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    Acharei Mot/Kedoshim  
(Lev 16:1 - 20:27)

Vayikra/Leviticus 16:11   And Aharon shall bring near the bull of the sin-offering that is his, and he shall atone for himself and for his house

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

This text gives us another of those curious repetitions that we need to resolve in order to understand what is going on in the Torah's mind and narrative. These exact words are presented just five verses earlier, Vayikra 16:6, and so trigger discussion among the commentators as to why they are given again so soon and in an identical manner. Whereas Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra and the Who Is ...

The Rashbam: Rabbi Samuel ben Asher (1085-1174 CE), a grandson of Rashi; lived in Northern France; worked from the plain meaning of the Hebrew text even when this contradicted established rabbinic interpretaton
Rashbam treat this text as a continuation of verse six, where the Kohen HaGadol prepares the bull to be a sin-offering, implying that after Aharon brought the bull to the Tabernacle it was immediately slaughtered, the Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno tells us that, "We know from tradition that the two atonements for himself are atonements achieved through the words of confession. Therefore they precede the slaughter of the sin offering." Baruch Levine splits the difference by suggesting that "Nothing was actually placed on the altar at this point. The verb 'to offer' here," he continues, "indicates that the bull was slaughtered and prepared for sacrifice. The actual sacrifice is described in verse twenty five. Our verse follows up on the preparations already initiated in verse six." Gunther Plaut also tries to have it both ways, commenting, "The bull of purgation offering is now slaughtered; its blood is to be sprinkled in the Shrine. But first the incense rite must be performed."

The verb - the Hif'il 3ms affix form of the root , here in a vav-reversive construction to render a future tense, to approach or come near - means both "he shall bring near" and "he shall offer as a sacrifice" depending on the context of the passage. It starts verses six, nine and eleven: nine being most obviously the "sacrifice" meaning; six and eleven leaning towards the "bring near" meaning. Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch follows this line, arguing that "here the Kohen HaGadol is told to come a second time to his bull, and acknowledge again the necessity for atonement for himself and his 'house'." In the word 'again', Hirsch sees two confessions, suggesting that the first one is for himself and that in the "second confession, the conception of his house is extended to include the whole of the priestly tribe." He points to the Talmud, where the sages asked, "Why is it that in the first confession he does not say 'And the children of Aharon, Thy holy people' and in the second confession he mentions: 'The children of Aaron, Thy holy people'? The school of Rabbi Ishmael taught: Common sense dictates this: It is better that one innocent [because the high priest is adjudged innocent, after having besought and obtained forgiveness for himself] obtain atonement for the guilty, than that one guilty obtain atonement for the guilty" (b. Yoma 43b). So the two confessions are separated: "the first confession on his own behalf before he makes the second one on behalf of his tribe is explained as being so that before he seeks atonement for others, he first attains it for himself by his personal confession."

So far, so good. Aharon first confesses his own sin then, when he has obtained atonement and forgiveness for himself - and is therefore ritually pure and innocent - he confesses again in order to obtain atonement for the other priests, his 'household', and perhaps even the whole tribe of Levi. Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi quotes from the psalmist ...

O house of Israel, bless the L-RD; O house of Aharon, bless the L-RD;
O house of Levi, bless the L-RD; you who fear the L-RD, bless the L-RD
(Psalm 135:19-20, NJPS)

... pointing out that these are collective expressions for blocks or groups of people within the Children of Israel. By his logic, the "house of Aharon" refers to the entire order of kohanim, priests. This leads Rashi to the conclusion that while the High Priest atones for himself, "the kohanim gain atonement through the sin offering of the Kohen HaGadol." This is a significant step indeed, pointing as it does to the sacrifice of Yeshua to gain atonement for all those - Jew and Gentile - who would believer in Him, who would become part of His household and so be covered by His sacrifice.

We have to ask ourselves the question, then: from who, do we gain our atonement and why? There is little argument but that we all do things wrong in our lives, from the greatest to the smallest, every man, woman and child, not to mention those in between. We have all done things we regret, things we know now and - if we are honest, knew then - were wrong. We all need atonement, a way of making things right, of covering over those things of which we are now ashamed. The Bible is very inclusive in recognising this; even Qohelet, perhaps the most cynical of the Bible's authors, confesses that, "there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20, ESV), and Rav Sha'ul doesn't mince his words: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d" (Romans 3:23, ESV). Notice that neither writer attaches emotional guilt; it is simply a fact. What matters is not how sorry, guilty, horrified or even smugly justified you feel about it; what matters is what you do about it. The little dances that we all do - trying to change the subject, trying to brazen it out, trying to blame someone else - don't really convince anyone else, because in their heart of hearts, everyone else knows that they are in exactly the same position.

But the thing about the priests was that they didn't have to do anything other than belong to the priesthood. Aharon confessed both his and their sin; Aharon slaughtered the sin offering; Aharon sprinkled the blood; Aharon ritually declared atonement for all his household and then, later, for all of Israel. Job done. A long and slightly harrowing day, certainly: would he get the incense right? would he drop one of the lots as he drew them out of the bag? would he remember to say all the words in the correct order? would he still be able to stand up at the end of the day? All of those things and more probably had their turn at going wrong in various years, both for Aharon and for his descendants, but they got through; the High Priest made atonement and the priests, the Levites and Israel were forgiven and their sins were covered because G-d is faithful and He gave them the ritual knowing that sometimes fumbled fingers or mumbling mouths would miss a word, drop a stitch or lose the plot.

But how do we belong and so gain atonement for our sins? There is no Temple, there are no sacrifices, few of us are Jews (or Israel), fewer still are Levites and even yet fewer are priests belonging to the house of Aharon even if the so-called "priestly gene" can be found in the strangest of places by DNA testing.1 Of which group must we be a part to be covered by an atoning sacrifice? Happily, the Bible is equally frank and matter of fact about this too. Caiaphas, one of the High Priests about forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple, told his fellow priests who were struggling to know what to do about Yeshua, "You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:49-50, ESV). Although he did not know exactly what he was saying, he hit the nail on the head: one man would die for the people and so bring atonement not only for Israel but for all people from the nations. John the Immerser saw it when Yeshua came to be baptised, saying, "Behold, the Lamb of G-d, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29, ESV), strongly suggestive of the "goat for Az'azel" that bore the sins of Israel out into the wilderness on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yeshua is the one who made atonement for us, who has invited us to be a part of His 'household', the household of faith. And, as Rav Sha'ul reminded the Ephesians, "by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of G-d, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). Just like the ancient priests, we do nothing, but we are covered because we belong to Yeshua's group, His followers or disciples.

So, you're thinking, this sounds too good to be true. Is this just a group thing - belong and that's it - or do we have to do something? The answer is 'yes' and 'no'. No, we don't have to do anything because He has done everything; there is nothing that we can add to His sacrifice - it is complete and completely sufficient. But, yes, we do have to do something; we have to belong to His group. John puts it this way: "to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of G-d" (John 1:12, ESV). Do you see what it is? We have to say 'yes'; we have to receive His atonement and believe in His name. It's just as simple as that. Believe and accept - you're in; don't believe and don't accept - you're out. Of course, believing can be tough at times; the road is not often smooth, but then roads that really go somewhere worth going seldom are. Yeshua promised that "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21, NASB). That's a prize worth gaining!

1. - Current genetic research suggests that that about half of contemporary Jewish Kohanim share Y-chromosomal J1 M267, (specifically haplogroup J-P58, also called J1c3), while other Kohanim share a different ancestry, including haplogroup J2a (J-M410).

Further Study: Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 1:17-21

Application: So that's it in a nutshell. You are either in or you are out. If you are in the out-group, then you need to transfer to the in-group and quickly! Speak to the Master today and get signed up right away. You won't regret it.

Comment - 01:36 28Apr18 Margaret Terry: I have so enjoyed this. Your humor made me look at this portion and know I must go deeper with Jesuah . Look forward to more.

Comment - 24Apr21 13:04 Edward Bishop Sr: How marvelous is our God. As I began this Sabbath morning, coming before our God to seek His presence, the scripture as found in Romans 2:1-3 nearly leaped off the page and began to instruct me for this very day. Then, as I prayed, God directed me to this passage and Drash. He told me wonderful and marvelous things that, though my ears had heard, my heart was not ready to understand until now. Praise the name of HaShem, His mercy endures forever!

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© Jonathan Allen, 2018

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