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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Parashat Acharei Mot

Parasha: Acharei Mot – Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30
Haftara: Ashkenazi: Amos 9:7-15 Sepharadi: Ezekiel 22:1-16
Reading date: 19th April – 14th Nisan 5768

16:2-34 The day that ending the seeking of forgiveness for the golden calf by Moses became known as the ‘Yom Kippur’ – the Day of Atonement. ‘Kippur’ is the Hebrew word that comes from the Hebrew ‘kapara’ which means to atone or expiate. The sacrifices and purifications commanded thus far did not suffice to complete the reconciliation between the congregation of Israel, which was called to be a holy nation, but in its very nature was still altogether involved in sin and uncleanness, and YHVH the Holy One-that is to say, to restore the perfect reconciliation and true vital fellowship of the nation with its God. This want was met by the appointment of a yearly general and perfect expiation of all the sins and uncleanness which had remained un-atoned for and un-cleansed in the course of the year. In this respect the laws of sacrifice and purification received their completion and finish in the institution of the festival of atonement, which provided for the congregation of Israel. Hence the law concerning the Day of Atonement formed a fitting close to the ordinances designed to place the Israelites in fellowship with YHVH, and raise the promise of YHVH, “I will be your God,” into a living truth.

16:6 The High Priest must first repent of his own sin and that of his household before he confesses those of the nation. Repentance is one of YHVH’s greatest gifts allowing us to begin a new life without the hampering of ones past sins.

16:8 The selection of the two goats – one as a national sin-offering and the other as the bearer of the people’s sins. The words used for the lots in this verse are ‘goralot’ and not ‘purim’ or mention of the ‘umim and thumim’ as one would expect. The word ‘goral’ means fate and which ever goat received either the ‘pur’ with ‘lashem’ or ‘l’azazel’ would determine the fate of that goat. Of interest ‘azazel’ mentioned here is one of the three words used in Torah to describe what is used in English as hell. As ‘azazel’ is understood to be a place of solitude – reference to that in last week’s portion – it is often referred to as “hell on earth”. The other two places ‘gehinom’ and ‘sheol’, the sages would tell us that as there are three names there may be three different places with different functions, maybe more on that at another time!

16:11-14 He was then to slay the bull of the sin-offering, and make atonement for himself and his household. But before bringing the blood of the sin-offering into the most holy place, he was to take “the filling of the censer (‘machtah’, a coal-pan,) with fire-coals,” i.e., as many burning coals as the censer would hold, from the altar of burnt-offering, and “the filling of his hands,” i.e., two hands full of “fragrant incense” , and go with this within the veil, i.e., into the Holy of Holies, and there place the incense upon the fire before YHVH, “that the cloud of incense might cover the ‘capporet’ above the testimony, and he might not die.”

The intention of these instructions was not that the Holy of Holies, the place of YHVH's presence, might be hidden by the cloud of incense from the gaze of the High Priest, but as burning incense was a symbol of prayer. This covering of the ‘capporet’ with the cloud of incense was a covering of the glory of YHVH, in order that He might not see the sin, but might graciously accept, in the blood of the sin-offering, those for whom it was presented. Being protected by the incense from the wrath of YHVH, the Cohen haGadol was to sprinkle (once) some of the blood of the ox with his finger, first upon the ‘capporet’ in front, i.e., not upon the top, but merely upon or against the front of it, and then seven times before the ‘capporet’, i.e., upon the ground in front of it. It is assumed as a matter of course, that when the offering of incense was finished, he would come out of the Holy of Holies again, and go to the altar of burnt-offering to fetch some of the blood of the ox which had been slaughtered there.

16:17 There was no one permitted to enter the ‘ohel hamoed’ – the Tabernacle – until the High Priest came out. Recanati and R’Bachya interpret that the High Priest was to be in the presence of YHVH without an additional intercession.

16:30 We have to make ourselves worthy of YHVH’s forgiveness. Only through repentance and self-cleansing can a person “be cleansed of all his sins before YHVH” (Sforno).

16:31 “And you shall afflict yourselves” – ‘veanitem et nashatechem’ – the word ‘ani’ means poor or degrading and ‘nefesh’ is your soul or the life blood within. Although fasting is good and helps to attain the true meaning of this verse, this is not a direct call to fasting but rather a call to humility (my degrading or lowering oneself) and true repentance and purification or sanctification.

17:11-12 Because life is in the blood, YHVH designated blood as the medium that goes up on the Altar for atonement as if to say ‘Let one life be offered tp atone for another’. This is the reason that blood is not permitted for consumption. It was also the blood of Yeshua that was shed, on the Mount of Olives, next to the Altar of the red heifer that for us is the all atoning, purifying and live giving blood.

18:1-5 Here are given the forbidden practices. Verse five ends with “I am YHVH”, this implies that there is no debate about these practices, YHVH’s Word is absolute.

18:6-20 As the Shabbat is one of the keys to holiness and holy living so too are the laws governing sexual relationships. The sages teach that wherever on finds the safeguards of chastity, there one finds holiness. (Vayikra Rabbah 24:6)

18:22-23 The severity with which the Torah deals with these perversions shows the repugnance in which YHVH holds their practitioners.

18:22 None of the previously mentioned relationships were described as an abomination but here the Torah refers to homosexual relationships as an abomination. I have often wondered if an ‘abomination’ to YHVH constitutes the unforgivable sin?

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