Sights and Insights: A portrait of Yom Kippur at Timna Park

The best-known attraction of Timna Park north of Eilat is called “Solomon’s Pillars.”

By WAYNE STILES
October 3, 2011 05:44
Timna Park

Timna Park. (photo credit: BiblePlaces.com)

Wayne Stiles is an author who has never recovered from his travels in Israel—and loves to write about them from his desk in Texas.

I felt like I had entered a doorway to history.

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Tucked away among the steep sandstone formations in the Arava Valley, Timna Park offers visitors an unforgettable visualization of Yom Kippur.

The best-known attraction of Timna Park is called “Solomon’s Pillars,” beautiful Nubian sandstone pillars that have nothing to do with King Solomon. But they’re fun to climb. The park also features relics from Egyptian idol worship as well as interpretive signs about ancient copper mining. All very fascinating.

Photo: BiblePlaces.comBut perhaps the best part of Timna Park is the least-known exhibit. A full-scale replica of the Tabernacle stands in the very wilderness where Moses and the children of Israel wandered for forty years. Reading the Tabernacle’s dimensions in Exodus 35-40 is so different from seeing them with your own eyes—and in the very wilderness where the Tabernacle stood. 

As I marveled at the realistic replica, I glanced above the back of the Tent of Meeting and imagined the pillar of fire that would have rested over it at night, signifying that the Lord was with his people (Exodus 40:34-38). But to remain with his people, the Tabernacle had to be cleansed every year. That caused me to think of Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—when God forgave the sins of his people.

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The simple white fabric that flapped in the breeze formed the perimeter of the Tabernacle, and it served as the first of a number of barriers between the Hebrews and the Lord. Today we place barriers between our leaders and the people in order to protect the leader. But the Tabernacle’s barriers stood to protect the people from God. No one ever would come into the presence of a holy God without a sacrifice for sin—because holiness cannot abide sin in its presence. What stood before me reminded me of that fact.

The large, brazen altar was the place where the majority of sacrifices occurred on a daily basis. All sacrifices began with “the burnt offering,” from the Hebrew term olah (Leviticus 1:3). The English word “holocaust” (meaning “burnt whole”) comes from this term. 

Just past the brazen altar stood the bronze laver, the washbowl where the priests would scrub up. Behind it, the tent called “the Holy Place” had dull colors on the outside, but underneath I saw beautiful embroidery of colorful cherubim.

Photo: BiblePlaces.comEntering the Holy Place was something only priests could do, but today, tourists can enter to examine the Tabernacle’s interior. After my eyes adjusted to the dark room, I saw on the right the Table of Showbread with its twelve loaves that represented Israel’s twelve tribes. The menorah on the left offered meager lighting, and the lack of breeze made the room stifling. The Altar of Incense stood in the back before the small room called “The Holy of Holies.”

On Yom Kippur, Aaron the priest would wear humble clothing and offer on the Brazen Altar a bull for himself and for the priests. Leviticus 16 lays out the instructions. He would then cast lots to decide which of two goats would be sacrificed and which would be the “scapegoat,” or the “goat of removal.” Aaron would take a fire pan of coals from the altar and go inside the Holy Place with incense. As he entered the Holy of Holies, smoke from the incense would shield Aaron from the glory of God. Then he would sprinkle the blood of the bull and one of the goats on and in front of the mercy seat—the top of the Ark of the Covenant. The words “mercy seat” come from a Hebrew word related to kippur—“to make atonement.”

Aaron then laid his hands on the head of a goat, and confesses over it all the sins of Israel—symbolically transferring the sins from the nation to one goat. And the goat was carried away to a distant desert. The scapegoat ceremony was seen by all and could be understood by all. It was a powerful visual aid that demonstrated the reality of sin and the need to eliminate it through a sacrifice that took your place.

As I explored the replica of the biblical Tabernacle in Timna Park, it was hard to take it all in. On a designated day a particular man would wear specific clothes and offer certain sacrifices in a particular way for an explicit purpose: The cleansing of the Tabernacle and the forgiveness of the people’s sins. Why? So that God would dwell with them.

Timna Park is a wonderful place to visit. Not many other parks can offer such great lessons in biblical history, in personal holiness, and in the purpose of Yom Kippur.

That’s a bargain for the price of an admission ticket.

What to Do There: Climb “Solomon’s Pillars,” visit the remnants from Egyptian idol worship, and read the signs about ancient copper mining in the area. But don’t miss the Tabernacle model and the informative tour offered. At some point before your tour, read Leviticus 16.

How to Get There: From the Jericho area, travel about 265 km south, turning west at the Bik’at Timna Junction.

Read Wayne’s blog and subscribe to his weekly Podcast at www.waynestiles.com.

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