in due time (1 Pet 5:5–6). When we fall on Yeshua, the Rock, and our stony hearts are broken, the outer core of the soul is broken so that the inner beauty of the spirit man can come forth. With that comes the release of YHVH’s dunamis power or virtue. The power and glory of YHVH were present in the holy of holies of the Tabernacle of Moses (a picture the spirit man). But once we’re born again, and as we grow spiritually, we must take the spiritual light of our spirit man that abides in the holy of holies, and pass through the holy place (a picture of the soul man) and out into the outer court (a picture of the body and this physical world). There, our spirit man is to shine forth through our Holy Spirit-led soul man as a spiritual light to the world.

Soul Man Must Be Broken and Retrained to Accomplish YHVH’s Purposes 

Jacob had to deal with his soul — to overcome it and learn to rule over it (Gen 32:32). Jacob’s sinew, representing the strength of the flesh, only shrank. It was not removed. What does this signify spiritually with regard to the old flesh nature? When one is born again of the Spirit does he lose his soul (mind, will and emotions) nature? No. Rather, the soul must be transformed and renewed by the Spirit of Elohim to be conformed to YHVH’s perfect will (Rom 12:2). The soul-man will still try to assert dominance over the spirit-man, but our spirit man must rule over it. Paul discusses this struggle between the two for dominance in Romans 7:14–25.

In his book, The Merismos, Randy Shankle has some powerful insights about the struggle between the soul man and the spirit man. For example, Matthew 26:36–46 details Yeshua’s final hours in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. The word Gethsemane means “wine press.” A gath was a vat used in treading down the grapes to make juice. Shemen refers to any form of liquid and is also the word for oil or anointing. The English word semen, or the substance of reproduction or life derives from this word. Grapes are put into a vat and pressed until the unhindered flow of the pure juice flows forth (p. 116). In Gethsemane, Yeshua’s self-willed soul man was broken and he submitted unconditionally to the will of his Father.

It is in our own Gethsemane, the place of pressure, that the vessel of our soul man must be broken resulting in the pouring forth the true anointing of YHVH in our lives. The more the vessel is broken, the more the presence of YHVH comes forth, and the quicker the Spirit of Elohim can flow through us (Shankle, p. 72).

When Gideon’s army’s clay lamps were broken, the light within shone forth, Israel’s enemies were defeated. Metaphorically, the clay lamps represent the body and soul of man, while the candle within is the spirit of man as activated by the Spirit of Elohim. When the soul man is broken, the Spirit of Elohim within us can shine and we will have victory in our lives.

What does it mean to deny the self as spoken of in Matthew 16:24? It is speaking about denying the soul its lustful appetites. Those who would follow Yeshua must deny the soul the right to live, to move, or to chose independently of YHVH. This is what Paul meant when he said, “I die daily … (1 Cor 15:31). When we do this we lose our lives (psuche) and we will find the life (zoe) of the Spirit. We must lose our soul-life (Matt 16:25) in order to gain the abundant spiritual life Yeshua promised (John 10:10, Shankle, p. 137).

This is what afflicting the soul on Yom Kippur (and any other time we fast as well) is all about. As the soul is pushed down or afflicted, the spirit man can rise up, and then it can connect with the Spirit — word and will — of Elohim. When all Israel afflicts their souls on Yom Kippur, it is possible for all Israelites to come into alignment with each other through the sacrifice of Yeshua resulting in being reconciled to YHVH and coming into at-one-ment with Elohim through the blood, the spirit and the water of Yeshua, which are one (1 John 4:6, 8).

The altar of incense before the veil is the picture of this. The 12 tribes of Israel come together at the table of show bread (on Yom Teruah) in the Tabernacle of Moses as pictured by the 12 loaves of unleavened bread. When united in fellowship, they can become united in prayer and worship before Elohim, which is pictured by the altar of incense, which is located before the ark of YHVH’s Presence or before his throne. There, on Yom Kippur, they present themselves as the chaste, virgin righteous-robed bride of Yeshua ready to enter into the wedding chuppa of the holy of holies on Chag Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles.

Coming into the Presence of YHVH is a process that traditionally starts 40 days before Yom Kippur. Joel chapter two (Joel 2) talks about this. It starts with the blowing of the shofar, sounding the alarm and warning about the coming of the day of YHVH’s judgment and calling the bride of Yeshua to prepare herself for the coming of the bridegroom. Verse 12 and onward begins speaking about the fall feasts and how we are to prepare for that day.

When Soul Is Broken, the Zoe Life of Spirit Comes Forth 

Yeshua said that he was the Good Shepherd who would give his life (psuche) for his sheep (John 10:10-11, 17-18). He laid down his life, and the soul (his self will) was squeezed out of him at Gethsemane and the cross. From him flowed the anointed, life-giving substance or seed, which would have the power of reproduction (Shankle, p. 124–125). This will happen again and again in our lives. If we don’t understand it when it takes place we may end up resisting the purposes of YHVH, and we will fail to pass our spiritual test necessary to move us to the next level in our spiritual growth.

Live as Yeshua lived, not to be ministered to, but to minister, to be poured out. Communion is a picture of this — the broken bread and the poured out wine (Matt 26:26–28). When taking communion, we are drinking the life that Yeshua poured out. We are identifying with the revelation that as we drink, our lives have ceased. We are no longer our own. We have become broken bread and poured-out-wine, broken and distributed to others to take to them the zoe life of YHVH (Shankle, p. 126).

YHVH cannot distribute us until there is brokenness. We are to become broken bread and poured out wine. You will never become broken until you fall on the rock and say, “YHVH, in Yeshua’s name, take your mighty hand and work brokenness within me. I want to be broken by the hand of the Master. Take out of me resistance, anger and hostility. Take out of me arrogance, haughtiness, and pride. Take out of me those things that are my opinions, views, and ideas. Make me something in the hands of the Master so that you can take me, break me, and distribute me to people in need” (Shankle, p. 236).

Gethsemane is a place of pressure. The pressure that came on Yeshua was to seek and save his life, but he knew that his willful soul had to be sublimated to the Spirit and will of his Father. He therefore brought his soul under control of YHVH’s will and he poured out his soul-life and become spiritual life (zoe) to many through his brokenness. The soul of Yeshua, like a grape, dropped into Gethsemane, the wine vat, and the pressure of the Father came upon his soul. The Spirit of Elohim would not let him go until the true anointing came forth. It squeezed upon Yeshua until he became sorrowful and very heavy, even unto death. When he did, the new wine, the juice of the grape (a biblical metaphor for blood; see Deut. 32:14; Gen 49:11) came forth to intoxicate the world with his aroma and taste, and the fragrance filled the earth. It still draws men to the Messiah. They will drink of him until they can’t live without his influence (Shankle, p. 132).

Now that you know what the Bible means when it commands us to afflict our souls, will you submit to YHVH’s process of spiritual refinement so that life of his Spirit can flow through you? 


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