Acharei Mot

In Parashat Acharei Mot we read all about the regulations pertaining to Yom Kippur. This was a day of high drama for the Jewish people, not least because the life of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and, indeed, the whole community hung in the balance. Would the Kohen Gadol emerge unscathed from the Holy of Holies? Would the people’s sins be forgiven? Every one waited with baited breath as the events of the day transpired. Indeed, it is important to note the Torah’s emphasis on community throughout our parashah. We’ve often recently heard the phrase ‘we’re all in it together‘ in relation to the present dire economic circumstances in the UK; well, this phrase was never more true than in ancient Israel on Yom Kippur. As we read, “For on this day,atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before Adonai from all your sins. It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves” (Vayikra 16:30-31). When the word ‘you‘ is used in these pasukim it is used in the plural sense. Here then, Hashem was not so much addressing a collection of individuals but the whole community. In fact it should be observed that the sacrifices which the Kohen Gadol offered on Yom Kippur were not offered for individuals but for all the people as constituting a single entity. As we read in Vayikra 16:15 “Next, he is to slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, bring its blood inside the curtain and do with its blood as he did with the bull’s blood, sprinkling it on the ark-cover and in front of the ark-cover.” Verse 16 speaks about atonement being made because of “all their sins” and “their uncleannesses”. Similarly, verse 20 says “When he has finished atoning for the Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he is to present the live goat. Aharon is to lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the transgressions, crimes and sins of the people of Israel; he is to put them on the head of the goat and then send it away into the desert with a man appointed for the purpose. The goat will bear all their transgressions away to some isolated place, and he is to let the goat go in the desert.” Moreover, in verse 16:29 the Scripture commands the whole community to fast together and treat Yom Kippur as a Yom Tov, “It is to be a permanent regulation for you that on the tenth day of the seventh month you are to deny yourselves and not do any kind of work, both the citizen and the foreigner living within you zovirax pills.”

The inference of these passages is clear. There were to be no individuals on Yom Kippur. Instead, the whole community, the people of Israel, were to stand before Hashem as one and would be dealt with as such. Indeed, while the individual obviously stood to gain from the successful offering of the sacrifices it was only as part of the wider whole that he might do so. Contemporary Western believers are so used to the concept of individual salvation that they often have a hard time grasping this concept. And yet in the Jewish mindset salvation is and always has been primarily communal and not individual. Thus the Pirkei Avot assert that “All Israel has a share in the age to come”. Indeed, the Messianic Writings naturally share this mindset too. In Romans 11 we therefore see that Rabbi Shaul articulated his theology of salvation in terms of trees and communities – with the individual branches only being a constituent part of and dependent upon the larger tree, the people of Israel. Moreover, in his letter to the Ephesians Rabbi Shaul would speak of the non-Jew being brought into the “commonwealth of Israel”. He also spoke about believers being “built on the foundation of the emissaries and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Yeshua the Messiah himself. In union with him the whole building is held together, and it is growing into a holy temple in union with the Lord. Yes, in union with him, you yourselves are being built together into a spiritual dwelling-place for God!” (Eph 2:20-22). Here then the individual is compared to a brick, which must be aligned with and placed alongside many other bricks so that the shape of the Temple might eventually emerge. This same idea is restated even more emphatically by Rabbi Shaul in his letter to the Corinthians. Since, time and again, Rabbi Shaul found fault with the Corinthians for their individualism he took pains to remind the believers there that they were actually part of a body. Thus “One and the same Spirit is at work in all these things, distributing to each person as he chooses. For just as the body is one but has many parts; and all the parts of the body, though many, constitute one body; so it is with the Messiah. For it was by one Spirit that we were all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free; and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. For indeed the body is not one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not a hand, so I’m not part of the body,” that doesn’t make it stop being part of the body. And if the ear says, “I’m not an eye, so I’m not part of the body,” that doesn’t make it stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If it were all hearing, how could it smell? But as it is, God arranged each of the parts in the body exactly as he wanted them. Now if they were all just one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are indeed many parts, yet just one body. So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you”; or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be less important turn out to be all the more necessary; and upon body parts which we consider less dignified we bestow greater dignity; and the parts that aren’t attractive are the ones we make as attractive as we can, while our attractive parts have no need for such treatment. Indeed, God has put the body together in such a way that he gives greater dignity to the parts that lack it, so that there will be no disagreements within the body, but rather all the parts will be equally concerned for all the others. Thus if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; and if one part is honored, all the parts share its happiness. Now you together constitute the body of the Messiah, and individually you are parts of it.” (1Co 12:11-27).

Shaul’s perspective then was both thoroughly Jewish and thoroughly Biblical. His was a perspective that did not so much regard the salvation of the individual as an end in itself, but as a means toward an end – and that end was the salvation of the whole community. It is so easy for contemporary believers to forget in this respect that all G-d’s covenants, including the B’rit Chadashah, have not so much been made with us as individuals, but with G-d’s people as a whole. It is on account of this that the classical exposition of the B’rit Chadashah which is found in Yirmeyahu says this: “”For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra’el after those days,” says ADONAI: “I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, ‘Know ADONAI‘; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickednesses and remember their sins no more.”” (31:33-34).

Chaver, the ultimate point of what I am saying is this: G-d didn’t establish the New Covenant with either me or with you, but rather with the people of Israel; and it is only as a part of the people of Israel that you and I may be saved. Whether we were born Jewish and then came to faith in Yeshua, or whether we were “grafted in”, the fact is that we are truly in it together!

Rabbi Yehoshua