Torah Portion: Acharei Mot Leviticus 16-18:30

HafTorah: Ezekiel 22:1-19

Tonight in this Torah section I want us to look at a couple of spiritual points that I think G-d has for us to consider. First, I would like us to look at the Yom Kippur service as set out here in our opening chapter. As part of that service two goats were brought before the High Priest, one for a sacrifice and one to be sent away to “Azazel.” Just a word about Azazel. This is the only place in scripture where this word is used. There is much discussion as to the meaning of Azazel. Maybe the best explanation is found in the word itself. It is made up of two Hebrew words. One word is Az or goat. The other word, azal means that which was sent away.

In any case this service was unique in the sin and guilt offerings in Israel. Normally confession was made over the animal being sacrificed. But here confession was made over the one sent away not the one sacrificed. So the question arises, “Why was the offering divided between two goats? Surely G-d is telling us something important in this. The Torah gives us a good hint when it specifies two objectives, not just one. In Leviticus 16:30 it tells us that these offerings will make atonement for you and cleanse you. Then, before the L-rd you will be clean from all your sins. So here we have both atonement and cleansing or purification. You could say atonement is for the acts we have committed, while purification is for the person. Sin leaves a stain on the person, on their character that needs to be dealt with before we can start anew. In Psalms 51:4 King David says, “Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” In the service to be clean from leprosy we see somewhat the same idea. The bird carries away the uncleanness of the person.

Our problem as humans is that a moral stain is not something physical. It exist in our mind and spirit. So here this symbolic action is taken so the person can relate to this stain being carried away. Sometime even though we know we have been forgiven for our sins we are troubled with the thought that the defilement remains. It is easier to let it go when we have a visual representation of its departure. The goat going away into the wilderness was this visual representation. Until we can let the guilt go, the moral stain, though forgiven, is hard to be rid of. The yetzer ha rah will bring it to us over and over. In our faith, Yeshua takes on the role of both of these goats as we see in I John 1:9.

For those of us who struggle with letting go of this stain can also deal with it in a visual way. For sure Yeshua has cleansed us but we as humans may need a visual cue to be able to hold on to that fact. Maybe something like writing it on a piece of paper and burning it or tossing it into a stream would give us that visual. If this is a problem you are having I encourage you to do whatever would work to help you internalize the truth of I John 1:9. It is true, but we have to be able to believe it. Here the goat sent away helped the people to internalize the truth.

As we are able to grasp this spiritual truth we go on with G-d instead of being held in the grasp of guilt. Leviticus 18:4 speaks of this in that it tells us to, “Perform My Laws, guard My statutes, and go in them.” The phrase, “go in them” is so important in our spiritual life. Our spiritual life requires us to move, to go. If we are not going forward everyday what happens? We go backwards. Life is not stagnant, we are going either forward or backward. Many times the guilt we have been saddled with by the Yetzer Ha Rah causes us to not move ahead as we could. My prayer is that each of us will move ahead, that we will be all we can be each day.