Acharei Mot | פרשת אחרי מות

Sefer Vayikra | ספר ויקרא

Vayikra 16:1-18:30 [Hebcal] [על-התורה] ויקרא טז א-יח ל

Haftarah: Yechezkel 22:1-16 (Sefardi) | Yechezkel 22:1-19 (Ashkenazi) | When doubled with Parashat Kedoshim, the haftarah for Kedoshim is read, unless it is Shabbat ha-Gadol or Shabbat Machar Chodesh

הפטרה: יחזקאל כב א-טז (ספרדים) | יחזקאל כב א-יט (אשכנזים) | כשנקרא ביחד עם פרשת קדושים, קוראים את הפטרת קדושים, אלא אם כן זהו שבת הגדול או שבת מחר חודש [על-התורה]

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The last two pashiyot, which pertain to ritual impurity (tumah), especially in cases of tzaraat (a spiritual-physical skin ailment often translated as “leprosy”). We now return to events taking place after the untimely deaths of (acharei mot) Nadav and Avihu, the two eldest sons of Aharon, in Parashat Shemini. There, we are told they offered “strange fire” (eish zara) that they had not been commanded to offer; at the beginning of Acharei Mot, it is stated also that Nadav and Avihu drew too close before Hashem (בְּקָרְבָתָם לִפְנֵי־ה’). The parsha then continues with the regulations surrounding Aharon’s (re-)entry into the Holy of Holies (called here Ha-Kodesh and described as the enclosure within the Ohel for the Aron (Ark). This forms the paradigm for the Yom Kippur ritual in the future Beit ha-Mikdash. Finally, Bnei Yisrael are warned not to follow the ways of the Egyptians (their former host culture) and the Canaanites (who dwell in their future land). This is followed by laws of forbidden sexual relationships, known in Jewish law as arayot (עריות).

The Purification Rite for the Mishkan

[Vayikra 16:1-19]

In order to purify and rededicate the Mishkan, which entails entering the Kodesh ha-Kodashim (Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Mishkan), Aharon must:

  • Bring a bull for Chatat (sin offering) and a ram for Olah (burnt offering);
  • He must bathe and put on the special garments of the kohen, including the tunic, breeches, sash, and turban;
  • Bring from Bnei Yisrael two male goats for a Chatat and a ram for Olah;
  • Offer the bull of Chatat for his own expiation;
  • Take the two male goats, stand them before the Ohel ha-Moed (Tent of Meeting) and place lots (goralot – גּוֹרָלוֹת) on them, one designated for G-d and one for Azazel (עֲזָאזֵל – the name of a place, according to many commentators);
  • Offer the goat marked for G-d as Chatat;
  • Leave the second goat alive to be set out towards the wilderness of Azazel (below);
  • To offer the bull for Chatat, after slaughtering it, Aharon should take a fire-pan (machta – מַּחְתָּה) of glowing coals from the inner (golden) altar, along with two handfuls of ketoret samim (קְטֹרֶת סַמִּים – aromatic incense), and bring them behind the curtain; then he should put the incense in the fire, covering the air in a cloud of smoke, obscuring the Aron;
  • Aharon is to take the blood from the bull of Chatat and sprinkle some on the East side of the kaporet (the golden cover of the Ark), then sprinkle the blood with his finger 7 times;
  • Slaughter the people’s goat of Chatat and do the same with its blood.

In this way, Aharon makes expiation for the Ohel ha-Moed and also for the Mishkan as a whole. No one but Aharon (i.e., the Kohen Gadol) is permitted to enter, and even then, the ritual is frought with mortal danger for the Kohen Gadol. Aharon then puts some of the blood of the bull and the goat and apply it to each of the kornot (קַרְנוֹת – horns) of the Mizbeach (altar), and the rest of the blood on the altar 7 more times with his finger.

The Goat of Azazel

[Vayikra 16:20-28]

After that act, the live goat is brought forward. Aharon lays his hands on the goat and confesses (hitvadah – from the same root as vidduy) Bnei Yisrael’s sins, upon which the goat is sent out towards Azazel. After this, Aharon removes the special priestly garments and bathes. Then he offers his Olah and the Olah on behalf of the people. The person tasked with releasing the goat of Azazel must wash his clothes and bathe before re-entering the camp. The hides, flesh, and dung of the two Olah sacrifices are burned outside the camp, with the one tasked with the burning likewise purifying himself before re-entering.

Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement on the 10th of the Seventh Month

[Vayikra 16:29-34]

On the 10th day of the 7th month (i.e., Tishrei), Bnei Yisrael are told taanu et nafshoteikhem, “you shall afflict your bodies,” and all work (melacha) is forbidden. The anointed kohen performs the expiation for kohanim and for the people on that day in the manner described above.

No More Independent Sacrifices

[Vayikra 17:1-16]

All korbanot (sacrifices) must be brought to the Mishkan to be offered by the kohanim. They may not be slaughtered elsewhere in the camp. Doing so bears the penalty of karet, excision. So to does consuming any of the blood of this animal or any other caught in a permissible manner, as “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם, 17:11). Eating a nevelah, an animal that which has died of natural causes, or a treifah, and animal who has been killed by another animal, bears the penalty of ritual impurity (tumah) until evening, when the person washes their clothes and bathes in water.

Do Not Follow the Ways of Egyptians or Canaanites

[Vayikra 18:1-5]

It is emphasized that Bnei Yisrael should neither follow the ways of Egyptian culture from where they are coming, nor Canaanite culture, which they are soon to encounter in Eretz Yisrael. Such foreign customs are known in Jewish law as chukot ha-goyim (חוקות הגוים), “rules (or ways) of the nations.” Immediately following this injunction, perhaps in connection, are details of forbidden sexual relationships.

Forbidden Relationships (Arayot)

[Vayikra 18:6-30]

Sexual relations among family members is forbidden, which are described from the perspective of a man: relations with a mother, fathers’ other wives, sisters and half-sisters, granddaughters, aunts on either side of the family, paternal aunt (by marriage), daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law, relationships between a woman and the same woman’s daughter or granddaughter are all forbidden. Sexual relations are forbidden with a menstruating woman; also, with a neighbor’s wife. The next interdiction is against offering children as sacrifices to the god Molech. Sexual relationship between males “as with a woman” (מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה) are forbidden as toeva (תּוֹעֵבָה), a contested term often translated into English as “abomination” or “abhorrence.” Bestiality is forbidden for men and women.

Haftarah Summary: הלוא כבני כשיים

[Yechezkel 22:1-16 (-19, Ashkenazi)]

This harsh prophecy of Yechezkel emphasizes the people’s sinfulness, in particular with regards to sexual impropriety, including acts that render one ritually impure (tamei). The Sefardi reading ends with the dispersal of Yisrael into exile, where God will consume the tumah out of Yisrael. The Ashkenazi reading (to verse 19) ends on a note of consolation, as Yisrael is gathered in again to Yerushalayim.

Image: “relaxed goat” by jimbob! is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tamar Ron Marvin Avatar