Shabbat Table Talk
Parashat Yom Kippur 30th September2017
Week of 24 September – 30 September
Torah portion: Lev.16:1-34; Num.29:7-11; Haftarah: Isa.57:14-58:14
Recently while reading through the Torah, I have been struck yet again by how particular are its descriptions on some aspects of Jewish ritual life. Today’s parashah is one such example. I would like to challenge you to read through Leviticus 16:1-34 as a person who is personally instructed to carry out these ceremonies and holy practices. Does it not sound like you might be able to perform the rites necessary for this holy day by just following these instructions?
The Torah was written for everybody in Israel; it means that they all had to know what the priests were supposed to do! The priests did not have some special secret knowledge, there were no mysterious rituals that only the select would know. No, everybody in Israel is a priest in the sense that they know exactly what God is expecting to happen on each occasion. And even more so on the day that is one of the highlights of the year: Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.
“You shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation,” God says in Ex.19:6. The Israelite nation is priests and the priests are the nation. This identification between the nation and the priests is well illustrated in today’s parashah. The beginning of Lev.16 describes the reason why the ceremonies and practices on the Day of Atonement were introduced in the first place. The Lord commanded them after two priests, two sons of Aaron approached God without proper reverence, “they drew near before the Lord, and died”. (Lev.16:1) It a warning for all the people of Israel: if you do not take seriously your approach to God, you will end up like those two priests: dead. It is that serious.
As priests Israel has to follow the prescriptions in the temple and there are many of those for the Day of Atonement. But as a holy nation they should do more than that: they should support each other and care for each other just as God cares for them. Today’s haftarah is very emphatic about this point. It urges not to stop at the ritual and Israel’s care to perform it flawlessly. One should care just as much about how to approach the fellow human being. Thus, in Isaiah’s text for today God asks of his people to loose the bonds of wickedness, lift the yoke, let the oppressed go free, share bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into their house, cover the naked. (Isa.58:6-7) Only when we approach God and a fellow human person, particularly the one in difficulty, with reverence will we have performed the perfect atonement on Yom Kippur.
For Reflection and Discussion:  Walk with Aaron the high priest through all the rites he has to perform on the Day of Atonement!  What does it mean for you to approach God properly?  What does the haftarah teaches us about approaching God?
This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone, Bat Kol Alumna, 2002 & 2003
[Copyright © 2017]
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