Aharei Mot & Kedoshim, 2009

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Today’s double parshiot, Aharei Mot & Kedoshim are all about Holiness.

How to become Holy and stay Holy.

I want to review the highlights of the reading and then focus on what I have been studying this month.

In Aharei Mot, we begin, importantly, with a reminder of the death of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu and God’s command to Moses to tell his brother Aaron to be careful when to go into the holy of holies to avoid a death like his sons’.

The rituals of the High Priest on Yom Kippur follow. Today’s parsha is, in fact, the one we read on Yom Kippur. The reading of this ritual became a stand-in for the actual ritual that can no longer be performed since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We get a description of the special holy white linen garments the High Priest puts on. And by the way, we will all be dressed this way eventually, because these clothes are the model for the shrouds that Jews wear when they are buried.

28 verses describe the sacrifices (lots of blood and guts and really strange rituals), the changing of garments, etc. and the commandment that we must do these Yom Kippur rituals “for all time.”

The Parsha continues with prohibitions against drinking blood, against being like the other peoples and following their ways, and a long list (13 verses) of whose “nakedness” one may or may not uncover. A fool-proof system for controlling appetites and protecting familial lines & societal order.

But there are many more prohibitions:

  • No sex with…
    • menstruating women,
    • your neighbor’s wife,
    • a man as with a woman,
    • animals;
  • No sacrificing your children to Moloch;
  • Do not profane God’s name;
  • Do not defile the land or it will spew you out, and you will be cut off from your people.

Kedoshim, the second parsha has more laws about how to be holy.
It is the Holiness Code: an expansion of the 10 commandments:

  • Revere your parents;
  • No idols;
  • Sacrificing correctly;
  • Leave the corners of the fields and fallen fruit for gleaners and the poor;
  • Don’t steal;
  • Don’t deal falsely;
  • Do not profane God’s name;
  • Don’t defraud or rob;
  • Pay your workers promptly;
  • Don’t insult the deaf… nor place stumbling blocks before the blind;
  • Don’t judge unfairly; don’t favor the poor nor show deference to the rich;
  • Don’t profit at the expense of others;
  • Don’t hate;
  • But do reprove your kinsman;
  • No vengefulness or grudge-bearing;
  • Don’t mix species. …animals, nor seeds, nor 2 kinds of material in your clothes;
  • Make amends for improper behaviors;
  • Pick fruit from trees that are 5 years or older;
  • Do not eat blood;
  • No magic, divination, speaking to ghosts, etc.;
  • Do not cut the hair from the sides of your head and beard;
  • Do not cut nor tattoo yourself;
  • Do not prostitute your daughter;
  • Keep the Sabbath and venerate the sanctuary;
  • Show respect to the elderly;
  • Be kind to the stranger for you were once a stranger in Egypt;
  • No false weights & measures;
  • Be honest.
  • Again, no offering of one’s children to Moloch.


Now, to my topic.

I was intrigued by the ritual of the two goats. There are many examples of “twosomes” in the Tanach and some of them have a connection to these two goats and what they represent. First the goats and what happens to them:

Leviticus 16: 5-10

And from the Israelite community he shall take two he-goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 6 Aaron is to offer his own bull of sin offering, to make expiation for himself and for his household. 7 Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; 8 and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. 9 Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering; 10 while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.

Lev 16:15

15 He shall then slaughter the people’s goat of sin offering, bring its blood behind the curtain (parochet), and do with its blood as he has done with the blood of the bull: he shall sprinkle it over the cover (kaporet) and in front of the cover.

Lev 16: 20-22

20 When he has finished purging the Shrine, the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, the live goat shall be brought forward. 21 Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. 22 Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

The Hebrew for this “wilderness” is called Azazel. In English we call the second goat the scapegoat, as in the one who escapes.

The word “Scapegoat” is an inaccurate translation of the word Azazel.

In 1530, when William Tyndale translated the Bible into English, he understood the word Azazel as ez ozel – literally, “the goat that departs”; therefore “(e)scape goat.” This was adopted in the King James version in 1611. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But the Talmud (Yoma 67b) says it is a contraction of az (harsh) and eil (strong) and points to a rugged mountain. This explication is seconded by Rashi, who said it was the name of a specific mountain or cliff over which the goat was driven.

Another English scholar (R.H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, Oxford) said it was the home of the fallen angel Azazel. Modern scholars generally reject Tyndale’s (e)scape goat interpretation and favor the fallen angel/evil demon version.

In modern Hebrew we now hear lekh la-Azazel (“go to Azazel”), as in “go to hell“.


So let us look at some of those other interesting twosomes…

Keep in mind the preference for flesh and blood offerings versus milder vegetation ones. Note the wilderness option and what all these things mean in each story. In all cases, except the last, the 10 commandments and the holiness code we read today had not yet been given.

Cain and Abel

Cain was a tiller of the soil and his younger brother was a shepherd. They both made offerings to God; Cain presented “fruit of the ground” and Abel presented an animal. Abel’s offering was accepted but not Cain’s. Cain murders his brother in jealousy and when God asks him where his brother is he cries out: Am I my brother’s keeper?” God says that Abel’s blood cries out to him from the ground. So Cain finally has his blood sacrifice but God is not pleased. Rather he is sent out to be a “ceaseless wanderer on the earth. This is a coded story I think. Two males of a species; indeed—two brothers; one is sacrificed and the other is sent out to the wilderness—much like the two Yom Kippur goats.

Ishmael and Isaac

Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father. A ram miraculously appears and is substituted for the boy. But earlier it was Ishmael who is sent to the wilderness to fend for himself and probably die. God saves him but he lives apart mostly. God then tests Abraham’s faith by ordering a human sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham passes the test by agreeing to God’s demand. Here is a decisive moment that tests faith but comes down on the side of animal instead of human sacrifice. Two males of a species; indeed—two brothers; one is nearly sacrificed and the other is sent out to the wilderness—much like the two Yom Kippur goats.

Esau and Jacob

Jacob is known for cooking red lentils and Esau for his hunting skills and roasted meat he prepares for his father Isaac. Esau is the first-born twin and his father’s favorite. Jacob and their mother Rebecca trick Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing of the first-born. The mother provides and prepares the meat. We are now in the third generation and there is a blending of the various options. We are the descendants of Jacob, not Esau. His is not to be our path. Esau is a man of this world, of the earth, of passions and he is pained by his loss and goes his way. Jacob, the future God-wrestler, grabs what is needed for his journey—the birthright. And then he must leave far away to escape his brother fury. Sacrifice becomes something different—more akin to how we use the word today. And wilderness is something that exists between known places… perhaps the wildness between frightened and angry brothers.

Two males of a species, indeed—two brothers; their relationship is sacrificed and they both go out to the wilderness—both Yom Kippur goats.

Joseph and his Brothers

First-born of Rachel but eleventh son of Jacob, Joseph is “sacrificed” by his brothers. They argue the possibilities: kill him or sell him. Joseph is sold, but the brothers slaughter an animal and soak Joseph’s coat in the blood to explain his “death” to their father Jacob. Joseph becomes both goats—the sacrifice and the expiation. A long journey far from home and family, a wilderness of loneliness eventually puts Joseph in the right place at the right time to forgive and redeem his brothers. Brothers, indeed—but the sacrifice and the redemption are all in Joseph.

Nadav and Avihu

And now back to the parsha…

We have seen that those who become close …karov …to God become the actual korban…the sacrifice. This was no accident. They brought their fire to God’s fire and the intensity was fatal. Their death it seems was a sacrifice necessary to properly sanctify the Mizbeah and future Temple. After all, the word Sacrifice means to perform a sacred ceremony (in Latin: sacrum facere)

Moses said to his brother: “Of this did God speak, saying: ‘I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people.’ And Aaron was silent.” (Leviticus 10:3)

Moses must have thought this would mean himself and maybe Aaron too. Two brothers.

A midrash explains.

Moses told Aaron: “Aaron, my brother, I knew that the Temple would be sanctified through someone very holy and close to God. I thought it had to be either you or me … but now I see that they, Nadav and Avihu, are greater than we are [as they were selected].” (Talmud, Zevochim 115b)

And so it seems, Nadav and Avihu were also scapegoats of a sort; their deaths were required to inaugurate the Temple for the rest of us. Their brothers Eleazar & Ithamar will take over.

We know that the Lord is our shepherd.


One last thought.

Today was brought to you by the letters: Kaf Pey Resh & Tav.
I want to bring your attention the permutations and what they might indicate.

Kippur meaning atonement and Kapara meaning Sacrifice are both Kaf, Pey, Resh.

The High Priest enters the Holy of Holies alone only once a year on Yom Kippur. This is where the gold covered box holding the tablets of the law is kept. The cover of the box is called the Kaporet (Kaf, Pey, Resh & Tav)

Part of the sacrifice ritual includes putting blood on this cover.

In front of this is the ark curtain, Parochet in Hebrew. (Pey, Resh, Khaf, Tav)

Same letters; different order.
Behind the Parochet is the Kaporet.

You may have heard of the ritual of Kaporet? Get a chicken, swing it around over your head to indicate that it covers you or takes on your sins, then slaughter it. Still done today in Orthodox communities, it is a sacrifice done to expiate one’s sins. The animal is a substitute for us.

Therefore the Holy of Holies is also called Beit Kaporet (house of the cover or house of sacrifice).

I understand now that something terribly important happens every year between the curtain and the cover — between the Parochet and the Kaporet:

It is a reversal that is truly transformational…
It is redemption.

Shabbat Shalom.