Parashat Acharei Mot

Saturday 4th May 2019 14th Day of Omer 29th Nissan 5779

Parashat Acharei

Mot - ‘after the death of’ - מות פרשת אחרי

Lev 16:1 - 18:30; 1 Sam 20:18 – 42; Matt 15:10 - 20

The Devil is in the Details of Yom Kippur

In this week’s Torah Portion, there is a very interesting combination of events that are described. The Torah Portion opens with instructions on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), described in Vayikra / Leviticus 16.

Yom Kippur is a central element of Judaism and is not a stand-alone observance. The instruction is that we are to observe a day of fasting and afflicting one’s soul on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei – the 7th month of the biblical calendar.

The preparation for this most holly fast day commences of the 1st day of the 6th month, the month of Elul (The month of Elul has no specific importance in the Torah or in the early rabbinic writings, various customs however have arose during the first millennium that designated Elul as the time to prepare for the High Holy Days through repentance.) We note the importance of this from the Gamatria – there are exactly 40 days from the 1st Elul until 10th Tishrei, Yom Kippur. And, 40 always symbolizes a period of preparation.

Yom Kippur is also characterized by an entire day a total fast as it was practiced in ancient times. Now, although many have heard of this day, most would be startled to learn that a sinister figure lurks in the shadows of Parashat Acharei Mot. We are given a clue as we read the following according to Vayikra / Leviticus 17:7 – ‘and that they may offer their sacrifices no more to the goat-demons after whom they stray. This shall be to them a law for all time, throughout the ages

Sa’ar, the Hebrew word for goat, refers to the Egyptian goat gods, or goat demons that were believed to inhabit the wilderness (The ArtScroll Tanach Series Vayikra Leviticus Commentary, p. 313; Keil and Delitzsch, p. 593). In several places, the KJV and NAS translate this word as satyr (e.g., Isa 13:21; 34:14), which, in Greek and Roman mythology were associated with Pan, the half goat and half man-like creature. These demonic forces were believed to be destructive causing fear and turbulence, murder and mayhem (Ibid., ArtScroll Tanach Series Vayikra).

Interestingly, sa’ar and Se’ir as in Mount Seir, the home of Edom (Num 24:18), share the same Hebrew consonants and derive from the same root word. From this, the Jewish sages deduce that Edom, the descendents of Esau­—Israel’s perpetual enemies down through the ages (even to the last days)—was the embodiment of evil (Ibid.).

What we also notice in the rituals performed on Yom Kippur was the 2 goats that featured prominently during the service. Two identical gotas were selected for this ritual. One was slaughtered and the blood sprinkled by the high priest within the Holy of Holies. This was the goat upon which the Lord’s lot had fallen. The second gost was called the Azazel. The sins of the people was confessed upon this goat and it was led out into the wilderness.

What is interesting is how the Mishnah Yoma 6:6 records that the goat for Azazel was led to a cliff and pushed over, ensuring it would die and not return.

Note also this connection to the Evil One (Satan) being associated with the wilderness was where Yeshua met the devil (Matthew 4:1) being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. This is an important point since the people’s sins and their evil consequences were to be sent back to the spirit of desolation and ruin, the source of all impurity, illustrated by sending the goat with the sins of all the people into the wilderness. We are told the Spirit led Yeshua to this desolate place in the desert to be tempted by the sins of an entire nation, and he did not sin! Yeshua had a conversation with the Devil as the evil one tempted him to sin in the flesh.

Following the verses on Yom Kippur (Vayikra / Leviticus 16) we read in Vayikra / Leviticus 17:1–7 that some Israelites had been accustomed to sacrificing offerings to “demons.” (לַשְּׂעִירִ֕ם).

The Day of Atonement replaced this illegitimate practice and the command was to bring all sacrifices to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The idea is one goat sacrificed to bring purification and access to God and one goat sent to carry the people’s sins into the wilderness symbolizes our Creator who simultaneously is merciful and yet, a God who is to be feared.

In Hebrews 12:18-21, we read that when they stood before the mountain, “it that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: "And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow." And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.") Heb 10:31 - ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. ‘

There are many things we can learn from this week’s Torah portion on Yim Kippur and the wilderness. What we are being taught here is to be careful not to offer sacrifices upon an altar of our own making (personal altars) because these are synonymous to sacrificing to foreign gods.

Worship is important to God’s people, and we must worship God in the way in which He is pleased. The reason being, if we set up idols in our hearts (sin, pride, pornography, sexual immorality, sports, all of these things and more are idols), we will not have fellowship with God.

According to Tehillim / Psalms 115:1-9, the worshiper begins to resemble (to become like) that which he trusts in. The physical idols which were so prevalent in those days were made from silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. These idols are helpless, mute, blind, deaf, and lame, and these idols are impotent, unable to communicate or meet the needs of the worshiper.

Today we do not struggle with worshiping a physical idol per-say as they did in ancient times. Today men struggle with the idols that are created in the heart. There is a great stumbling block that is rooted in the rebellious heart. The Torah describes these things in relation to Pharaoh, he was hard of heart; he was like the Egyptian idols he worshiped, cold, blind, and dumb because he did not worship the one true God of Israel.

In the Yom Kippur festival, we are directed to trust and worship the one who is Faithful and true. To trust in the One who is able to take away the sins of the nation, and drive out the evil one into desolate places! Consider the NT description when Yeshua went to the cross taking upon himself our sins, he was crucified outside of the city which parallels the sins of the people being cast to the wilderness via the goat of Azazel. The Lord God we serve is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, all things created are subject to His lordship. These things reveal to us how important it is, according to the Torah, to walk in the way of God, and follow the leading of His Anointed One (the Messiah).

As faithful followers of God we are chosen to submit ourselves to God’s authority and to His reign in our lives! Have you submitted your life to God in heaven and to His Messiah Yeshua? Notice how the Torah draws us back to these things, humbleness, faith, prayer, and faithfulness in God and His anointed one. We see the power of God in the Apostolic Writings to cast out the devil, and deliver men, women, and children from the power of the evil one. If we consider all of these things that we have been learning about, specifically the significance of Vayikra / Leviticus 17:7 on personal altars, demons, and avodah zara, one point that comes to mind is how the evil one wants to influence each and every one of us at a personal level.

What also comes to mind, is how setting up an idol is connected to sacrificing to demons. If you set up an idol in your heart, how much ground are you giving to the evil one to come and take up residence in your life?

In Yeshua the Messiah we are set free from this. However, if you are setting up an idol, bowing down at the feet of whatever it is that takes precedence over the Lord God of Israel and Yeshua, how much ground is being given to the demonic realm to influence your life? These are very significant questions for us today! All of these things connect back to the Torah, and why the Torah is so important for us to study and place the Words of the Torah (God’s Word) and the words of he Messiah Yeshua upon our hearts, daily. This is how the Torah and the Gospel Message are intimately connected!

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