Atonement: Covering Our Sins From Ourselves?

I was recently asked what “… type of sacrifice that Yeshua, as our great High Priest, made?”.

Before I share I little in response to this, I should indicate that I reject most of the standard Christian theories around Yeshua’s death on the cross and what it represents. For example, I see Penal Substitutionary Atonement (developed during the Reformation) as totally in error, but I tend to find much to like with regard the Moral Influence Theory (see footnote), as well as supporting a degree of Vicarious Atonement (see link at the end of this blog post to an in-depth discussion of this understanding from Bruce Barham of Torah of Messiah).

But in trying to understand what is involved in Yeshua’s role as the High Priest in the Coming Age, I think that we should appreciate that he performs that same functions as the High Priest of Israel has in the past.

So, if we look back at the foundational passages on the High Priest’s role in atonement we find:

Lev 4:20 “ … And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven.”

Aaron, as the first High Priest:
Ex 28: 29 “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.

30 And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly.

Lev 16:29-34  (speaking about Yom Kipppur, the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter the Most Holy of Holies in the Temple):
“29 And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.

30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.

31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.

32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments.

33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.

34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins. And Moses did as the LORD commanded him.

Ex 30:10 “Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”  – again, this is only possible in the Temple, and therefore, only when the Temple is standing.

These are just a few of the ‘atonement’ passages. The High Priest makes atonement for the people, but this is not the only way and means of people finding atonement. It is part of the process, but not all of it.

But what is atonement?

The word ‘atonement’ has more than one meaning in Judaism.  In the context here it appears to mean either the protection of a thing from external impact or the prevention of it making an impact, or both. That is, the underlying meaning is to cover something, so as to protect it, or allow it to be overlooked. For example, when Abimelech gives to Abraham a thousand pieces of silver as a “covering of the eyes” (the same Hebrew root word is used here as for atonement in the passages quoted above), the effect here is in order that his wrongdoing may be over-looked (Gen. 20: 16).

But we also need to be very much aware that every person who wishes to be part of the Coming Age, must also seek atonement through repentance and forgiveness, etc.

This is of course declared in many places in the Tanakh such as in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 18:  19 “Yet you say, Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father? When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live.

20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.

… 27 Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life.

28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

… 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.

31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?

32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

So it may seem we have a conflict here.

We have a High Priest somehow providing this ‘covering’ and protection for us (are our sins really being overlooked by the Almighty?), and yet at the same time the Tanakh seems to clearly state that everyone is responsible for his own sins (and thus there is a sense in which no one else can ‘pay the price’ for us).

And here’s some further food for though on what does the Oral Torah says about it:

“The death of the righteous atones [for the generation]” (Moed Katan 28a). ▫ “Rabbi Hiya Bar Abba said: The sons of Aaron died the first day of Nisan. Why then does the Torah mention their death in conjunction with the Day of Atonement? It is to teach that just as Yom Kippur atones, so also the death of the righteous atones” (Vayikra Rabbah 20:12). ▫ Following the previous statement: “Death and Yom Kippur atone when accompanied by penitence” (Yoma 85b [Mishna]). 

“Why is the death of Miriam juxtaposed to the laws of the Red Heifer? This teaches that just as the Red Heifer brings atonement, so too, the death of the righteous brings atonement” (Moed Katan 28a).

The Rabbis say: “[Messiah’s] name is ‘the leper’, as it is written: Surely he has borne our grieves, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him leper, smitten of God, and afflicted…  Those of the house of the Rabbi say: ‘the sickly’, for it says: Surely he has borne our sicknesses” (Sanh 98b). 

Also the Midrash says: “I will take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins” (Shemot Rabbah 35:4).  

I think though that Rabbi Moshe Avraham Kempinksi has a great perspective where he also alludes to the idea of a ‘covering’:

“… Yet we must still ponder the fact that we have been directed by our prophets to understand that repentance begins with our actions.        

Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, said HaShem of hosts.” (Malachi 3:7)   

Then again, we hear the words of the prophet Zechariah:      

“Therefore say you unto them, Thus said HaShem of hosts: Return unto Me, said HaShem of hosts, and I will return unto you, said HaShem of hosts.” (Zechariah 1:3)   

HaShem waits for our initial returning to Him with a contrite heart.  

It is important to note that our sages discussed the power of Yom Kippur to atone (Lechaper) for sins and they did not  determine that the day has the power “to cleanse” (LeTaher).   The Malbim in sefer HaCarmel describes the word Lechaper – to atone as having several possible meanings. It can mean “to cover”, to ”redeem” or to “superficially wash”.

Yet all those three actions do not truly remove the sin. They simply cover or beautify it. The sin and its potential impact continues to exist in the world. The sin still needs to be made pure or to be deeply cleansed. So one might ask why we bother with a Kaparah that simply covers, if in fact we have not eliminated the essence of the sin itself?  

To understand this one must truly ask another question “Who are we covering the sin from?”.

The instinctive answer is that we are attempting to hide or cover our sins from G-d. That cannot be true as King David declares in psalms: “For He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalms 44:22)   And in the book of Job we read: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose can be withholden from You.” (Job 42:2)  

 Yet sin has a powerful impact on our souls and our will power. Sin does not keep G-d away from man, sin keeps man away from G-d.

We feel so unworthy and so dirty that we cannot even look upon His face Ezekiel declares: “Therefore, O you son of man, say unto the house of Israel: Thusly you speak, saying: Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then can we live?” (Ezekiel 33:10)  

So G-d gives us the method to cover the sins from ourselves. The day achieves that “covering”. (itzumo shel yom mechaper). It is only after they have been covered from our sight that we regain the determination to gather our strength and continue into the intense process of tahara, or cleansing.

“And therefore will HaShem wait, so that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have compassion upon you; for HaShem is a God of justice, happy are all they that wait for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18)   << end quote>>

So, the argument here is that the Day of Atonement really acts as a way in which we ‘cover’ our sins from our own eyes, so that we may look forward and work harder to avoid ‘missing the mark’ (sin) in the future, and therefore display the true fruits and ‘tikkun haOlam’ that should result from our repentance and forgiveness.

For much greater depth on atonement, please see Vicarious Atonement: Origins and Correct Understanding at https://www.torahofmessiah.org/vicarious-atonement

Footnote: Moral Influence Theory of Atonement

This approach understands that Yeshua’s life and death brought about a massive and positive change to humanity. This moral change comes through the teachings of Yeshua alongside his example and actions.

Within this theory the death of Yeshua is understood as a catalyst to reform society, inspiring men and women to follow his example and live good moral lives of love.

This theory focuses on Yeshua’s entire life, not just his death. The Moral Influence theory emphasizes Yeshua Ha Mashiach as our teacher, our example, and our leader.

What Narrative Is This All A Part of?

The latest Torah Portion commentary from Rabbi Sacks introduces a fascinating re-take on a very familiar biblical story, that points to a very significant perspective on our world today.

I recommend reading it: https://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/What-Is-Going-On.html

In it is this quote: “Richard Rumelt: “A great deal of strategy work is trying to figure out what is going on. Not just deciding what to do, but the more fundamental problem of comprehending the situation.”
Narrative plays a major role in making good decisions in an uncertain world. We need to ask: of what story is this a part?”

Consider the world we live in today, with the Corona Virus Plandemic and how the MSM has loved to use this virus to spread fear, dis-information and Statism. Or how they have painted the recent news from the USA of the anarchists, looters, rioters and murderers of innocent business owners and citizens trying to protect their communities and properties as all being justified, peaceful and necessary activists. When we view this, it is hard to know how to react, and even harder to know the full truth if all we have easy access to is the distorted Leftist ‘truth’ of the MSM, Hollywood and Academic (Dinesh D’Sousa’s book  ‘The Big Lie’ should be mandatory reading for anyone wishing to be better informed on how distorted the narrative that we are presented with really is).

Caleb and Joshua were able to see the beauty and potential in the land of ‘milk and honey’. They were able to look past the challenges, avoid the fear the seemed to cloud the judgement of the other 10 ‘princes’ of their tribes, and instead see what Yehovah wanted them to see. They viewed the Land of Israel and the future promised to them with optimism and great anticipation, just as Yehovah intended. We need to do the same!

So how do we look past these filters and see the big picture, and see what real story this is all a part of, a story of redemption and hope, a story of ultimate victory over darkness.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness …” 
– Martin Luther King

To the atheist and agnostic seeingwhat story is this a part’’ of, seeing the big picture is not really possible, because the big picture requires a faith and knowledge of the Creator of the Universe, Yehovah and His plans for us in these days of the final full revelation of His Master Plan.

There are a number of voices that really do appear to have something of a handle on the day to day detail of the Master Plan. People like Rabbi Mendel Kessin (https://tikkunmedardus.ch/donald-trump-and-the-coming-of-messiah/#H55) seem to have a reasonable grasp of some of the finer details.

But ultimately, we need to trust. 

There are a great many reasons why we should trust Yehovah, such that when faced with a confusing and seriously conflicted world we can continue to walk in righteousness and obedience to Him knowing that He really is in ultimate charge and that we will come out the other side of these times of growing evil and delusion and step into His World of great light when the Great Day finally dawns.

See blog posts: Our Ultimate Fate and Faith and Things Not Seen – Hebrews 11:1

But I would also suggest we are called to do more. We are called to stand up and be counted, to speak out against the false narrative that may start with the MSM, Hollywood and Academia, but has now spread to a great many sadly mis-informed everyday people that we live amongst.

We need to share the voice of truth in our own communities: https://globaltruthinternational.com/2017/03/12/raised-for-a-time-such-as-this-the-example-of-hadassah/

Part of sharing Truth, is being ‘truth’, being righteous.

Perhaps you could ask yourself: 
“Will my life be a sanctification of God , or a desecration? Will my life further enhance the good reputation of God, or will my choices today bring dishonour on Him and further denigrate the reputation of good standing of the Almighty in the eyes of the world?”

What does it mean to be God’s Witness?

Loneliness: A Path Towards Intimacy With Yehovah

In this week’s Torah Portion we read of Moses’ despair and loneliness:

He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You that You put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? … I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how You are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favour in Your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11:11-15)

This may have been the lowest point in Moses’ life. After all he had gone through, he felt the people had rejected his leadership and just brought great grief on him.

Yehovah’s response was apparently not one of sympathy, nor did he agree to Moses’ request to kill him. Instead Yehovah tells him to appoint seventy elders who would share the burden of leadership.

It would seem fair to infer from this response that Moses was as least in part feeling very much alone in his role and leadership. He had come to a place where his faith, his deep intimacy with HaShem had lead to great loneliness and while he clearly knew HaShem was with him, it appears he had a serious lack of companionship in his role.

Moses is not the only person in Tanakh who felt so alone that he prayed to die.

So did Elijah when Jezebel issued a warrant for his arrest and death after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:4).

So did Jeremiah when the people repeatedly failed to heed his warnings (Jer. 20:14-18).

So did Jonah when God forgave the people of Nineveh, seemingly making nonsense of his warning that in forty days the city would be destroyed (Jon. 4:1-3).

All these prophets felt alone and unheard. They carried a heavy burden of solitude. Which should lead us to recognize a similar narrative is reflected in the life of the greatest prophet, Yeshua.

Yeshua was a man and prophet who also spent a lot of time alone and in communion with Yehovah. Yet he also appointed his ‘elders’; his 12 apostles to share the burden with. There is no doubt Yeshua saw much in these 12 men of faith, yet they struggled to see the world as he did; to sense the despair that he did; and grief for his people and planet as he did.

Yeshua wept with great despair over Yerusalem, the apple of God’s eye, the place of the Holy Hill of Zion, and the Temple of Yehovah.

 Luke 19: 
“40 But he answered them, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones will shout!”
41 When Yeshua had come closer and could see the city, he wept over it, 
42 saying, “If you only knew today what is needed for shalom! But for now it is hidden from your sight.”

Yeshua clearly had great insight, even if he was not directly given foresight from Yehovah, he could see what the natural consequence of the current situation was.

Not only did Yeshua spend much of his earthly life before his crucifixion aware of how far humanity, for the most part, was from Yehovah, he knew what it meant to share everything and sacrifice everything for others. He had said before his life was offered and taken, that no greater love hath a man than to lay his life down for a friend.

What love, what faith, what strength! he displayed in willingly walking into Jerusalem and to being ‘poured out as a libation on the Holy Hill’ (Ps 2:6) (http://circumcisedheart.info/Christian%20site/Psalm%202%20verse%206%20commentary.pdf).

King David was clearly another great man of faith who spent much time feeling alone in his leadership as well. The Psalms share much on this:

I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.”
(Ps. 6:6)

“How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1-2)

“Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord …” (Ps. 130:1)

Which naturally leads us to this Psalm:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me so far from my cries of anguish?” (Ps. 22:2)

And to Yeshua quoting this in what was most likely his greatest moment of despair: “At three, he uttered a loud cry, “Elohi! Elohi! L’mah sh’vaktani?” (which means, “My God! My God! Why have you deserted me?”)”  Mark 15:34; Matt 27:46. CJB

The loneliness of all these great prophets brought them into an unparalleled closeness to Yehovah.

Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the dome of the sky speaks the work of his hands.  Every day it utters speech, every night it reveals knowledge. Without speech, without a word, without their voices being heard, their line goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world….”

A place of solitude can help us see the truth and the glory of God as described in Psalm 19.

A place of solitude, yes even a place of loneliness, can be a place where there is little to distract us, little to muffle the still small voice of Yehovah reaching out to us with His free gift more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey.

And where there is solitude, and silence, we are able to better listen and hear the words of our God. The very words that created this Universe.

So remember when you feel alone, especially when you feel your world is ignoring the Creator of the Universe, the God of Israel. The God of Mercy, Grace and yes Justice, remember that many great people of faith have walked this road before you and that it may well have helped them to develop a deeper relationship with God.

“Plumbing the depths, they reached the heights. They met God in the silence of the soul and felt themselves embraced. … It is when we feel most alone that we discover that we are not alone, “for You are with me.” –  Rabbi Sacks

“Even if I pass through death-dark ravines, I will fear no disaster; for you are with me; your rod and staff reassure me.” – Psalm 23:4

And remember that Yeshua, even in accepting that his closest companions would desert him in his hour of need still acknowledged that God was with him:

“Yeshua answered, “Now you do believe. But a time is coming — indeed it has come already — when you will be scattered, each one looking out for himself; and you will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone; because the Father is with me.” – John 16:31-33 CJB

And the secret to never being separated from the Father?

“…. The Father has not left me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” – John 8:29  NKJV