Leviticus 16:1–20:27; Ezekiel 22:2–20; Amos 9:7–15; John 7:1–10:21
“The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD.” (Leviticus 16:1)
Last week’s combined Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, discussed the laws of tumah (impurity) and taharah (purity).
This week’s double portion of Scripture begins with God’s warnings about entering the Kedosh HaKedoshim (Holy of Holies) after the death (acharei mot) of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron who perished when they brought “strange fire” before Adonai.
In this Parasha, it seems that the Lord is trying to prevent any more “accidental deaths” due to well-meaning Israelites coming too close to the holiness of God.
During this time, the Holy of Holies was placed behind a thick, heavy curtain or veil in front of the atonement cover on the Ark. There the Lord appeared in a cloud:
“The LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.’” (Leviticus 16:2)
Not just anyone could enter this most innermost sanctuary, but only the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol) and even then only one day out of the entire year—on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
This is a striking contrast to the unlimited access that Believers in Yeshua now have to the very throne of the Almighty God under the New Covenant.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Yeshua the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:14–15)
When Yeshua died without sin as an offering because of sin, Heaven itself rent its garment in grief, as is the Jewish mourning custom of a father who loses a son.
“And Yeshua cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:50–51)
Now that final atonement has been made through Yeshua and the veil is torn, every man, woman or child can have continual access to God.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
The Connection Between the Azazel and Yeshua
This first portion of Scripture (Acharei Mot) describes the Yom Kippur offering of two goats: one for the offering and the other as the scapegoat (called the Azazel [עֲזָאזֵל] in Hebrew).
“But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.” (Leviticus 16:10)
Lots would be cast over two goats—one of which would be offered to God as a sin offering.
The High Priest would lay his hands upon the other goat, symbolically laying all the sins of Israel upon the Azazel. The goat would then be banished into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away the sins of Israel along with it.
“He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21–22)
The scapegoat’s carrying away of sin is a beautiful picture of what is described in Isaiah 53:
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Just as this scapegoat took the sins of the Jewish People and carried them away into the wilderness, so did Yeshua carry away our sins.
When Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) saw Yeshua coming to the Jordan River, he said, “Hinei seh ha’Elohim, hanoseh chatat ha’olam (Here is the Lamb of God who carries away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
Once we begin to see these Scriptures in their Hebraic context, not only do they make more sense but they also bring a richness to our faith that we cannot have without this understanding of its Jewish roots.
The Hebrew term l’azazel in this Parasha means either for absolute removal or to Azazel (a name). Azazel has been translated scapegoat in the King James Bible, but the Septuagint translates it the sent away or the sent away one.
Later rabbis believed l’azazel referred to azaz (rugged) and el (strong), interpreting it to be the rugged cliff from which the goat was thrown.
Today, some Israelis use this term as a swear word (in the same way that metumtemet [stupid], mechueret [ugly], and magila [disgusting] are considered curses). (Jewfolk)
The book of Enoch (one of the books of the Apocrypha) mentions Azazel as one of the chief of a group of fallen angels who married human women and were responsible for the increase of violence and wickedness.
There is a similar account in Genesis that refers to women marrying “sons of the elohim,” which some rabbinic and Christian commentaries interpret to be angels. The Bible account does not mention Azazel.
“That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. … There were giants in the earth in those days; and also afterward, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:2–4)
According to the Book of Enoch, this fallen angel, Azazel, is to be cast into the lake of fire on the Day of Judgment because of his corrupt influence upon the people of the earth:
“On the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire. … The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.” (1 Enoch 10:7–8)
Yeshua not only carried away all of our sins as the scapegoat azazel, he bore the wrath of God for all of the sins of the world.
We can be so thankful that Yeshua the Messiah took upon Himself all the sin and corruption of the world. Whether the source of sin is called Azazel or Satan, Yeshua bore that curse for us so that we can come to God’s holy throne clothed in righteousness.
“The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed in our place; for the Tanakh says, ‘Everyone who hangs from a stake comes under a curse.’” (Galatians 3:13)
Yeshua Fulfilled Yom Kippur
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” (Leviticus 16:34)
God instituted Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) as a lasting ordinance to be observed throughout all generations.
Since the destruction of the Temple, however, the required Yom Kippur offering can no longer be presented to the Lord.
Although most Jewish followers of Yeshua understand that the Temple will be rebuilt and the offerings reinstituted before Yeshua’s return, they understand that Yeshua is our final korban (offering) for our kapparah (atonement).
In response to the current situation in which the offerings cannot be made at the Temple, the rabbis have said that the offerings now have three substitutes: prayer (t’fillah), repentance (t’shuva) and charity (t’zedakah).
The Call to Be Holy
Contained within this Parasha are warnings against the consumption of blood and unlawful sexual relations such as incest, homosexuality, bestiality and sexual intercourse with a woman during her monthly menstrual cycle.
All of these sexual deviations and perversions are detestable to the Lord and cause the Land to become defiled. In fact, this Torah portions explains that these sins were among the reasons why God “vomited” the people out of the Land.
“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled… And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (Leviticus 18:24, 28)
We understand from this that God required morality or holiness from the Canaanites, as well as the Hebrews. He requires the same for all nations today.
The Laws of Holiness
The Kedoshim portion of the reading continues with commandments (mitzvot) that are related to holiness or sanctification.
God asks that we be holy just as He is: “You shall be holy, for I, the YHVH your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
The word kedoshim comes from the root k-d-sh (קדש), which means holy, set apart, or sanctified.
But we are not left to our own imagination about what holiness looks or acts like. God connects it to specific attitudes and actions.
Part of being holy is honoring our parents. In fact, one of the first of these mitzvot is the command to respect one’s mother and father. And it seems there is no time limit on this. In other words, we don’t stop honoring our parents when we turn 16, 18, 21 or 40.
This law is followed by the command to keep the Sabbath holy.
Other mitzvot include the giving of charity, being honest in business dealings, and keeping life sacred.
We can see that disrespect toward parents, rebellion against authority, homosexuality and other sexual perversions, abortion, corruption in business, and the profaning of the Sabbath are becoming more and more commonplace in our day.
Is it any wonder that God’s judgment is falling upon the nations of the earth?
The Entire Law Is Love
Although there are many laws and commandments in the Torah which are for our good and designed to protect holiness, the central law they all boil down to is the following command written in this weeks’ Parasha: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
The great sage Hillel said of this commandment, “This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.”
First century rabbi Akiva also taught that the great general principle of the Torah is to love your neighbor.
Yeshua HaMashiach (the Messiah), as a Torah observant Jew well aware of Jewish teachings, echoed the Jewish sages who came before Him when He said,
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35)
While many Believers think that keeping the Torah is no longer required and too hard to do anyway, the reality is that Adonai’s laws are so important that they have been written on our hearts. (Jeremiah 31:30–34 [31–33])
Moreover, we have the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) living inside us who convicts us when we behave without God’s love.
His Ruach empowers us to conduct ourselves in a way that fulfills His commandments, just as Yeshua did.
“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)