Welcome to this week’s Torah portions are called Acharei Mot (After Death) and Kedoshim (Holy Ones).
Acharei Mot (After Death)
· Leviticus 16:1–18:30
· Ezekiel 22:1–22:19
· 1 Corinthians 6:9–20
“YAHUVEH spoke to Moses after the death [acharei mot] of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached YAHUVEH.” (Leviticus 16:1)
Parasha Acharei Mot begins with YAH's instructions for Aharon (Aaron), the Cohen HaGadol (The High Priest), regarding entering the innermost chamber of the Sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, with the ‘ketoret’ (incense offering) and the preparations for the crucial once-a-year sacrifice on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
This week’s Parasha emphasizes that it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11)
For most of us, even religious Jews, this idea of blood atonement for sin seems foreign and archaic. Moreover, in this day of do-what-you-think-is-right, even the basic concept of sin seems antiquated.
Still, Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement is a reminder that the problem of sin is just as real today as it was in the time of Moses.
According to Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur is the day ELOHIM pronounces judgment, administering either the rewards for good deeds (mitzvot) or the punishments for sin.
This Holiest day of the year, which is observed in the fall, reminds us that we are in desperate need of redemption through the blood of atonement. No matter how hard we try to be "good enough," we always fall short of YAH's standards of perfection.
“For there is not a righteous man upon earth who does good and sins not.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
The Scapegoat for Sin and ELOHIM’s Sign of Acceptance
ELOHIM told Moses that on Yom Kippur, Aaron should cast lots for two goats. One would be offered as the sacrifice and the other – the Azazel (scapegoat) – would be sent alive into the wilderness.
“Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to ELOHIM and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before ELOHIM to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat [azazel].” (Leviticus 16:8–10)
‘Azazel’ is a rare Hebrew noun meaning ‘dismissal’ or ‘complete removal’.
To symbolize the entire removal of the sin and guilt of Israel, the High Priest is to lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel.
All their transgressions are laid upon the Azazel, which is then sent away into the wilderness.
"The goat shall bear all their iniquities to a land which is cut off.” (Leviticus 16:22)
The Cohen (Priest) would tie a scarlet cloth to the horn of the goat. When the sacrifice was fully accepted by ELOHIM, the scarlet cloth became white.
This symbolized YAH’s gracious promise in Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”
Tradition adds that this miraculous sign from ELOHIM did not occur from about AD 30 to AD 70, at which time the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans stopped all sacrifices.
ELOHIM showed HIS acceptance of the Azazel in the past, so why did HE stop for these 40 years?
Near AD 30, YAHUSHUA made atonement for sin once and for all as the Azazel.
YAHUSHUA became the Scapegoat for us, taking on HIMSELF all of our sins and removing from us all the punishment that we deserve.
“By ELOHIM’s grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before HIM, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah YAHUSHUA. ELOHIM presented HIM as a sacrifice of atonement (Kaparah) through faith in HIS Blood.” (Romans 3:23–24)
The Removal of Sin
“In this way he [Aaron] will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.” (Leviticus 16:16)
While ordinary sacrifices were limited to atonement for involuntary or unintentional sins, the special Yom Kippur sacrifice of a goat also atoned for willful sin.
The prophet Isaiah foreshadowed a day when YAHUSHUA would become the sacrifice that would remove all sin.
In the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53, he wrote, “And ELOHIM has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all … For HE shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:6, 11)
In Hebrew, the use of the word ‘iniquities’ in these verses means ‘crooked’ and signifies a willful departure from the Law (Torah) of ELOHIM.
This prophetic portion of Scripture has been hidden from most Jewish people, even those who faithfully attend synagogue services.
The entire chapter, in fact, is not found in the yearly selection of Sabbath Haftarah prophetic readings.
Why? Likely because it is impossible to miss that this Messianic Prophecy describes the atonement that YAHUSHUA made for us through the Sacrifice of His own Life.
Those who do read Isaiah 53 see the connection to YAHUSHUA.
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and HE will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is MY covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25–27)
Isaiah 52:13–53:12 does refer to the MESSIAH and not to the nation of Israel.
HE, MESSIAH, shall intercede for man’s sins, and the rebellious, for his sake, shall be forgiven. (Isaiah 53:12)
And when Israel is sinful, the MESSIAH seeks for mercy upon them as it is written, “By his stripes we were healed” (Isaiah 53:5), and “HE carried the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
Through faith in YAHUSHUA, our sins are transferred to the MESSIAH, who became our Scapegoat (Azazel).
Only HIS death fulfills Isaiah 53, which describes ELOHIM’s Suffering Servant, who like a lamb was led to the slaughter to bear our iniquities.
And because HE was sinless, YAHUSHUA came into the Heavenly Holy of Holies in the capacity of the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol), not with the blood of bulls or goats, but with HIS own Blood for our redemption.
“HE did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by HIS own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12)
The blood of bulls and goats could never fully remove sin, only cover it for a time.
Only YAHUSHUA the MESSIAH, as the pure spotless Lamb and the Scapegoat, could pay the price for our rebellion and uncleanness. HE did so willingly, giving HIS life as the Korban (sacrifice) for our sins.
"Surely HE has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed HIM stricken, smitten by ELOHIM, and afflicted. But HE was pierced for our transgressions; HE was crushed for our iniquities; upon HIM was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with HIS wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4–5)
Kedoshim (Holy Ones)
Kedoshim (Holy Ones)
· Leviticus 19:1–20:27
· Amos 9:7–15
· Hebrews 12:1–12:17
In the opening verse of Kedoshim, ELOHIM tells Moses:
“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be Holy [kedoshim] because I, YAHUVEH your ELOHIM, am Holy [kadosh].’” (Leviticus 19:1–2)
Kedoshim (Holy Ones) begins with ELOHIM’s command that Israel be Holy because ELOHIM is Holy.
Holiness is something that each person is capable of, since a Holy ELOHIM would not demand from us something we are incapable of doing; nor would He judge us when we fail.
Many deny our capacity for Holiness and most do not know what it means to be Holy.
Since the Hebrew word ‘Kadosh’ and the related word ‘Kedoshim’ (which refers to more than one person) mean ‘Holy’, ‘sanctified’, or ‘set apart’, we understand from the opening verses that a person set aside for the service of ELOHIM is Holy because ELOHIM is Holy.
But what does true Holiness really look like? Most people have their own preconceived notions of Holiness based on preferences, upbringing, and even systems of philosophy and ethics, etc.
But the truth is that ELOHIM is the one who makes us Holy. Furthermore, it is HIS standard of Holiness that counts.
Although Paul cautions Believers to “be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone” (Romans 12:17), we must remember that not everyone has a handle on what is Holy, since it stems from a relationship with ELOHIM and a knowledge of HIS Word.
ELOHIM has made us ‘kadosh’ (Holy or set apart) for HIS special purposes. Sometimes those special purposes might not be evident to others.
For instance, we can imagine that Esther may have experienced some criticism as she prepared to come before the Persian king. In the eyes of some Jews, she might have looked far from Holy – consenting to marry an uncircumcised pagan king?! Unthinkable for a nice Jewish girl!
And, yet, ELOHIM placed her in a royal position to save the Jewish People from destruction; and within those circumstances, she did her best to live up to that purpose.
Likewise, Jews who believe that YAHUSHUA is the MASHIACH are certainly not considered “Holy” by our Orthodox Jewish brethren, but rather traitors to our people and our ELOHIM.
Ultimately, even though we are commanded to avoid the appearance of evil, what’s important is not how people see us, but how ELOHIM sees us. We are each individuals and ELOHIM treats us as such. So let us allow ELOHIM to make us Holy – before His eyes.
Still, that doesn’t mean we are to do our own thing and define for ourselves what holiness looks like. Today’s Parasha reveals how we can sanctify ourselves according to ELOHIM’s holiness.
So the question remains: “How can we be Holy?”
The key to this question is in these words: “And you shall walk in His ways.” (Deuteronomy 28:9)
We are to emulate the actions and Character of ELOHIM. Just as HE is merciful, we are to be merciful; as He is patient, kind, and forgiving, so are we to be.
YAHUSHUA emphasized that this was a guiding principle in HIS own life:
“Very truly I tell you, the SON can do nothing by HIMSELF; HE can do only what HE sees HIS FATHER doing, because whatever the FATHER does the SON also does.” (John 5:19)
It naturally follows, then, that YAHUSHUA instructed us to also imitate ELOHIM:
“Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
The original Hebrew word in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) that is often translated ‘perfect’ is ‘tamim’, which means ‘complete’, ‘sound’, ‘blameless’, or with ‘integrity’.
As the Psalmist David wrote,
“I will be careful to lead a blameless life [derech tamim] — when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart [tam l’vavi].” (Psalm 101:2)
In the Hebrew, therefore, we see the true meaning of this word ‘tamim’ is not an unattainable perfection, but a character that reflects that of ELOHIM.
A blameless life (derech tamim) and blameless heart (lev tam) refer to purity. While ELOHIM does not expect us to be perfect as we define it – to get everything right the first time and every time, HE does want us to walk in His ways – along paths of purity and holiness with a pure heart.
This Torah portion reveals that such perfection and purity naturally embrace integrity and reject deceptiveness.
“You shall not steal, do not lie, do not deceive one another.” (Leviticus 19:11)
“MY eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with ME; the one whose walk is blameless [b’derech tamim] will serve ME. No one who practices deceit will dwell in MY house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in MY presence.” (Psalm 101:6–7)
This, of course, includes holiness and integrity in commerce.
The people of ELOHIM are not to follow the immoral or unjust codes of those who do not know ELOHIM, but rather to deal honestly in all business affairs.
“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the YAHUVEH your ELOHIM, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:35–36)
Those who profess to follow YAHUSHUA should be especially careful not to deal deceitfully with others. Deceitful dealing is damaging not only to our personal reputation, but also ELOHIM’s reputation since Believers represent Him. Deceitful behavior is the opposite of holiness.
Most of us expect that religiously observant people will hold themselves to a higher standard of morality and integrity than secular people who do not follow ELOHIM’s Laws as a guide. Such is not always the case. As well, too often it turns out that there are many con artists pretending to be “religious” in order to gain another’s trust.
“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:13)
Holiness Is Love in Action
This Torah portion also provides other actions that are in keeping with Holiness such as keeping the Sabbath, reverencing ELOHIM’s Sanctuary, showing respect for the elderly, honoring one’s parents, providing for the poor, and not showing favoritism to the rich.
It forbids sexual immorality, injustice, and participation in any kind of sorcery, divination, magic, or witchcraft. Although interest in the occult is on the rise, Scripture forbids it:
“Do not practice divination or seek omens.… Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them.” (Leviticus 19:26, 31)
This Torah portion also reveals that Holiness is not limited to actions, but also concerns attitude. It condemns hatred, bearing grudges, and taking revenge.
“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:17–18)
Of course, the last part of the above verse is one of the most well-known in the entire Bible.
YAHUSHUA quoted that same verse when questioned as to which commandments were the most important in the entire Torah. He answered, “Love the YAHUVEH your ELOHIM with all your heart, and … love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30–31)
Holiness and Judgment in the Haftarah
In this week’s Haftarah (Prophetic portion), the prophet Amos gives a scathing warning to the people of Israel of the impending divine judgments due to their immorality and deceptive business practices.
“Behold, the eyes of the YAHUVEH ELOHIM are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth.” (Amos 9:8)
Israel transgressed by mistreating the poor, imposing unjust taxes, and taking bribes. (Amos 5:11–12)
And yet, ELOHIM showed mercy and promised, “I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob.” (Amos 9:8)
He also promised to one day restore the fallen tabernacle of David:
“In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter — I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins — and will rebuild it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear My name.” (Amos 9:11–12)
The Secret of Holiness
The people of Israel suffered a terrible punishment due to sin. Still, ELOHIM promised to bring them back to inhabit the rebuilt cities:
“I will bring my people Israel back from exile. They will rebuild ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruits. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.” (Amos 9:14–15)
This amazing prophecy has come to pass in our very generation and is proof that, despite our tendency to stray from the path of holiness, there is still hope for us in ELOHIM, for His mercies are everlasting. That is why we are not consumed.
As followers of YAHUSHUA HAMASHIACH, we should make every effort to live our lives with integrity, operating in justice, mercy, and love – in the Holiness that is defined in this Parasha – so that we may bring glory to the Name of ELOHIM.
This is obviously a crucial issue, since the Book of Hebrews reminds us to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be Holy; without holiness no one will see the YAHUVEH.” (Hebrews 12:14)
The secret to holiness, then, is that when we draw close to the YAHUVEH, as we pursue an intimate relationship with Him, we discover HIS Holiness. Only then can we live out our Holy identity and purpose as the sons and daughters of the Almighty and Holy YAHUVEH. (2 Corinthians 6:18)