Our parasha for this week is entitled Achrei Mot, which means, “after the death” and covers Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30. The title of the parasha refers to the time following the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who offered unauthorized fire before the Lord in Leviticus 10 and were put to death because of this unholy act.
The Lord reminds Moses at the beginning of Chapter 16 that Aaron can only go into the Most Holy Place at a time sanctioned by the Lord. We don’t find out when this specified time will be until the end of this chapter when the Lord says that this day will be on the 10th day of the 7th month of the Jewish calendar. This, of course, is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Chapter 16 contains the instructions on how this ceremony of atonement is to be conducted. Even today, Yom Kippur is the most holy and solemn day on the Jewish calendar and perhaps to reflect that, this is the only day on which Scripture requires a day of fasting (Leviticus 23:27). This was also the only day on which the High Priest was allowed to utter the holy Name of God, the Tetragrammaton (YHVH); at all other times, the Lord was referred to as Adonai. The High Priest would utter this name 10 times during the Yom Kippur service and each time, the people would prostrate themselves on the ground and reply, “Blessed be the Name (of the Lord) whose glorious kingdom endures forever.”
Although there were other sacrifices that were offered during that day, for the Yom Kippur sacrifices there was a bull, two goats and a ram. On all other days, other priests performed the sacrifices but on this day, the High Priest, himself, performed all the sacrifices. The ram was offered as a burnt offering and the bull and one of the goats were offered as sin offerings (Leviticus Chapter 1 outlines the meaning for each of these offerings). It is interesting to note that in the name Yom Kippur, Kippur translates as atonement, or more accurately as “to cover.” In other words, the Yom Kippur sacrifices and other animal sacrifices that were offered during the year could cover sin up, but only for a time, the sin could not be removed.
Aaron was first to enter the Most Holy Place with fire and incense which he would burn. This would create a cloud inside the Most Holy Place and in verse 2, the Lord says, “I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover…” meaning above the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. During the ceremony, Aaron would confess his and his household’s sins, the sins of the Levites and the sins of the rest of the House of Israel and would enter the Most Holy Place with the blood of the bull and the blood of the one of the goats, which he would then sprinkle on the Mercy Seat as an atonement for these sins. In addition, the High Priest was to sprinkle blood around the Most Holy Place, in the Tent of Meeting and on the altar indicating that these areas had also become unclean due to being touched by human hands.
Finally, the High Priest was to confess the wickedness, rebellion and sins of the Jewish People on the live goat called the Azazel. In English, this is known as the Scapegoat, or more accurately, the Escape Goat, but in the Hebrew Azazel is closer to “for entire removal”. In other words, transferring the sins of the people to the goat and then removing the goat and the sins of the people with it.
Chapter 17 informs us of the need to sacrifice only at the Tent of Meeting. People had been making sacrifices away from the Tent of Meeting and this needed to be corrected. In addition, in Leviticus 17:12 we also learn that eating of blood is forbidden.
Chapter 18 informs of us various sexual sins, i.e, a father having sex with his daughter or a son with his father’s wife, and other forbidden relations including what the NIV refers to as the detestable sin of homosexuality, verse 22, and the perverted sin of sexual relations with animals, verse 23.
What can we take away from this week’s portion?
First, we can see that even the sacrifices on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar could not completely take away sins, they could only be covered and only for a time. Complete forgiveness of sin would not be made available until over 1500 years from this time, with the birth of Yeshua and his ultimate atoning sacrifice upon the cross and resurrection from the grave. I find it so amazing that the Temple remained standing until just about 4 decades after Yeshua’s death and then was destroyed by the Romans and has not been rebuilt even to this very day.
We can also see that just as the High Priest interceded for the people, only he could enter the Most Holy Place to make atonement for the people; in the same way, we need Yeshua, Who is seated at the Right Hand of God, to make intercession for us with Adonai.
And, finally, we can see that through belief in Yeshua, we have a greater means of atonement than through the atonement found with animal sacrifices, as it is written in Hebrews 10:11 – 14: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (referring to Yeshua) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.