Parashat Acharai Mot (“after the death”)

Model of the tabernacle, as seen in Israel, Timna Park (Photo: Ruk7/Wikimedia Commons)

It seems untimely to start talking about Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – immediately after Pesach but the account of the festival is discussed in the next Parsha after a two-week break from the sequential readings.

Acharai Mot (“after the death”) is the reading from Leviticus 16:1 to 18:30 The Parsha narrative starts after the death of Nadav and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, who died in the “strange fire” incident described in Parshat Sh’mini.

The death of Aaron’s two eldest sons made it very clear to him that the LORD could not be approached flippantly and so the instructions about approaching the Holy of Holies within the veil had to be observed to the letter. The death of Aaron’s sons made him careful to observe them since his life rested on carrying out the instructions with great diligence.

He was to take a bull as a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering for himself and a ram for a burnt offering and two male goats for the sin of the people. The scripture makes a distinction between a ram and the male goats so the assumption is that the male goats would be yearlings while the ram is a more mature animal. One of the male goats would be offered a sin offering and the other would be the Azazel, the scapegoat.  Whichever one it was to be would be chosen by casting lots. The difference between a sin offering and a burnt offering is that in the sin offering only the fat was burnt and the meat could be eaten by the priest or person presenting the offering. The skin and entrails would be taken and burnt outside the camp. In a burnt offering the whole animal was to be burnt on the altar.

When Aaron entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he was to wash, put on his priestly garments.  He would burn a mixture of coal from the altar and incense so it would produce a cloud engulfing the atonement cover over the Ark of the Covenant. In the cloud, he could not see God’s presence, which could prove fatal. He would sprinkle the blood of the bull presented for his own sin seven times in front of the atonement cover over the Ark. He then repeated the process with the male goat presented for the sin of the people.

Then he would change his garments and go outside the tent to place some of the blood on each of the horns of the altar and sprinkle the blood over it before offering the two burnt offerings.

Aaron would then lay his hands on the head of the other male goat not sacrificed, the Azazel, and confess over it the sins of the people. The Azazel would then be led away into the wilderness, carrying away all the sins of the people with it.

This was to be done as a permanent and lasting statute on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri) for the people to afflict themselves and make atonement for their sins.


Sacrifice was only allowed in the Mishkan- the Tabernacle. The blood was to be drained off apart from what was needed for sprinkling. Blood was not to be eaten because the life of a creature is in the blood, and blood is for the forgiveness of sin (Lev. 17:11).

Forbidden Marriages

A man cannot have sexual relations with: –

  • His mother
  • His father’s wife (if she is not his mother)
  • Sister or stepsister
  • Granddaughter
  • Aunt
  • Daughter in Law
  • Sister-in-Law
  • A woman and her daughter or granddaughter
  • A neighbour’s wife
  • During her period
  • A homosexual relationship
  • Bestiality

The onus in Torah is on the man, but one would assume that a woman initiating a forbidden relationship is also guilty before God.

Haftarat Achrai Mot                      הפטרת אחרי מות

The Haftarah portion for this week is Ezekiel 22:1-19. The prophecy is given just before the Babylonian exile and the prophet berates Israel for their violation of the laws of the Parsha, in shedding innocent blood, and enthusiastically taking part in the sexual activities specifically prohibited by the Torah Judgement came shortly after and Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

One commits abomination with his neighbour’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter (Ezekiel 22:11)

Could this also be a modern-day warning about the state of the State of Israel?

Messianic Message

It is astonishing that the twenty-first century Church places so little emphasis on the Tanach (Old Testament) and in particular on the Torah (Pentateuch). The passage contains so much imagery of the work of the Messiah. It is equally astonishing that our Jewish people who study Torah day and night draw no connection between the sacrificial system and Messiah. They both dig from different ends of a tunnel, yet we know someday soon those tunnels will meet.

The Azazel carried the people’s sin to a remote place as Messiah did.

Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted(Isaiah 53:4)

The meat of the sin offering could be eaten by the Priest or the bringer of the sacrifice. The blood was forbidden since the life of the creature was in its blood

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)

The only place the blood could be sprinkled was over the altar. In the New Covenant, this restriction is lifted when Yeshua tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood a statement which caused many to stop following him.

At this, the Judeans disputed with one another, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Then Yeshua said to them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life — that is, I will raise him up on the Last Day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him. (John 6:52-56 CJB)

What He is saying is this: His life is our life. The blood that flowed in His veins can flow in ours as we feed and drink in every aspect of what His word tells us.

He was the ultimate sacrifice. The sacrifices on Yom Kippur took place every year. But he entered heaven itself after offering himself once and for all.

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, (Hebrews 10:12)

He sat down. Job done. The master carpenter had finished his work.

This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.