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Torah Portion

Weekly Torah Portion: The Yom Kippur Service

The Scapegoat, by William Holman Hunt. In Temple times, the scapegoat was a central part of the Yom Kippur service. [Image: Wiki Commons]

The Scapegoat, by William Holman Hunt. In Temple times, the scapegoat was a central part of the Yom Kippur service. [Image: Wiki Commons]



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Our portion begins with the Yom Kippur service. God tells Moses to relate to Aaron and his surviving sons that they are not to enter the Holy of Holies, separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a curtain, except on the Day of Atonement. Dressed in his white linen garments, which he dons after immersing himself in water, the High Priest is to take a young bull as a sin offering and a ram as an elevation offering on his own behalf, and two goats as a sin offering and a ram as an elevation offering for the people.

First, the High Priest draws lots over the he-goats, selecting one for God and one for Azazel. The goat for God is sacrificed, while the goat for Azazel — the Scapegoat — is thrown off a cliff in the wilderness later in the service. He then brings his own sin offering, to atone for himself and his household. He prepares incense with which he enters the Holy of Holies, and there sprinkles blood upon the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. He also sprinkles blood upon the altar outside.

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After the goat for Azazel is dispatched, the High Priest removes his linen garments and immerses himself again, putting on his other garments, and completes the two elevation offerings. The priest who dispatches the scapegoat and the one who removes the sin offerings for burning must immerse before re-entering the camp.

The laws of Yom Kippur for the nation are also included in this section. The day is commemorated on the tenth of the seventh month with fasting and purification.

Typically, the High Priest wears eight garments, four of which are resplendent with gold embellishments. On Yom Kippur, however, he performs the service in the Holy of Holies wearing only the four linen garments. As the Israel Bible explains, this helps him serve with humility. The white garments are the color of forgiveness, so they remind him and the people that all is in God’s hands.

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