Metaphors in the Torah: Yom Kippur (Part 1)


High Priest Offering Sacrifice of Goat
Public Domain
This article originally appeared in: "The Times of Israel" several years ago. I have made a few minor changes and clarifications and added a few words here and there, but, basically, it is the same article.
This "up-dated" article shall focus on two issues:
1) There is absolutely no connection between Yom Kippur and fasting (i.e. The soul is not located in the stomach).
2) Asking forgiveness for bad behavior is a Christian concept (See the film: "Godfather 3"); it has nothing to do with Yom Kippur. 
The subject of: Yom Kippur shall be split into two parts. The first section will be dealing with the translation and interpretation of the statement usually quoted as: “afflict the soul”. In part two we shall discuss the animals associated with this Holy Day and attempt to determine: "Why specifically were these animals selected?"

The first thing that should be discussed in relation to Yom Kippur is that the English translation, in regards to fasting, is incorrect. In fact, the Hebrew word for: "fast" doesn’t even appear in the sections about Yom Kippur.  What actually is written in Hebrew is that on Yom Kippur one should: "impoverish the soul". Although it is possible to translate this phrase as “punish" or: "afflict" the soul I hope to show later these too are not the correct translations.

The second most important issue is that the English translation of the statement made by God to Noah which usually appears as: “…..the life is in the blood…..” is also incorrect. What is clearly written in Hebrew is that: "the soul is in the blood".

Why all this becomes important is that Abram is told in a dream that his descendants will be slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, which is then rephrased as four generations. Regardless, the relevant wording for us is that they while they are there they will be: "impoverish/afflicted/punished" by the Egyptians (i.e. the exact same word which is used to discuss Yom Kippur).

Since the word for: "impoverish/afflict/punish" implies a connection between: "Yom Kippur" and "slavery in Egypt", the first question we must ask is:

Did the Hebrews actually fast while they were slaves in Egypt?
The answer to this question can be found in the story about craving meat in the Book of Numbers. In short, we are told that it was only when the people were following Moses that their conditions resembled a fast. During the times the Israelites were slaves in Egypt they had a large variety of foods to eat in almost unlimited quantities.

In the story of Samson’s riddle we see that in ancient times: "plowing a field" was associated with: "producing knowledge" and, even in modern times, we still speak of: "plowing through a book". This connection between "studying" and "working in a field" is quite logical because for centuries the rabbis have claimed that: "the Torah is the bread of life". In ancient times: "wheat" was referred to as: "the fruit of the land" and in the story of Garden of Eden a clear connection is made with: "fruit" and: "knowledge".

Hence, "a worker" can be seen as a metaphor for: "a student" and: "a slave" can be seen as: "someone who is compelled to study the beliefs of another". A parallel example can be found in modern times when people claimed that the communists had "enslaved the minds" of the Eastern Europeans. Thus Moses himself is described as: “God’s servant” (i.e. slave) and we are clearly told: "he did not want to bring God’s message" to the Israelites.

What all this then suggests is that, when they were with Moses, the Israelites were to be: "weaned off the teachings of men" and thus they: "were given very little water or meat". Unfortunately, as a result of their continuous complaining, God relented and provided them manna from heaven, water from a rock and quails which flew in from the sky (here it is important to grasp that in Hebrew the words for: "sky" and: "heaven" are the same, thus: "a bird" or: "any winged creature" is a metaphor for: "a spiritual intermediary" between heaven and earth).

Nevertheless, when Moses finally relented and did provide the Israelites with water, he angrily screamed out and called them: “fallen ones”; meaning they had fallen from a higher level of understanding back to the level of understanding symbolized by: “over fed Egyptian slaves”. This connection between: "water" and "lower levels of understanding" can be seen in the story of Sodom which was located in the “amply watered” Jordan Valley. In Hebrew the name: "Jordan" means: "to go down".
Thus, as we have discussed in many other articles in this series, it is crucial to understand that "meat" is a metaphor for: "religious preachings" and "water" is a metaphor for: "religious explanations". After God had provided the people with His spiritual message from the highest level, he did not want them mixing and confusing his doctrines with teachings and explanations of a lower level. Hence, the Torah tells us that the Israelites were forced to walk thru Sinai without: "water" or: "meat". God, obviously, knew they were "hungry" and "thirsty", but He did not want them to corrupt his spiritual message with ideas derived thru observation or interaction with the physical senses.  
What is essential to grasp here is that it was NOT God's original plan to provide the Israelites with food or water. In other words: they ALREADY were fasting when they followed Moses thru the desert. Hence: How could the rabbis then conclude that on Yom Kippur, a special day, we are supposed to fast ? It is simply total nonsense....

In the story of Cain and Abel we are told that: "Abel’s blood called out to the lord". If we add that to God’s statement about: "the soul being in the blood", we can then see that "the soul has the ability to communicate". In spite of the fact that I believe the Gospels can serve as a valuable resource tool for interpreting metaphors in the Torah, usually when writing Torah commentaries I prefer not to use references to the New Testament. Nonetheless, since I have already implied that the rabbis have mistranslated the Torah, and I like to consider myself to be: "an equal opportunity iconoclast", I think it is only fair to give an example of where the Christians have mistranslated the Torah as well.

Briefly: one of the main reasons Christians don’t keep a kosher diet is that they believe Jesus declared all foods to be clean. Jesus said that it was not important what went into the mouth, it was only important what came out of the mouth. Unfortunately, the Torah does not speak of: "clean and unclean food", in Hebrew it speaks of: "pure and impure food". Thus what Jesus was actually suggesting is that "the food we eat" is not what makes us impure (i.e. the knowledge we study); since we always have the option to reject these teachings. What makes one: "impure" is when: "we transmit the word of God to others incorrectly" or: "mix the word of God with other doctrines".
In other words: The Jews have been entrusted with God’s Torah
 and the word "sins" are a reference to: "how accurately we pass on these teachings to the next generation". Thus God says he had selected Abram because he knew he would teach God’s ways to his descendants. In fact, this is the ONLY condition of the covenant between Abraham and God. Circumcism is a physical sign that the terms of the covenant has been accepted, it is not the actual agreement itself. 
In order to better appreciate what is going on here, I believe we must turn to the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. In this narrative we are told that the location is called: "Mount Moriah", but we also are told this is: "God’s Mountain". The key here is that the name: "Moriah"  shares the same root as the Hebrew word for: "teacher". Hence, it is possible to conclude that God is a teacher of a higher level of understanding (In other words: "mountains", like Sinai and Moriah, are metaphors for: "high levels of understanding" and "valleys" like "the Jordan", where Sodom was located, are metaphors for: "low levels of understanding").

In addition, the Hebrew word for: "sin" is actually an archery term and it means: "to miss the mark". Why this is significant is that the word: "Torah" shares the same root as the verb for: "shooting an arrow". Hence, the original meaning of the Hebrew word for: "sin" had nothing to do with bad behavior, but was related to: "accurately teaching the words of God". This, we can see in the Torah, was the criteria to be used when judging a prophet. "A prophet" was someone who: "accurately repeated to the people the words which God told him to speak" and was not necessarily someone who predicted the future. Accordingly, "Moses: the Lawgiver", was described by God as: "the greatest of the prophets", not so much for his predictions of the future, but because: "he accurately transmitted to the people a large quantity of God’s teachings".

If all this is acceptable, then we can see that the concepts of “purity” and “kosher food” have to do with: "accurately repeating God’s word" and are only indirectly related to eating cheeseburgers. In fact, eating a cheeseburger is NOT forbidden in the written Torah, but, as Rudyard Kipling once said: "...that is another story..."

Thus, we can now better appreciate the connection between the statement of Jesus and the Israelite slaves eating large quantities of food in Egypt. To "impoverish/afflict/punish" the soul has nothing whatsoever to do with the physical act of eating food and is in fact a reference to: "eating the spiritual bread of life”. Thus: "the land of milk and honey" is a reference to: "a source of spiritual teachings". The Hebrew word for: "bee" also means: "a word", thus: "honey" is a metaphoric reference to “the writings of God” and it has been a tradition amongst Jews to place a piece of candy on the words for God when teaching children to read the Torah. The Hebrew word for: "a woman’s breast" also means: "spirit" as well as: "a field", hence “a land of milk…” is a play on words, implying that: "the breast of mother earth"  represents: "a school which provides spiritual teachings". This is easy to accept, because even today we still say: "the earth is a school" and, in Hebrew, the words for: "land" and "earth" are the same.

The soul is something which allows man to communicate with God. God said the soul is located in the blood, God did not say the soul was located in the intestines! Thus, we can see in the story when Samuel is selecting David as the future king, God was not interested in the outer appearance of a man’s physical features and most certainly did not care about the way he dressed. If we agree that: "a sin" is determined by: "how purely/accurately one communicates God’s messages to others", and we further agree that: "the soul has the ability to communicate", then when God judged: "the heart of David" he saw it as being: "a pure vessel" which had: "the ability to transfer God’s will to His people". It seems obvious that, originally, King Saul’s heart also was a pure vessel, but King Saul allowed the ideas and desires of men to mix in with the teachings he received from God and be began to take into consideration the needs of men rather than follow only the commands of God.

Thus, Saul was removed as king not because he didn’t wait for Samuel when sacrificing some sheep, but because he had become: "an impure source of God’s word" by allowing men to influence his decisions. Naturally, the most well known example of the soul being a vehicle of communication is when: "God hardens the heart of Pharaoh" and "prevents him from listening" to the pleas of Moses.

Another important theme is the connection between: children, a mother and the word of God. Another very important relationship is: a seed, the earth and fruit. Where this is most clearly apparent is in the Holy Day of Shavout which celebrates the giving of God’s word to his people. This is also referred to as “The Festival of the First Fruits” and this is significant because in Hebrew the words for: "first fruits" and: "first born sons" are the same.  Thus, the statement in the Torah: “I brought my son out of Egypt” is a reference to: "knowledge" and this implies that there are certain aspects to the Egyptian religion which can be found in the religion of the Israelites. Another example of this transfer of knowledge is the prediction given to Abram by God that the Israelites would take: "great wealth" from the Egyptians.

In modern times we have the expression: “a wealth of knowledge”. We also speak of a person having: “a rich vocabulary”. What must be understood is that when reading the Torah is that we are discussing the word of God and not: “The Wall Street Journal”. 

As we briefly mentioned in the beginning of this article, Abraham had a dream in which he was given two references to the number: "four". Later, in the story of the burial of Sarah we are told that Abraham (his new name) paid four hundred pieces of silver for a field containing a cave and that this was located near a town called, in Hebrew: "Kiryat Arbah", which can be roughly translated  as: “the fourth village”. What we see immediately is that these are the same two numbers which are used in relation to impoverishing the soul in Egypt.
In future articles we shall discuss all these aspects in much greater detail, but for now I think it is enough to make the connection between the number four and the forty days and nights of rain in Noah’ story, as well as the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years. We are told that Abram brought with him great wealth from Ur of the Chaldees and later he increased this wealth in Egypt. In other sories we are told that Jacob left the lands of his Uncle Laban with great wealth.
Again, we are speaking about the Torah
, not: "The Wall Street Journal". Why is God providing us with all these references to wealth? Is there a connection between money and godliness? Should Bill Gates be considered a spiritual leader?

Another major issue we must consider is: Of all the nations in the world, why were the Israelites sent to Egypt? In short, I believe the answer comes from the philosophy of alchemy, which many people wrongly believe has solely to do with turning lead into gold. We have already discussed the connection between working in a field and studying in a school. We have also discussed the concept of “a wealth of knowledge” and “rich vocabularies”. While it is true workers can be paid in food, usually they were paid money, hence: "a worker’s wages” in a particular  "field of study" could be described as: "the lessons" he received from his master. Since, we have already shown that: "sin" represents: "an inaccurate teaching", it is easy to appreciate where the Pharisee: Paul of Tarsus came up with the statement: “The wages of sin are death” (i.e. "death" being a metaphor for: "little or no understanding").

Accordingly, the study of alchemy is not really about transforming physical lead into physical gold, but is dealing with transforming: "a base mind" into: "a source of precious spiritual knowledge".

“Chem” is the name the Ancient Egyptians used to call themselves and these people should not to be confused with modern Egyptians who are a different race. Accordingly: "alchemy" means: “The Arts of the Egyptians” but more accurately should be translated as: “The Arts of the Black Land” or “The Black Arts” (not to be confused with evil).
By contrast, the name: "Laban", the brother of Rebecca and father of Leah and Rachel, means “white” and modern day Lebanon, named after him, could be translated as “The White Land”.

Regardless, the main concept in the philosophy of alchemy is: “purification and attaining a new perspective”. Thus, since we have already touched upon the connection between: "wealth" and "knowledge", as well as the connection between: "the number four" and: "purification", what we can then begin to see is that: "the four hundred years of slavery" in Egypt has something to do with: "removing the wealth of knowledge the Hebrews had obtained from other cultures" and then replacing it with Egyptian ideas about purification of the spirit.

Thus, God describes: "Egypt" as: "a blazing furnace" and when the Israelites leave Egypt they take with them great wealth. If these interpretations are correct, then Yom Kippur has nothing to do with punishing ourselves for misdeeds and evil sins, because Abram’s descendants hadn’t really done anything wrong.
Yom Kippur is about: "learning to purify the body" from: "the wealth of knowledge of men", in order that all that remains is a pure soul which now possesses the ability to communicate with God at a higher level of understanding. This is not to say that fasting is not a valuable procedure, only that there is no connection between fasting and impoverishing the soul.
Apparently then, based on the story of the Israelites in the desert, fasting has more to do with maintaining a pure state of mind, then with attaining a pure state of mind.

Fasting does not remove sins, otherwise the Children of Israel would not have been provided with food while wandering in the desert for forty years after sinning against God. It was only BEFORE they had sinned that they were deprived of food and water.

The prophet Nathan did not tell King David to fast in order to remove his sin. King David took it upon himself to fast in an attempt to save the life of the baby, not to remove his own sin. Accordingly, after the baby died, David stopped fasting. If he had been trying to remove his own sins against God through fasting, then he would not have stopped.
In the Old Testament there are four major punishments surrounding leaders of Israel:
1) Moses is not allowed to enter the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because he listen to the demands of the people and did not "honor God's word". Nowhere does it say he was punished for hitting the stone with his staff and the key to this story is that the Hebrew word for: "honor" is also the Hebrew word for: "the human liver" and the main function of the liver is: "to purify the blood". Thus, the sin of Moses was: "mixing God's word" with "the waters of the rock" and the modern definition of "watering down a teaching" is "to adulterate". Thus the Torah teaches us that the reason the 7 peoples living in Canaan were expelled from the land was for sexual offences.
2) The people sinned against God, by rejecting Samuel as their leader and demanding a king like all the other nations (the Hebrew word for "nations" is "goyim" and this also means "dead meat"). God then tells Samuel: "It is not you they have rejected, but me".
3) King Saul loses both his kingdom and his right to establish a dynasty because he heeded the voice of the people and failed to kill all the Amalikite sheep and did not immediately execute their king. "A sheep" is a metaphor for "God's word" and we said that "a first born son" is a metaphor for: "God's word". Thus, the Children of Israel are always compared to sheep and God told Pharaoh that Israel was his: "first born son". An Amalikite sheep, however, is a metaphor for: the word of the Amalikite god. The sin of King Saul was that, for him, "a sheep was a sheep" and he did not understand that "Amalikite sheep" represent "false teachings" and should have been destroyed as "worthless contraband" and not held in order to be sacrifice to the God of Israel.
4) King David took the wife of Uriah the Hittite and created circumstances leading to his death. The prophet Nathan then describes this act by comparing Bathsheba to a young lamb. In other words: Uriah means "light of God" and there is not doubt that David was attracted to this source of God's word. Nevertheless, just as God told the Israelites that they were not to touch the land promised to Esau, the Hittites were also given their sources of understanding. Thus King David should not have taken the lamb of the Hittites and should have been satisfied with the source of knowledge God had already provided him with.
Thus, Yom Kippur is about removing from our souls: teachings, beliefs, customs etc. etc. of men, especially other peoples (Remember: the Hebrew word for "nations" means "dead meat"). Purifying our souls on Yom Kippur (not our stomachs), means to rid ourselves of contamination of the teachings of men, in order that the ONLY voice which remains to be heard is the voice of God.....