Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Acharey Mot – Vayikra (Leviticus) 16-18

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Acharey Mot – Vayikra (Leviticus) 16-18

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, 43). 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 process of entering the Holy of Holies. As this theme continues to unfold gradually, inductively, the ultimate purpose is exposed to the light.

Verse 2 contains the expression…"inside the veil before the mercy seat." In Parashat Truma (Exodus 25-27:19) we learnt that the "mercy sit" is “kaporet” (of the root k.p/f.r - "cover"). The veil, of the root (pey, resh, kaf/chaf) meaning "a shrine" [1], is made up of the same letters and is “parochet.” 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, made up of the same letters), 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 [2]. 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, with “azal” probably meaning "entire removal"[3], and was to be sent to the wilderness by the hand of a suitable "eeti,"meaning “timely”; "et" = the "right or appointed time") person (ref. vs. 21). Thus, Yeshua Bar Abba (Aramaic, “son of the father”) 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," 18 :22) with all the sins and iniquities. And while the unrepentant Bar Abba was separated from the Father by his sins (ref. Is 59:2), Pilate was the timely person who facilitated the whole prophetic process and scenario.

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. [4] And as we see quite often in the Hebraic mindset and world, in the very essence of the transgression the solution is already provided (such as the word “chet” – sin – illustrates, as “hitcha’t’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. Let us read the verses where this repeated verse is found: "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, to tarry, or sojourn," as well as “to fear (see Ps. 22:23 for example). ”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 very essence of “ger” is not a mere stranger, but one who receives protection, because of his obvious vulnerability, from the community in which he abides.

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). 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).

Although the bulk of our Parasha deals with the type of precepts which could very easily turn into mere rituals and habits practiced mindlessly, we find the following in 16:30: "For on this day He shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you; for all your sins, before YHVH you shall be cleansed." The latter part of the verse which says: “before YHVH you shall be cleansed," may also be read, “before YHVH you shall be purified,” or “you shall purify yourselves.” Here then is the fervent call to appropriate by faith the atonement enacted by the Almighty, forming also an appropriate introduction to Parashat Kdoshim.

[1] Notice the "k" and "ch" here denote the same letter, i.e. "kaf".
[2] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.
Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Online Bible, Gill Commentary