Parashot Acharei Mot & Kedoshim – Erev Shabbat 1 May 2020
Week of 26 April – 2 May 2020
Torah portion: Leviticus 16:1-20:27 Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15
Theme: For I Am Holy
The Hebrew name for Leviticus, Va-ykra (He called), echoes through these Parashot. Divine initiatives emerge in the use of the root qdsh meaning to be set apart, to be holy, to consecrate; and towards the end of these Parashot we find God’s compelling appeal: “I am the Lord your God, who freed you from the land of Egypt. You shall faithfully observe my laws” (19:36-37). These chapters reflect the Israelites’ growing understanding of that freedom and that call to holiness.
The opening line of Acharei Mot situates these Parashot, after “the death of the two sons of Aaron, who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord.”(Lev 16:1) At that time, Moses had counseled Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when he said: ‘Through those near to me, I show myself holy’” (Lev 10:3). One can only imagine with what grief, reverence, and even trepidation Aaron now offers the liturgy of expiation and re-consecration of the sacred space (the kodesh) desecrated by his sons.
Leviticus 16 recounts Aaron’s preparations by bathing and vesting in the sacral linen garments; and then his burning of incense, followed by his sacrifices: (i) of a bull, for his own and his household’s expiation; and (ii) of a male goat, for the congregation. Plaut assures us (863, note 3) that the rams were offered later in the day; the text merely alludes to their blood being used, as was that of the bull and goat, to purify the interior sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting, and the external altar. Then the second goat selected is symbolically burdened with the transgressions of the people and sent into the wilderness. Finally, the remains of the sacrifices were burned outside the camp. The memory of the powerful events of that day are solemnly recalled in the Yom Kippur service which is “to make atonement for (the people), for all their sins, once a year” (16:34).
Chapter 17 recalls two important features of those sacrifices: their clear identification as sacred rituals related to the Tent of Meeting, not to be confused with sacrifices to the goat-demons or Azazel, which were enacted by others elsewhere; and the significance of the sacrificial blood: “the life of the flesh is in the blood for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood as life that effects expiation” (17:11). Consequently, the blood was never to be consumed. (17:12)
Chapters 18 and 20 attempt to reinforce the identity of the Israelites in distinction from other peoples, by rubrics of what to avoid, even by solemn proclamations concluding with “I am the Lord.” Most of these warned against “practices of the land of Egypt or the land of Canaan” (18:3). Chapter 19 inserts a series of more positive guidelines culminating in “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 18) and framing these Parashot with: “you shall be holy (k’doshim), for I, the Lord your God, am holy (kadosh)” (v. 2).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Look into the meaning of expiation and reflect on it, so as to share your understanding of it. 2. How do you experience a call to holiness? What are signs of holiness?
Bibliography: Plaut, W.G., ed. The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York: 1981); Lieber, D.L., ed. Etz Haim (New York: 2001)