In this week’s Torah portion of Acharei, chapter 16 of Leviticus describes the Yom Kippur service. Yom Kippur was an extraordinary opportunity to discover a deep personal relationship with God.
Yom Kippur was the only day the Kohen Gadol (high priest) would enter the innermost chamber of the Temple know as the Holy of Holies. The revelation of God’s presence in the Holy of Holies was so intense our sages explain that a miracle took place and the Ark of the Covenant transcended the limitations of space.
Our sages also teach that the holiness of the “day itself” affected the spiritual purification of the Jewish people.
Today we have no Temple service, so in place of this, we pray. Our prayers replicate, in spiritual terms, the Holy Temple service (Hosea 14) and offer us an intimate way to achieve a personal relationship with God.
Some missionaries erroneously claim that when the Temple stood the only way to achieve atonement was by offering blood sacrifices. They misquote Leviticus 17:11 as “there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.” In fact, the verse says, “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to on the altar to make atonement.”
In context, this verse is speaking about the prohibition of consuming blood because, as the life force of animals and mankind, blood can only be used as a part of the sacrificial system.
Leviticus 17:11 does not state that blood sacrifices are the ONLY way to make atonement. For example, atonement can also be accomplished by giving charity (Exodus 30:16), or through the burning of incense (Numbers 16:47).
Amazingly, the New Testament does not quote Leviticus 17:11 the way missionaries do because it understood that blood sacrifices were not the only way to achieve forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22 states, “according to the law, one could ALMOST say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
The caveat of “ALMOST” destroys the missionary argument.
In these challenging times, we can find comfort in Yom Kippur’s eternal message that we always have a way to return and be close to God, as it says, “return to Me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz