Commentary on Parashat Achrei Mot, Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30
The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord. God said, “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark. Instead, Aaron shall only enter the holy Shrine when he is clean and dressed in his sacred garments. He shall take animal offerings to make atonement for himself and his household. He shall purge the Shrine of the uncleanness and transgression of the Israelites, whatever their sins; and he shall do the same for the Tent of Meeting and make it holy.
“Then Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of a 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. Then the goat shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. Thus the goat shall carry on him all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.”
Then God said: “This shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. On this day, atonement shall be made for you to clean you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the Lord. It shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time.
“The priest who has been anointed and ordained to serve as priest shall wear sacred garments and make atonement for all the people in the congregation. This shall be to you a law for all time; to make atonement for the Israelites for all their sins once a year.” And Moses did as the Lord had commanded him.
The Lord then told Moses to tell Aaron and his sons and all the Israelite people that no blood is to be eaten by any Israelite or any stranger who resides among you in any manner, for the life of the flesh is in the blood.
“I the Lord am your God. You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their customs. My norms alone shall you observe and faithfully follow My laws. I the Lord am your God.”
The laws of incest are specific. Children shall not uncover the nakedness of their parents, nor their siblings or cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents. Parents shall not uncover the nakedness of their children, nor their children’s children. Nakedness of in-laws and relatives shall not be uncovered.
“Do not come near a woman during her period of uncleanness to uncover her nakedness. Do not have carnal relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her. Do not profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination. Do not have carnal relations with any beast. Do not defile yourselves in any of those ways, for these are the very reasons that I am casting out the people who were in the land before you. But you must keep My laws and My norms and you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither the citizen nor the stranger who resides among you; lest you defile yourselves through them: I the Lord am your God.”
Parashat Achrei Mot Discussion Questions
1) The annual day of atonement commanded by God in this portion is now known as Yom Kippur. How do you atone for your sins on Yom Kippur?
2) Why do you think God set aside one special day for all the Jewish people to atone for their sins?
3) If you sin, do you have to wait for Yom Kippur to make atonement to God? Why or why not?
4) What are some of the ways one can atone for sins at any time of the year?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!
Pronounced: yohm KIPP-er, also yohm kee-PORE, Origin: Hebrew, The Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and, with Rosh Hashanah, one of the High Holidays.