Last week’s combined Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, discussed the laws of tumah (impurity) and taharah (purity).
This week’s double portion of Scripture begins with God’s warnings about entering the Kedosh HaKedoshim (Holy of Holies) after the death (acharei mot) of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron who perished when they brought “strange fire” before Adonai.
In this Parasha, it seems that the Lord is trying to prevent any more “accidental deaths” due to well-meaning Israelites coming too close to the holiness of God.
During this time, the Holy of Holies was placed behind a thick, heavy curtain or veil in front of the atonement cover on the Ark. There the Lord appeared in a cloud:
“The LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.’” (Leviticus 16:2)
Not just anyone could enter this most innermost sanctuary, but only the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol) and even then only one day out of the entire year—on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
This is a striking contrast to the unlimited access that Believers in Yeshua now have to the very throne of the Almighty God under the New Covenant.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Yeshua the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:14–15)
When Yeshua died without sin as an offering because of sin, Heaven itself rent its garment in grief, as is the Jewish mourning custom of a father who loses a son.
“And Yeshua cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:50–51)
Now that final atonement has been made through Yeshua and the veil is torn, every man, woman or child can have continual access to God.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
The Connection Between the Azazel and Yeshua
This first portion of Scripture (Acharei Mot) describes the Yom Kippur offering of two goats: one for the offering and the other as the scapegoat (called the Azazel [עֲזָאזֵל] in Hebrew).
“But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.” (Leviticus 16:10)
Lots would be cast over two goats—one of which would be offered to God as a sin offering.
The High Priest would lay his hands upon the other goat, symbolically laying all the sins of Israel upon the Azazel. The goat would then be banished into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away the sins of Israel along with it.
“He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21–22)
The scapegoat’s carrying away of sin is a beautiful picture of what is described in Isaiah 53:
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Just as this scapegoat took the sins of the Jewish People and carried them away into the wilderness, so did Yeshua carry away our sins.
When Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) saw Yeshua coming to the Jordan River, he said, “Hinei seh ha’Elohim, hanoseh chatat ha’olam (Here is the Lamb of God who carries away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
Once we begin to see these Scriptures in their Hebraic context, not only do they make more sense but they also bring a richness to our faith that we cannot have without this understanding of its Jewish roots.
The Hebrew term l’azazel in this Parasha means either for absolute removal or to Azazel (a name). Azazel has been translated scapegoat in the King James Bible, but the Septuagint translates it the sent away or the sent away one.
Later rabbis believed l’azazel referred to azaz (rugged) and el (strong), interpreting it to be the rugged cliff from which the goat was thrown.
Today, some Israelis use this term as a swear word (in the same way that metumtemet [stupid], mechueret [ugly], and magila [disgusting] are considered curses). (Jewfolk)
The book of Enoch (one of the books of the Apocrypha) mentions Azazel as one of the chief of a group of fallen angels who married human women and were responsible for the increase of violence and wickedness.
There is a similar account in Genesis that refers to women marrying “sons of the elohim,” which some rabbinic and Christian commentaries interpret to be angels. The Bible account does not mention Azazel.
“That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. … There were giants in the earth in those days; and also afterward, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:2–4)
According to the Book of Enoch, this fallen angel, Azazel, is to be cast into the lake of fire on the Day of Judgment because of his corrupt influence upon the people of the earth:
“On the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire. … The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.” (1 Enoch 10:7–8)