Torah Portion: Acharei Mot Leviticus 16-18:30  HafTorah: Ezekiel 22:1-19

1.The service of Yom Kippur 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. “For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you , that you may be clean from all your sins before the L-rd.”

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 51:2 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, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

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.

2.It is important to point out that all sins were forgiven on Yom Kippur save one. This one sin required taking action first before it would be forgiven. What is it and what action had to be taken? 

The sin that requires action before being forgiven is when a person has a grievance against you. It would be a sin where we have wronged another person. The sin could be gossip, telling a lie about someone or many other things. Whatever it was, we see this idea expressed in Matthew 5:23-24 where Yeshua makes the point clearly. The good news is that G-d forgives us when we come to Him with a humble heart.

3.As we have been working our way through Leviticus what is holy continues to be pointed out. What is the difference between Holiness and spiritualness? Can you think of examples of someone that had both qualities and others that had one quality but not the other?

Ba’alm tried to curse Israel. He was greedy.He could be considered spiritual (just not the spirit of G-d) but not holy. Caiaphas,(Matt 5:57-67) presided over the Sanhedrin trial of Yeshua.  He is an example of someone who was holy (holy, being set apart as high priest) but not spiritual. He did not recognize Yeshua as G-d’s Son the Messiah. Yeshua would be our perfect example of a holy and spiritual person.

Sometimes we throw both in the same bag and assume a person who has one quality has both. This is a quality that we must be cautious about. As children of G-d we all have His spirit within us, giving us direct contact to Him. What is true however is there are many spirits which have no connection with G-d and need to be avoided such as mediums, fortune tellers and other things which many believers partake of. They can be misled into thinking it is from G-d when it is not.

My point is to always look at the entire picture. Do not assume that a person who claims to be spiritual is spiritual. They may be motivated by something other than a connection to G-d. Don’t be taken in by the word but rather weigh the claim in light of scripture. Be careful who you allow to pray over you or pray over your house. Be sure they are who you believe them to be.

4.In a way the central point of Yom Kippur, is a time to say, “I did it, I sinned.” So the question arises, why is it so hard, especially in this area, to admit we have sinned?

In Leviticus 18:4, “You shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the L-rd your G-d.” we are told to be going, not standing still. As people of G-d we are expected to be moving ahead in our faith daily. To not be moving means we will be in danger of sliding backwards. 

So the question arises, why is it so hard, especially in this area, to admit we have sinned? We know and hear every day excuses coming out of our mouths or from other people of why we did what we did. We quickly rationalize, justify and deny. It is difficult to say with no qualifications, “I have sinned.” 

I believe that for us knowing that G-d forgives us we need not fear being banished from His presence. He knows us already. What we do is not hidden from Him. By humbling ourselves, admitting and asking for forgiveness exposes our sin to the light of day and the sin loses its power over us. May we all be able to grasp this principle and have the courage to admit to G-d and to people we have hurt that we have sinned. G-d forgives!

5.Israel’s obedience has always been connected to being able to stay in the land promised to them.  In this Torah portion what sins would cause them to be “vomited” out of the land?  If the word “land” could be used as a symbol for the church what is the effect of these sins when they take place within the church body? 

If you look at these verses as talking about a body of believers instead of land it would be saying that the body of believers  would be defiled or cursed and would not produce fruit if unconfessed sin continues. Improper behavior, particularly perpetrated by those represented to be carrying the authority of Yeshua, desecrates His name, bringing dishonor and disrepute upon themselves, the congregation and the kingdom of G-d. Such behavior cannot coexist with the righteousness of G-d and will, sooner or later – be exposed, expelled and judged. It also renders the congregation ineffective and weak.

Example: News this week from the United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church overturned its 40-year ban on gay clergy Wednesday, marking a historic shift in the church’s stance on homosexuality.

The church has long been divided into factions over LGBTQ inclusion. In 1984, the church banned “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from becoming members of the clergy, and later added performing or celebrating same-sex unions to “a list of chargeable offenses that could result in a church trial. In a 692-51 vote, church leaders passed several rules without debate, including overturning both its ban on gay clergy and the penalties for holding same-sex marriages, according to the United Methodist News service.

After the vote, Hope Morgan Ward, a retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, prayed the church would be used as “peacemakers and servants” and be “welcoming of all people into the embrace of God.”

According to the Methodist news service, members cheered, cried and hugged after the vote. “Now we can get on about the business of the church,” Marilyn Murphy, an observer from the church’s South Carolina conference, told the news service.

LGBTQ advocates within the church hailed the decision.

6.Where in scripture do you see examples of how human sin defiled the land and the land was cursed? What does it mean the land was cursed?

Moral impurities, including sexual sins listed in these chapters, pollute the land with consequences

Leviticus 18:24 Defile not you yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you; And the land is defiled; therefore I do punish its iniquity upon it, and the land itself vomits out her inhabitants. 

Genesis 3:17 After Adam and Eve’s sin G-d said to Adam, “Cursed be the ground because of you; by toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life”

Genesis 4:10-12 After Cain killed his brother Abel we read: The L-RD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Isaiah 24:5-6 “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.  Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.  Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.”