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Parasha Acharei-Kedoshim (After-Holy Ones): Holy Confidence in Atonement

Acharei-Kedoshim (After-Holy Ones)
Leviticus 16:1–20:27; Amos 9:7–15; Ezekiel 20:2–20; 1 Corinthians 6:9–20

“The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord.”  (Leviticus 16:1)

men's section-Western Wall

Jewish men seek God in prayer at the Western (Wailing) Wall, a remnant of the wall that surrounded the ancient Temple’s courtyard.  It has been intact since the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 and is considered holy due to its proximity to the spot where the Holy of Holies once stood.

Last week’s combined Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, discussed the laws of tumah and taharah, ritual impurity and purity.

This week’s combined Torah portion, Parasha Acharei-Kedoshim, discusses Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and holiness.

It begins with Aaron, the Cohen Hagadol (high priest), preparing for the crucial once-a-year sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.

In order to minister before the Lord on this holy day, Aaron first immersed himself in the mikvah (ritual cleansing).

Before he brought the ketoret (incense offering) into the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Sanctuary, he put on simple, white linen clothing, representing purity and humility, which was appropriate for this sacred day, instead of his resplendent golden garments.

Day of Atonement-Isador Kaufman

Day of Atonement, by Isador Kaufman

Holy Confidence

Today, many observant Jewish people wear white linen when attending Yom Kippur services.

The rabbis provide insight into the reason for wearing simple, white linen garments on this holy day:

When men are summoned before an earthly ruler to defend themselves against some charge, they appear downcast and dressed in black like mourners.  Israel appears before God arrayed in white, as if going to a feast, confident that all who return penitently to their Maker will receive not condemnation but pardon at His hands.  (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 480)

Wearing white on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, therefore, speaks of a wonderful confidence in God and His provision for atonement.


To symbolize purity, and a confident reliance in the mercy of God, many Jewish people wear white on the Day of Atonement.

The Blood Sacrifice

“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”  (Leviticus 17:11)

This week’s Parasha reveals that only a blood sacrifice can atone for sin.

On the Day of Atonement, the blood of a bull atoned for the sins of the high priest, and the blood of a goat atoned for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:11, 15).

This atonement was foreshadowed in Egypt, when the Israelite slaves applied the blood of a sacrificed lamb to the sides and tops of the door frames of their houses, so that the judgment of God would pass over them.

“When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the door frame and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.”  (Exodus 12:23)

White lamb, White Sheep

A white lamb among the sheep

That shed blood of the lamb also foreshadowed the perfect atonement accomplished by Messiah Yeshua—the Lamb of God who was slain.

“Yochanan [John] saw Yeshua [Jesus] coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”  (John 1:29) 

Yeshua’s blood protects those who believe in Him from God’s wrath and judgment.  He was sacrificed as the final atonement for our sins in fulfillment of Scriptures, such as Isaiah 53:5–6:

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

It’s been almost 2,000 years, since the Temple was destroyed and, therefore, no bulls or goats have been sacrificed on the Day of Atonement or on any day.

However, we who believe that Yeshua fulfilled the , can be assured that Yeshua, the Suffering Messiah, was God’s provision for the blood atonement of all humankind.


Reading the Hebrew Bible on the Tel Aviv Beach.

Holy Confidence

For the past 2,000 years, rabbis have instructed Jewish people to believe that the Temple sacrifices have been replaced with prayer (tefilah), repentance (t’shuvah), and charity (tzedakah).

Despite the confident expectation on this holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur), that all will be forgiven, the rabbis still recognize that every man is in need of atonement for his sins.

“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

Grand Rabbis-Jerusalem

Ultra-Orthodox head rabbis conversing on a street in Jerusalem.

A story is recorded in the Talmud (Berakhot 28) in which the most distinguished disciple of Rabbi Hillel, Yohanan ben Zakkai, was dying.

Some years after the destruction of the Temple, the disciples of Yohanan gathered around his deathbed as he wept.

The disciples asked him, “Rabbi, you are the light of Israel, the pillar on which we lean, the hammer that crushes all heresy.  Why should you weep?”

This Second Temple era sage confessed to his disciples that he was weeping because he was about to stand before the “King of Kings, the Holy One,” and he wasn’t sure whether he would end up in Paradise or hell!

However, we are confident that, by our faith in the blood atonement of the Suffering Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), our sins are covered and we will end up in Paradise.

Yeshua-Cross-Tree of Sacrifice

A depiction of Yeshua on the execution stake.

Can We be Holy?

“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”  (Leviticus 19:2)

The Kedoshim (Holy Ones) portion of today’s Parasha emphasizes holiness.

The word kedoshim comes from the Hebrew word kadosh, which means holy, sanctified, or set apart.

God expects His people to be kadosh (holy) as He is kadosh (holy).

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  (Hebrews 12:14)

The obvious question is HOW can we be holy?

We must be capable of it, since God would not ask us to do something we simply can’t do.

We know that we are made holy through faith in Yeshua HaMashiach (Yeshua the Messiah), and that we are sanctified through His blood.

But how is a holy life lived out on a practical, day-to-day basis?

Streets-Old City-Jerusalem

The walls in the Old City of Jerusalem

The Torah: A Guide to Holiness

Rather than turn to our own man-made idea of what constitutes a holy life, we can rely on the Torah to discover God’s standards of holiness.

In today’s Parasha, in Leviticus 19:1, God commands that Israel be holy and gives us a starting point.

The first commandment offered in this passage is twofold: honor one’s mother and father, and keep God’s Shabbats (Sabbaths).

“Each of you must respect [revere/ fear] your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths.  I am the Lord your God.”  (Leviticus 19:3)

The reason these two are given side by side, the rabbis explain, is that revering and honoring one’s parents is the first step towards maintaining good earthly relations with our fellow man.

Keeping the Shabbat is the first step in maintaining a good spiritual relationship with God.

Indeed, this Torah portion makes it plain that loving God and loving our neighbor is foundational to holy living.


Ornately embroidered velvet Torah mantles cover precious scrolls of Torah, which are protected inside a Torah ark in the synagogue.

Yeshua confirmed this when He was asked which commandment was the most important.

“‘The most important one,’ answered Yeshua, ‘is this:  ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:29–31)

Yeshua’s statement in no way obliterates the other commandments: it reaffirms them; therefore, we simply need to read Torah to discover that loving God and our neighbor as ourselves includes the following:

  • Consideration for the poor and needy;
  • Prompt wages for reasonable hours;
  • Honorable dealings;
  • No slander or malice;
  • Kindness to the alien or stranger;
  • Sexual morality;
  • Equal justice to rich and poor; and
  • Abhorrence of idolatry.

Two Israeli women chat together on the Tel Aviv Promenade.  (Photo by Adam Jones)

Holy Conduct in an Unholy World

“You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”  (Leviticus 20:26)

During the Temple times, the Cohen Gadol (high priest) was instructed to wear a plate upon his forehead that bore the words “Holy unto the Lord.”  With his every movement, this plate reminded him that He was to be holy.

We also are to remember—when conducting business dealings, meeting strangers, interacting with family and friends, and sitting by ourselves in front of the television or Internet—that we are to be holy in all our conduct.

“But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  “Be holy, because I am holy.”  (1 Peter 1:15–16)

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