Metaphors in the Torah: Vayikra

Illustration: Priest Sacrificing Goat
Public Domain
This article is not really one of my regular Torah commentaries which try to discuss everything that happened in the weekly Torah portion. This is merely an updated repeat of an earlier article about blood and the removal of sins which just happens to be relevant to this week's Torah portion.....
The Roles of Blood and the Liver in Removing Sin

Although I usually try not to reference Christian works when discussing the Torah, in this case the writings of the Pharisee: Paul of Tarsus are somewhat relevant because he was a student of Rabbi Gamaliel of the Hillel school and, in fact, wrote very little about the life of Jesus Christ. Most of Paul of Tarsus writings dealt with the Old Testament and, for our purposes here, I would like to focus on his ideas about sin and blood.

In short: Paul of Tarsus NEVER said that the animal sacrifices of the Jews didn’t remove sins. To the contrary: he agreed they removed sins. The point Paul of Tarsus was trying to make was that the blood sacrifice of Jesus was a more effective way to remove sins, because it was only needed once, whereas Jewish blood sacrifices needed to be repeated year after year.

Regardless, what needs to be emphasized here is that even the founder of the Roman Catholic Church agreed that the blood sacrifices of the Jews worked, what we will be discussing in this article is:

How exactly did these blood sacrifices work?

This then brings us to the Modern Day misconception amongst Jews that, somehow, fasting on Yom Kippur removes sins.

First of all, it should be made absolutely clear that in the Hebrew version of the Torah it DOES NOT SAY that one should fast on Yom Kippur (In some English versions of the Bible it does indeed use the word: “fast”, but this is a mis-translation).

What the Hebrew Torah says is that we must “onish-ha-nefesh” and this means either: “to punish the soul” or: “to impoverish the soul”. My personal preference is for: “to impoverish the soul”, but, either way, this has nothing what so ever to do with fasting.

In a previous article we spoke about King David being punished for seducing the wife of Uriah the Hittite and bringing about his death:

What is interesting about this story is that, after being confronted by Nathan the Prophet, David declares that he has sinned against God; whereas one might assume that he had sinned against Uriah the Hittite. Regardless, it is only after King David realizes that his son is going to die, he begins to fast. When he is told the baby is dead, King David immediately orders a meal and begins to eat. Therefore, the purpose of David’s fast was not to remove his sin. The purpose of the fast was to request mercy and, possibly, to demonstrate sincerity. David tells his staff that he thought if he fasted the child might be spared, but once the child died, there was no longer any need to fast.

Just to clarify: David had committed his sin months before the baby was even born. He had been confronted by Nathan the prophet, but he had not been told at that time that the baby would be killed. If he had wanted to attempt to remove his sin then he should have started his fast immediately, long before the baby was born. Clearly then, the fast was a last minute effort by David to request mercy for the life of the child and not to remove David’s sin (An interesting aside to this story is: nowhere in the narrative is Bathsheba blamed or punished for her actions; only David).

For us then, the issue has to be:

Just what exactly is a sin?

The Torah says that we must sacrifice a goat on Yom Kippur and bring its blood into the: “Holy of the Holies”, which is a reference to the inner sanctum of the temple. A second goat is to be sent out to a mountain, but it is not killed.

In contrast to this, in modern times we fast for one day and perform a ritual service in the synagogues. 

Since most people in today’s world consider stealing and lying to be sins, our question then becomes: Would killing a goat or fasting remove the sins of convicted embezzler and liar Burney Madoff ? A man who stole hundreds of millions of dollars by deceiving his clients and friends.

Stupid question, isn’t it ?

Therefore: What then is a sin, since it certainly cannot be a crime?

Throughout this series of articles we have tried to demonstrate thru various different examples that God is a teacher and that the only requirement that Abraham had to fulfill in order to receive the Promised Land was to teach God’s ways to his descendants.

Some people insist that the root of the Hebrew word for: “teacher” only has to do with “pointing to a particular location”, but the dictionary clearly says that: “shooting an arrow” also shares the same root as the word for teacher. The reason this is important is that the Hebrew word for: “sin” is an ancient archery term meaning: “to miss the mark”. Hence, if a teacher is an archer, then an arrow represents the teaching itself

Based on this simple definition, when we teach God’s ways to our children, we are “sinless”, when we teach other ways to our children, regardless of whether it was intentional or unintentional, we are sinners.

Returning to the Prophet Nathan, we see him compare David’s sin to feeding a lamb to a traveler. We noted in other articles that: "a lamb" is a metaphor for: "a new idea from God" and: "feeding someone" is a metaphor for: "teaching"; hence Moses is described as: God’s servant.  Moses provided the people with: “Manna from Heaven” and this manna was compared to a light bread which tasted of honey. We then went on to note that for thousands of years people have claimed that the Torah is the bread of life and that honey is made by bees which shares the same ancient root with the Hebrew word for: “word”.

Therefore David’s sin is against God because “committing adultery with Bathsheba” is a metaphor for: “whoring after the God’s of the Hittites” and teaching Hittite ideas to “travelers” instead teaching the ways of God. This is why I believe that it is no accident that Bathsheba's name means: “daughter of the covenant” (i.e. oath).

By way of contrast: The crimes of Burney Madoff are crimes against men and not against God. Rabbis who teach their ways instead of God’s ways are sinners; Burney Madoff is merely a criminal.      

Okay, so if we agree that a sin can be defined as: “not teaching the ways of God”, then: How does the blood of a goat remove sin?

One of the things we know about blood is that God tells Noah the blood contains the soul (the English translation that: “the life is in the blood” is incorrect). We are also told that the blood has the ability to speak or “cry out” from the conversation between God and Cain.

One of the commands we are given over and over again is that we must honor God. In Hebrew the word for: “honor” shares the same root as the word for: “liver” and one of the major functions of the liver is to remove impurities from the blood. This is extremely important because, as we noted in an earlier article, Ezra never says that the children of the men who married foreign wives were not Jewish. In addition, Ezra certainly never says that the children of King Solomon who were born from his foreign wives were not Jewish because the mother of King Rehobaum was Naamah the Ammonite and I don’t think Ezra wanted to claim that a former King of Israel was not really Jewish.

What Ezra does indeed complain about is impurities, or contamination, of Jewish ideas and values. The issue for Ezra was: How could Jewish men comply with the covenant of Abraham and teach their children God’s ways, if their minds were corrupted with the impure ideas and thoughts of their foreign wives?  In other words: Ezra was not really afraid of impure DNA or proving if the baby was actually the Jewish husband’s baby. Ezra was solely interested in preserving the purity of the teaching God gave to Abraham.

And again, let’s not forget that the covenant of Abraham with God had only one condition: TO TEACH GOD’S WAYS TO HIS DESCENDANTS and this had nothing what so ever to do with Abraham’s faith as claimed by Paul of Tarsus:

Genesis 18, line 19:

"For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him."

Therefore, it is the purity of God’s teachings which concerns Ezra and not matrilineal descent.

Thus, by “honoring God” we purify our souls, by removing impurities from our religious beliefs in the same way a liver removes impurities from the blood. Hence on Yom Kippur we do not remove impurities from our stomach; we impoverish our soul and, as already mentioned, the soul is located in the blood.

 In a previous article, we showed that goats should be associated with deception:

Thus, goat’s meat represents: deceptive teachings and goat’s blood represents: “deceptive inspirational messages”. Accordingly on Yom Kippur we are required to do two things:

1)    Acknowledge that our own ideas are deceptive and bring them to God, via the goat's blood, as a way of removing these impure thoughts from the mind of the priest who is God’s vehicle for communicating with the community.

It is my opinion that the priest entering the inner sanctum of the tabernacle or temple with the blood of a goat, mimics the act of Jacob entering into the tent of Isaac with the hair and meat of a goat.

The most important description of Esau is that he is covered in red hair and, later, his descendants will be called: “Edomites” because he ate the red food prepared for him by Jacob (“Edomites” means: “red men”).

We shall discuss in a future article how the ashes of a red cow are used to purify water, but for now it is enough for us to associate the color red with purification. Thus, by pretending to be Esau, Jacob is in reality acknowledging the base elements and self deceptions that are present in every man. By pretending to be Esau, when Jacob enters into the tent of Isaac, Jacob also acknowledges his deceptive nature and his deceptive beliefs.

All men lie to themselves to maintain their ego. Thus, in the New Testament, there is the story of “the rich man” who is told to give away everything he has…The story is not about money, it is about pride in one's religious education. That is why I believe that the correct interpretation of “onish-ha-nefesh” is: “impoverish the soul”.

Samuel is told that God looks at the heart of a man, not his outside appearance. The inner sanctum of the tabernacle/temple represents the inner chamber of the heart. We must face our own self deceptions first, then we are “clean” enough to hear the word of God. 

One last point about the New Testament: When speaking of un cleanliness  and food, the Gospels claim that it is not what comes into the mouth which makes a man clean, but what comes out of his mouth (i.e. How accurately the man repeats the teachings of God to his children). But, this is a mistranslation. The Old Testament does not speak of clean and unclean foods, the Old Testament speaks of pure and impure foods…

2)    We must banish deceptive teachings from the community by sending them out to a mountain via the second goat. This mountain is called in Hebrew as: “az-za-zel” which means: “extremely rough” 

We have said many times in other articles that a mountain represents a high level of understanding. One of the explanations as to why, of all the animals, a goat was selected to represent deception was that when climbing up a mountain in the early morning, a goat appears to be attempting to reach the sun (an idea very similar to the tower of Babel when the people are trying to reach heaven).

The conclusion then appears to be: There is no way to reach the same level of understanding as God thru studying the ideas and commentaries of men. Any teaching which suggests to you that such an achievement is possible is a deception. God taught Abraham his ways and God provided Moses with the Torah. Abraham and Moses did not develop this wisdom thru studying. Thus, by sending the goat back to its rough mountain, so to speak, the community is separating itself from, and  purifying itself of, these erroneous ideas.