Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Acharei Mot / Kedoshim
This weeks Torah reading is a double portion, the first of Acharei Mot which means “After the death”, and the second is Kedoshim which means “Holy ones”. This commentary will primarily focus on the Yom Kippur service. Vaiyikra 16:1 begins, "The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. The death of Nadab and Abihu happened in Vaiykra 10. Vaiyikra 16 describes how to cleanse the sanctuary from the uncleanness caused by Nadab and Abihu. They had polluted the sanctuary in two ways: their sin and their death inside the sacred area (corpses were unclean). The laws of impurities were placed between Chapters 10 and 16 to explain other causes of pollution requiring the annual day of atonement.
On the Day of Atonement the High Priests offered bulls for their own cleansing in Vaiyikra. 4:3. A bull was the most expensive sacrificial animal and was required to cleanse the priest to make him fit to perform the ministry to cleanse others. (Vs.11) "He shall put incense on the fire before Yahweh that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat" The altar of incense was usually in the outer room of the sanctuary, but on Yom Kippur it was brought behind the veil to the inner room, the Holy of Holies. The incense smoke was a protection from the glory of HaShem so that the priest would not die. (Vs.13) In order to enter the presence of the Shekhinah the High Priest needed two protections: a sacrifice for purification from uncleanness for himself and incense to shelter him from God’s holiness.
Vaiyikra 16:15 says, "Then he shall slaughter the goat of the purification offering" Usually a purification offering for the whole congregation would be a bull, as for the priest (Vaiyikra. 4:14). The offering for a leader of the people was a male goat (Vaiyikra. 4:23), which is what HaShem prescribes for Yom Kippur. In this case, the male goat is for the people as a whole. As with the bull, the blood is sprinkled 7 times in front of the ark. The number of sprinklings suggests complete cleansing. Thus the climax of holiness is reached in the ceremony of purification performed in the Sanctuary on the Day of Atonement.
The two goats are now presented in the ceremony when he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar. During this ceremony two goats of equal size and appearance are taken. One goes “toward God” and the other “away from God" Aaron as High Priest has been empowered to atone for the holy place, the tent of meeting and the altar. In order to do this he will offer one of the goats as a sacrifice. Then he is to lay his hands upon the head of the other goat and confess the sins of the people. After doing this, the goat is to be led away into the wilderness with the sins of the nation of Israel upon its head. Vaiyikra16:-21-22 says, He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites--all their sins--and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. What Aaron, as the High Priest of Israel, is being instructed to do regarding the laying on of hands upon the goat designated to receive the sins of Israel is what Messiah Yeshua did on our behalf as part of the people of Israel. As the scapegoat was led away the people knew that now their sins were also forgotten, in fact they were ‘removed from the congregation.’ Yoma 6:8 says “a strip of crimson wool was tied to the door of the sanctuary and when the he-goat reached the wilderness the strip turned white; as it is said, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as the snow.'The goat becomes a sin-bearer, an idea that is repeated in Isaiah 53:6, “Yahweh has laid upon him the iniquities of us all.” Now we see the closest thing in the Torah to the cross. Whereas sacrifices cleansed the sanctuary and the land, the scapegoat removed sins from the people. The rabbis said the sacrifices purged the Temple, but the scapegoat purged Israel’s sins.
The importance of the sacrifices for sin in our day and age, being so far removed from the Temple service, are gravely overlooked. We do not appreciate the extent of how HaShem views our sins. In verse 21 sin is described as iniquities and transgression. The Hebrew word for iniquity carries the meaning of perversity, depravity, iniquity and guilt. This implies much more than what we consider to be sin. HaShem takes sin to a whole other level. While we may recite prayers about the sinners we are, do we really understand that we are sinners. Each and every one of us is a sinner before the face of HaShem. Our sin causes us not to be able to stand in the presence of HaShem or else we would die. It is only through the intercession of the High Priest of Israel that a temporary covering was placed over Israel that cleansed them in the eyes of HaShem.
In addition to the sin or iniquity, Aaron also placed upon the goat the transgressions of Israel. In Hebrew the word is ‘pesha’ and means transgression or rebellion. While these are two different words they mean essentially the same thing because to transgress against HaShem is to disobey His commandments and that constitutes rebellion. Remember the first sin committed was by Adam and Eve disobeying a direct command from HaShem not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This was not mere disobedience but direct rebellion and transgression of a command from HaShem. No matter how HaShem defines sin in the Torah or how many various sins, He shows us the basic sin is transgression and rebellion against His Torah. The New Covenant defines sin as this: Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4
The Hebrew word for confess is ‘yadah’ and carries a similar meaning and is connected to the Hebrew word ‘yarah’ and is used in connection with describing the purpose of the Torah. The Torah becomes the arrow that is shot at its mark, us, and when it hits its mark it should convict us of our sin and cause us to desire to fix the problem. What Yahweh is communicating in Vaiyikra, especially through verses like 16:16 and 15:31, is that His presence could not remain in a land of sinful men and women unless sin and impurity was constantly cleansed through the means He provided. These included daily sacrifices, morning and evening, additional sacrifices for Shabbat and holy days, additional sacrifices and ritual washings for various circumstances, and the continual ministry of the priests. If the land needed to be cleansed so HaShem could remain in it, how much more will we need to be cleansed in order to appear before Yahweh.