Parashat Aharey-Mot and Kedoshim, Leviticus 16:1 to 20:21

Our first Torah portion deals with the ritual of Yom Kippur, and sending the goat of Azazel into the wilderness. Why are two sacrifices brought forth by the High Priest for Yom Kippur?  We learn of a new word in the English language, “scapegoat,” which was coined by William Tyndale, the first to translate the Torah into English (in the late 1500’s). He called the ritual

of releasing a goat into the wild (as expiation for the sins of Israel), the “escape goat,” which was later changed to the term “scapegoat.” 

The second section of this double Torah reading is known as the Holiness code, since it begins with the phrase, “you shall be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.”  Many consider this chapter 19 as a counterpart to the Decalogue. We can find the Ten commandments embedded in the sentences of Leviticus 19.  Another fascinating aspect of this sedrah is the concern with idolatry. What does the Torah say about the signs of the zodiac? Many of us read our horoscope on a regular basis, and yet few would admit that we are idol worshippers. But according to Maimonides, if you’ve changed your path because of a black cat, or wouldn’t act because it’s Friday the 13th, you are guilty of idol worship. So Leviticus teaches us, “neither shall you practice divination nor soothsaying.” (Lev. 19:26) Many commentaries have been written on the dangers of idolatry, or folk magic, ranging from Talmudic texts to explanations offered by the Rambam.

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