Hebrew Insights into Parashot Acharey Mot/Kdoshim – Vayikra (Leviticus) 16-20
The first part of Parashat Acharey Mot describes the procedure of the High Priest's "drawing close" to YHVH. The opening verse, "Now YHVH spoke to Moses after the death [“acharey mot”] of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew close to YHVH, and died" (Lev. 16:1, literal translation, emphasis and italics added) stresses "drawing close" to YHVH and, conversely, "dying." Thus, in verse 2 we read, "Tell Aaron… not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die…”(italics added). This is the solemn opening of the long and detailed account of the necessary preparation and sanctification process, culminating with…"This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all… For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you that you may be clean from all your sins before YHVH. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever… This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year…" (16: 29-31, 34). Without actually pronouncing the term, it is, of course, the description of Yom Kippur. But rather than introducing Yom Kippur and its purpose, timing and varying procedures, the text first deals with the rightful procedure of entering the Holy of Holies. As this theme continues to unfold gradually, inductively, the ultimate purpose is brought to light.
In 16: 2 we encounter the expression…"inside the veil before the mercy seat." In Parashat Truma (Exodus 25-27:19) we learned that the "mercy sit" is “kaporet” (of the root k.p/f.r – kaf, fey/pey, resh - "cover"). The veil, of the root p.r.ch (pey, resh, kaf/chaf) , is made up of the same letters. The rest of verse 2 says: "I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat." Thus the two renditions of mercy seat and the mention of the veil all in the same verse make for an alliteration (kaporet and parochet), a fact which underscores the position of the mercy seat, being within the veil where the High Priest may enter only under very strict and special conditions.
After personally readying himself and making a sin offering as atonement for himself and his household, the High Priest is to take two male goats, which he is to obtain from the congregation. These two are to be placed "in front of YHVH" at the opening of the Tent of Meeting where lots are to be cast for them, "one lot for YHVH and one lot for Aza'zel" (ref. 16:5-10). The goats mentioned here are “s'eerim” ("hairy ones," sa'eer = "hairy"). The casting of lots is "goral," which is of the root g.r.l. (gimmel, resh, lamed), meaning "stone or stony place," since the lots were stones shaken after being put into a piece of cloth or a container . Thus, in Matthew 27:35 we read the following about Yeshua: "Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, 'They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots'" (Ps. 22:18). In the same chapter of Matthew (v. 15-17 and 21b) we read the following: "Now at the Feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Bar Abba (Barabbas). Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, 'Whom do you want me to release to you? Bar Abba, or Yeshua who is called Messiah?'… They said, 'Bar Abba!'" Thus the verdict was pronounced. The goat on which YHVH's lot fell was to be a sin offering, as it is written: "Elohim by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3).
The other goat was to be for Aza'zel. “Aza’zel” is a compound word, made up of the word “az” (ayin, zayin), meaning “strong,” but can also be read as “ez” – goat, and “azal” (alef, zayin, lamed) - “that which is used up,” or “is no more.” This goat that was “to be no more,” was sent to the wilderness by the hand of a suitable ("eeti," meaning “timely”; "et" = the "right or appointed time") person (ref. 16:21). Thus, Yeshua Bar Abba the criminal and counterfeit of Yeshua the Son of the Father, stood in proxy, as it were, for the goat that was allowed to live for the purpose of being sent to the wilderness, or “eretz grzera” ("land of separation," 16:22) with all the sins and iniquities. G.Z.R (gimmel, zayin, resh) is literally “to cut off, remove, decreed.” And while it was decreed that the unrepentant Bar Abba would be cut off and removed from the Father by his sins (ref. Is 59:2), Pilate was the timely person who facilitated the whole prophetic process and scenario. Yet, it also says about the “Suffering Servant” of Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:8: “For He was cut off [nigzar] from the land of the living,” (emphasis added). Thus we see that in spite of our above comparison of Yeshua and Bar Abba, respectively, to the two goats, Yeshua also fulfilled the role of the second goat, as chapter 16:21 confirms: “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat,..” (italics added).
Whereas chapter 16 began with a strong exhortation and command to the High Priest regarding time, place and procedures of coming before YHVH, chapter 17 enjoins the ordinary people not to sacrifice according to their own whims, lest they should be suspect of sacrificing to idols. And so we read in 17:7: "They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot." The word used there for "demons" is “s'eerim” again, the word that we have just encountered in the previous chapter for “male goats.” Goat worship prevailed in Egypt and it is thought that the demons worshipped there were in the form of male goats.  And as we see quite often in the Hebraic world and mindset - in the very essence of the transgression the solution is already provided (such as the word “chet” – sin – illustrates, as “hitchat’oot,” of the same root, is purification). Here we see that for the sin of serving the goat/deemon – s’eer – a provision has already been made by the usage of two goats (s’eerim).
Parashat Acharey Mot is made up of four sections. Aside from the part, which leads up to Yom Kippur, and the section regarding the right place for the offerings, there are two more sections concerning the prohibitions of eating meat with blood, and incest. In the four sections, all so different from one another, one phrase is repeated like a refrain (see the italicized words in the following): "In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you" (16:29 italics added). "This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. Also you shall say to them, ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice’…" (17:7-8 italics added). "And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger…” (17:15 italics added). Finally, "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you" (18:26 italics added). "Stranger" is “ger,” and originates from the root “gur” (gimmel, vav, resh), meaning "to dwell, tarry, sojourn," as well as “to fear (see Ps. 22:23 for example). The stranger’s defenselessness causes him to fear (hence the oft repeated reminders as to the proper attitude toward him). The importance of empathizing with the less fortunate, the weak and vulnerable is not only emphasized in this portion, but is repeated a number of times in several of the other Torah portions.
The last section of Parashat Ahcarey Mot deals, as mentioned, with the prohibitions against incest and other sexual offences. Following the long list of specific details, YHVH admonishes Yisrael thusly: "Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it…" (18:24-25). According to Torah, when one comes in contact with anything, which is (ritually) unclean, one is contaminated by it. The converse, however, is not true; i.e., coming in contact with that which is holy does not render one “automatically” holy. In accordance with that verse, the Land itself is likewise subject to spiritual contamination by reason of the practices of its inhabitants, with the resulting consequences that “the land [will] vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you" (18:28). The following Parasha (Kdoshim) closes off with the same warning, as part of the command to stay separate (ref. 20:22).
Finally, in 16:30 we read: "For on this day He [some translations replace “He” with “the priest”] shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you; for all your sins, before YHVH you shall be cleansed." or “before YHVH you shall be purified,” or “before YHVH you shall purify yourselves.” Here then is a fervent call to appropriate by faith the atonement enacted by the Almighty, forming also a fitting introduction to Parashat Kdoshim.
"And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: `You shall be holy [plural -kdoshim], for I YHVH your Elohim am holy'" (19:1-2 emphasis added). The rest of the Parasha, like the previous one, constitutes a portrait of the 'holy,’ or ‘set-apart’ Israelite, whose Elohim is Holy, a fact which could render him of the same status - as it says in Genesis 1:27: "So Elohim created man in His own image; in the image of Elohim He created him," (italics added). In fact, in chapter 19, “I am YHVH” (“your Elohim” added to some of them) is repeated 15 times and tagged to the various injunctions. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4: “Blessed be the Elohim and Father of our Lord Messiah Yeshua, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (italics added).
In contrast to most of YHVH's addresses in the Parashot we have been studying, here the “entire congregation of the sons of Israel” – kol ah’dat b'ney Yisrael, is being addressed. We have here an assortment of directives, of both commission and omission. The penalties described (and mainly found in chapter 20), even if not exercised and carried out in our day and age, are indicators of the way YHVH views the transgressions to which they are appended.
The theme of Parashat Kdoshim is encapsulated in 20:25-26: "You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And you shall be holy to Me, for I YHVH am Holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine." This clearly illustrates the contaminating effect, which the unclean has upon Elohim's People; yet over and above that it underscores the separateness of those who belong to Him and who are rendered set apart by this very fact.
Going back to chapter 19, we will notice that most of the injunctions or clusters thereof, end with "I am YHVH your Elohim." Thus, we read about reverence for father and mother and keeping the Shabbat. This is followed by a command to reject idols. The issue of peace offerings, which comes after is succeeded by how one is to treat those less fortunate than oneself (the poor and the sojourner), by leaving for them the gleanings of the fields and vineyards, for… "I am YHVH your Elohim." Theft, deception, lying and swearing falsely in YHVH's name are enumerated next. These constitute "profaning" His Name (vv. 8,12,29), which is “chalel” (ch.l.l., chet, lamed, lamed) meaning, "to make hollow or burrow,” and is also the root for "casualty" (such as in war). Dealing unjustly (a.sh.k – ayin, shin, kof, oppressing and stealing) with one's fellow man, cursing the deaf and putting a stumbling block in front of the blind, diverting justice in court, tale bearing and not taking responsibility when a friend's life is in danger… all are sealed by "I am YHVH." Obviously we are moving here into more subtle matters that may not be necessarily noticed by society at large, but will be seen by Him whose "eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth" (ref. 2nd Chr.16:9; Zech. 4:10). This takes us to even deeper issues of the heart, such as, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (19:17).
"Brother," aside from its obvious meaning, could also relate to one's “fellowman,” just as do the following terms: "Associate" - amit (v. 11, in some translations “one another”), and "re'ah," that is, “friend or fellowman” (more commonly rendered "neighbor" in the English translations. See 19:16-18). The utilization of these terms clarifies that ‘others’ are equal to one’s- self, and therefore should be treated accordingly. In verse 17 there is also an instruction of commission, relating to the action that should be taken when the need arises to reprimand or rebuke one’s fellow man (rather than harbor hatred and bitterness in one’s heart). If "open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed” (Prov. 27:5), how much more does this apply when hate is the option? One is not to nurse vengeance nor bear a grudge against one's own people, logically leading to the highest dictum; that one is to love one's fellow man as one's self (v.18), where in Hebrew the word used is “re’ah” – friend, associate. Again, this is sealed by "I am YHVH."
The tending of trees in YHVH's Promised Land - which for the first three years are to be considered “uncircumcised” – “arelim,” and in the fourth are to be “praises to YHVH" - “hiluleem,” as well as prohibitions concerning all pagan idolatrous customs, ensue next. However, "I am YHVH" does not seal the passage before the mention of the honor due the elderly (19:22). The next cluster deals with the sojourner, because of the Israelites’ own experience in Egypt. Chapter 19 ends with the injunction to utilize strictly honest and just measurements, as befitting a Nation of a just Elohim. "You shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them…" (v. 37) brings this chapter to a close, to which words we must append 18:5 (of the previous Parasha) “…which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am YHVH.” It is no wonder, therefore, that the Renewed Covenant's mandate is to do just that – to enable His People to live out this Torah of Life (or life of Torah) through Him Who is the very Giver of Life.
Chapter 20 echoes chapter 18 (in Parashat Acharey Mot), in dealing largely with various forms of incest, forbidden forms of cohabitation, and abominable sexual practices, which are described by the phrase, “exposing the nakedness” (again, nakedness is tantamount to not having a “covering” – “kippur”). “Nakedness” here is “erva” of the root a.r.h. (ayin, resh, hey). A similar word, stemming from the root, a.r.r (ayin, resh, resh), that means “stripped” and also “childless” is “ariri”, (e.g. Gen. 15:2; Jer. 22:30). Thus in verse 20 we read, “And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness - erva. They shall bear their sin. They shall die bereft of children – arireem” (italics added). This makes evident the fruitlessness and lifelessness of sin, and symbolizes the fact that sin results only in death (childlessness).
It is interesting that the names of these two Parashot are often combined, along with next week's Emor ("say, speak out or express”). Strung together they form a phrase: "After the death of the holy ones, speak out…." Notably, it is only after “death” (to the old and carnal) that one may give expression to YHVH's Torah - written on one's heart, by which one might lead a holy life.
 Notice the "k" and "ch" here denote the same letter, i.e. "kaf".
 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.
Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.
 Online Bible, Gill Commentary