Last week’s combined Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, discussed the laws of tumah and taharah, ritual impurity and purity.
This week’s combined Torah portion, Parasha Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, discusses Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and holiness.
It begins with Aaron, the Cohen Hagadol (high priest), preparing for the crucial once-a-year sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.
In order to minister before the Lord on this holy day, Aaron first immersed himself in the mikvah (ritual cleansing).
Before he brought the ketoret (incense offering) into the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Sanctuary, he put on simple, white linen clothing, representing purity and humility, which was appropriate for this sacred day, instead of his resplendent golden garments.
Today, many observant Jewish people wear white linen when attending Yom Kippur services.
The rabbis provide insight into the reason for wearing simple, white linen garments on this holy day:
When men are summoned before an earthly ruler to defend themselves against some charge, they appear downcast and dressed in black like mourners. Israel appears before God arrayed in white, as if going to a feast, confident that all who return penitently to their Maker will receive not condemnation but pardon at His hands. (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 480)
Wearing white on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, therefore, speaks of a wonderful confidence in God and His provision for atonement.
The Blood Sacrifice
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11)
This week’s Parasha reveals that only a blood sacrifice can atone for sin.
On the Day of Atonement, the blood of a bull atoned for the sins of the high priest, and the blood of a goat atoned for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:11, 15).
This atonement was foreshadowed in Egypt, when the Israelite slaves applied the blood of a sacrificed lamb to the sides and tops of the door frames of their houses, so that the judgment of God would pass over them.
“When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the door frame and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” (Exodus 12:23)
That shed blood of the lamb also foreshadowed the perfect atonement accomplished by Messiah Yeshua—the Lamb of God who was slain.
“Yochanan [John] saw Yeshua [Jesus] coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29)
Yeshua’s blood protects those who believe in Him from God’s wrath and judgment. He was sacrificed as the final atonement for our sins in fulfillment of Scriptures, such as Isaiah 53:5–6:
“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
It’s been almost 2,000 years, since the Temple was destroyed and, therefore, no bulls or goats have been sacrificed on the Day of Atonement or on any day.
However, we who believe that Yeshua fulfilled the , can be assured that Yeshua, the Suffering Messiah, was God’s provision for the blood atonement of all humankind.
For the past 2,000 years, rabbis have instructed Jewish people to believe that the Temple sacrifices have been replaced with prayer (tefilah), repentance (t’shuvah), and charity (tzedakah).
Despite the confident expectation on this holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur), that all will be forgiven, the rabbis still recognize that every man is in need of atonement for his sins.
“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
A story is recorded in the Talmud (Berakhot 28) in which the most distinguished disciple of Rabbi Hillel, Yohanan ben Zakkai, was dying.
Some years after the destruction of the Temple, the disciples of Yohanan gathered around his deathbed as he wept.
The disciples asked him, “Rabbi, you are the light of Israel, the pillar on which we lean, the hammer that crushes all heresy. Why should you weep?”