Yom HaKippurim and the Service of Vayikra 16

Yom HaKippurim and the Service of Vayikra 16

Interactive Learning Module

"וְכִפֶּר עַל הַקֹּדֶשׁ" / Mechon HaMikdash

1. Introduction

  • Today, without a Beit HaMikdash, Yom HaKippurim is usually a day of introspection, revolving around prayer, repentance, and atonement. What, though, was the focal point of the day in Mikdash times?
  • An in depth analysis of the issue can be found at Purpose of the Service of Vayikra 16. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.
  • Let's access the Mikraot Gedolot on Vayikra 16 which discusses the service of the day.

2. Service of the Day

  • The chapter describes the bringing of sin-offerings, the lottery, incense, and dispatching of the goat for Azazel.
  • What is the ultimate goal of these various rites? What is suggested by verses 16-20 which speak of the Chatat for Hashem? Who or what is the object of the ritual?
  • What is indicated by verses 21-22 which speak of the goat for Azazel?
  • Does verse 30 shed light on the entire process or any of its components?

3. Keywords as Indicator of Theme

  • Frequently, the main message or theme of a unit is highlighted through repetition of certain keywords or phrases. What are the keywords in our chapter and what might they suggest about the goal of the service?
  • Let's access the Tanakh Lab here. In the box which says "Analyze One Text", use the book, chapter, and verse dropdown menus to select Vayikra 16:1-34. Press "display".
  • Now, let's look at the computer generated listing of keywords in the table on the left side of the screen.
  • Click on the "בקטע" column which will list entries according to the number of appearances of the entry in the unit. Which words appear the most times?

4. "כפרה", "חטאת" and "שעיר"

  • The most repeated root is כפר, followed by the words "חטאה" and "שעיר" which are the means through which the day's "כפרה" is attained.
  • Note that the word "תשובה" and its variations appear nowhere on the list. In fact, they do not come up in the chapter at all.
  • Thus, the day apparently revolves around כפרה. But what does the root "כפר" mean?

5. "כפרה" as Atonement?

  • Though the word כפרה is commonly translated as "atonement" (as in "The Day of Atonement"), in several verses in our chapter, the word's context might suggest otherwise.
  • Let's click on the root "כפר" in the table so that all appearances of the word in the unit will be highlighted.
  • Who or what is the object of the כפרה in each case?
  • Based on this, can the word sustain the meaning "atone" in all of these verses?

6. Concordance: כפר

  • The quick scan of Chapter 16 reveals that, though in many verses the root כפר is connected to a person (the priest or nation), in others (for instance, verses 16, 20, and 33) it is not the individual but rather the Mikdash itself which is the object of the כפרה.
  • This suggests that, at least in these verses, atonement might not be the appropriate definition.
  • Let's access AlHaTorah's concordance (click here) to see how the word is used throughout Tanakh and what other meanings it might sustain. In the input bar, type כפר and choose the verb form from the drop down menu.

7. Concordance: כפר

  • What might be the meaning of the root "כפר" based on the context of the first verse listed?
  • Scroll down to Vayikra 12:7-8 (#30-31) and Yechezkel 43:20-26 (#89-90). With what word is the root "כפר" paired in these verses? Click on the chapter-verse link next to each verse to see it in context. Are any of the passages speaking of sin that would require atonement?
  • Finally, scroll back up to Yeshayahu 27:9 (#84) and Yirmeyahu 18:23 (#87). What word is parallel to "כפר" in these verses?

8. Concordance: כפר

  • From our survey, the root "כפר" can mean not only to atone or expiate, but also to cover, purify, or remove.
  • How might each be applied to the verses of our chapter and what might they suggest about both the purpose of the nation's two offerings and the ultimate goal of the service of the day?
  • Does the day revolve around atonement of the people, purification of the Mikdash, or both?

9. Day of Atonement: R. Saadia

  • Let's now return to the Mikraot Gedolot on Vayikra 16 to see how our commentators understand both the concept of כפרה and the goal of the service as a whole.
  • We'll begin with R. Saadia Gaon who assumes that the entire ritual relates to atonement for both the priests and nation.
  • The ritual of transferring the nation's sins to the goat being sent to Azazel is easily understood to relate to atonement. How, though, would R. Saadia understand verses 16-18 which focus on the impurity of the Mikdash rather than the people, and which imply that the Mikdash itself requires "כפרה"?
  • See R. Saadia's translation on verse 16; how does he reinterpret the phrase "וְכִפֶּר עַל הַקֹּדֶש" to obviate this problem?

10. Day of Atonement: Ralbag

  • Ralbag, too, views the day as people focused, but provides a different solution for the problematic phrase "וְכִפֶּר עַל הַקֹּדֶש".
  • Using the gear icon in the middle of the top red bar, select the commentary of Ralbag so that it will now appear. [Afterwards, click outside the dialog overlay to return to the Mikraot Gedolot.]
  • Scan the first portion of his commentary to verse 16. How does he interpret the word "על" in the phrase "וְכִפֶּר עַל הַקֹּדֶש"?
  • According to him, what is being atoned for by the goat for Hashem?

11. Day of Purification: Hoil Moshe

  • In contrast to R. Saadia and Ralbag, R. Moshe Ashkenazi (the 19th century author of the commentary Hoil Moshe) views the rite as aimed at the Mikdash rather than the nation, understanding it to be solely a purification ceremony meant to cleanse the Mikdash itself of impurities.
  • Using the gear icon as above, access his commentary on the chapter. Scroll up to read his comments on verse 1 (or click here).

12. Hoil Moshe

  • According to Hoil Moshe, what prompted the need for such a ritual? When was it first instituted? Why might it have become an annual rite?
  • How would Hoil Moshe understand the phrase "וְכִפֶּר עַל הַקֹּדֶש" in verse 16?
  • Now, scroll back up to verse 10 to see Rashbam and his understanding of the sending of the goat to Azazel. To what ritual does he compare it? How might this rite, too, be understood as intended to cleanse the Mikdash from impurity?
  • [Hoil Moshe himself offers a much more radical explanation of the rite; see his comments to verse 8 and Why is the Goat Sent to Azazel for discussion.]

13. Purifying the People and Place: R. D"Z Hoffmann

  • R. D"Z Hoffmann takes a middle position, maintaining that the ritual had a dual focus – to both purge the Mikdash of impurity and to expiate the sins of the nation.
  • R. D"Z Hoffmann addresses our verses in his larger discussion of the role of the Chatat back in Vayikra 5:17. As his comments are lengthy, let's access them in the single mode of the Mikraot Gedolot, by clicking here. We'll begin where he writes, "כל חוטא מטמא את המקדש" and read until "ושזריקות הדם מטהרות אותם ומחזירות את השכינה".
  • How does R. D"Z Hoffmann understand the relationship between sin and defilement of the Mikdash? According to him, what is accomplished by sprinkling the blood of the goat for Hashem in the Mikdash?
  • How might he translate both the words "לחטא" and "לכפר"?
  • [To read more about his approach to the Chatat offering as a whole, see Nature of the Chatat.]

14. R. D"Z Hoffmann

  • Let's now return to our chapter by clicking on the book icon in the top red bar and choosing Vayikra Chapter 16.
  • Click on the verse 22 button from the "verse" menu on the right side of the screen to see R. D"Z Hoffman's comments where he discusses the role of the Goat for Azazel.
  • How does he understand the transference of sin and the goal of this part of the service?
  • Shadal elaborates on this idea in the last few lines of his commentary to verse 8. How does he understand the ceremony? What similar ceremony does he allude to which is still done today?

15. Summary

  • According to R. Saadia, the end-goal of Yom haKipuurim has remained consistent from Mikdash times to the present. Both then and now, the main purpose is the attainment of atonement, the only difference being the means to that atonement. In Mikdash times it was accomplished through an elaborate sacrificial service lacking today.
  • Hoil Moshe, in contrast, suggests that the entire nature of the day has changed. In Mikdash times, the day revolved around purification of the Mikdash itself. The deaths of Nadav and Avihu contaminated the Mishkan, necessitating its being purged. An annual ritual was then instituted to cleanse the Mikdash from any other intentional or accidental impurity which might have contaminated it throughout the year.
  • R. D"Z Hoffmann offers perhaps the simplest reading of the verses, suggesting that the two Chatat offerings of the people served distinct functions, one being aimed at purifying the Mikdash and one at purifying the people. As sin contaminates both the individual and the Mikdash itself, both need purification.

16. Additional Reading