The theme throughout our Yom Kippur services and the High Holidays is the need to be in a real relationship with God through Messiah Yeshua and experience real repentance and atonement. Therefore, on this very important topic I can think of no better group to consider then the Jewish mobsters known as The Purple Gang.
Back in the 1920’s, in the days of Al Capone, there were also Jewish mobsters. They were known as The Purple Gang, were very active in Detroit, and had a reputation of being even more brutal then most other mobsters. But one of the most interesting things about The Purple Gang is that even though they were mobsters who routinely threatened, beat and killed individuals, many were also observant Jews to one degree or another. Many would keep Kosher, wrap Tefillin, and many more would attend Yom Kippur services just like we are today, keeping the fast, and donating to their local synagogue. This is of course before resuming their lives of terror and violence the next day. A good example of one such Jewish mobster is found in a Tablet Magazine article on this topic:
Sam “Red” Levine was New York City gangster Charley “Lucky” Luciano’s favorite contract killer. According to Martin Gosch and Richard Hammer’s 1975 book The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, Lucky called Red “the best driver and hitman I had.” Red also had another persona: He was an Orthodox Jew. He always wore a kipah under his hat, ate only kosher food, and conscientiously observed the Sabbath. Levine never planned to murder anyone from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. But, according to Gosch and Hammer, if Levine had no choice and had to make the hit on Shabbat, he would first put on a tallit, say his prayers, and then go and do the job.
While an obviously extreme example, The Purple Gang serves to illustrate a very real human tendency, to compartmentalize our faith. Each of us has our own ways of compartmentalizing our faith and justifying our sins. It is incredibly easy to just go through religious motions, even fasting of Yom Kippur, and still not be right with God. But the Lord knows all of our thoughts and actions, and He desires for us to turn to Him through His Son and be sealed in the Messiah’s Book of Life.
Yom Kippur is a time to lay bare before God all of our shortcomings of the previous year and renew or begin a real relationship with Him. We read in Isaiah 58, part of the Haftorah portion for Yom Kippur, of our people asking God why He would not hear our prayers or acknowledge our fasts as we humbled ourselves. The Lord rebukes our people in this passage for ignoring the plight of the poor around us and tells us we are only seeking our own pleasure. Time and time again we see in Scripture that we cannot have two masters, that we cannot come to God with only part of who we are, that we cannot serve ourselves six days a week and God for the seventh.
It is tradition that at the end of Yom Kippur, the Book of Life has been closed with the names of those who will live another year written within. While an interesting tradition it is not actually found in God’s Word. However, the Book of Life is a very real book and records not the names of those who will live another year, but those who will experience eternal life with Adonai. To have your name written in the Book of Life requires the atonement that can only be provided by the Son of God, Messiah Yeshua. Each of us before we leave this world needs to know that we are sealed in Messiah’s Book of Life through the perfect atonement He has provided. While fasting can be very spiritually beneficial, the Lord desires more from us then our observances. As we read earlier today in Psalm 51: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
May the Lord be with each of us in this coming year and may we all experience the peace and joy that comes from knowing we are sealed forever in Messiah’s Book of Life.