Acharey Mot

Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30

(After the Death)
We are given a description of the Yom Kippur ritual and then laws concerning the holiness of our diet and sexual relationships.


OUR PORTION BEGINS with a description of a complicated ceremony of purification performed once a year by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. The purpose of all expiatory rites was to maintain the purity of the sanctuary, preparing it as a place where the Divine Presence could dwell.

Understanding that the Mishkan can be found inside us and that the High Priest also resides there, Acharey Mot can be received as a clear reminder of the responsibility to keep our hidden sanctuaries functioning. The inner Mishkan functions as our place of access to the infinite flow. This is the place where we can touch God inside us, and the presence of God can touch our lives moment to moment.

Some of our ancestors realized that a ritual of purification performed just once a year might not be enough to keep us open to the Divine flow. They instituted the celebration of Yom Kippur Katan (“Little Day of Atonement”) each month on the day before the new moon. This transformed the dark time of the month into a time of purification so that the sanctuary within could be cleared and a space could be prepared for the Divine Presence as the moon returned to the night sky.

THE BLESSING of Acharey Mot is the opportunity to purify our inner sanctuaries at regular intervals, whenever necessary… once a year, once a month, every week… or perhaps each night. There will always be imperfection, mistakes in our human stories. And after seeing and speaking the truth, there will always be Divine forgiveness.

AFTER DESCRIBING THIS RITUAL of purification, Acharey Mot continues with instructions about holiness in eating and in sexual relations. Decisions about what we eat and with whom we engage in intimacy must be made as part of our pursuit of holiness, which means our motives must be pure, our intentions clear, and the implications considered regarding our actions and their effects on the whole.

Accepting the blessing of God’s Presence within us means that we must be continually purifying the body as Divine dwelling place. We do this by honoring the holiness of the physical body and by guarding against its desecration in regards to habits of eating and sexual behavior.


DURING THE RITUAL OF PURIFICATION, two goats are brought. One is designated “for God” and is slaughtered as a Chatat, a “sin offering.” The other is marked for Azazel. After laying upon its head all the sins and transgressions of the people, the second goat is sent into the wilderness to Azazel. Whoever or whatever Azazel is, he holds the key to our purification.

SOMEONE WOULD BE DESIGNATED for this job of escorting the goat to Azazel in the wilderness. He was the one charged to move between the civilized world and the wilderness. I’ve always imagined myself as that “ish itti” — the “man of the moment” — performing that job.

The designated escort knew this secret: All of our sins can be traced to the wild part in us being lost, misdirected or suppressed. If the wild, the ecstatic in us is not honored and allowed its vitality, it will find outlet in cruelty and violence. When the “ish itti” escorted the goat with all of Israel’s sins on it in to the wilderness, he was returning that misdirected energy back to its source.

OUR SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE is to find that wild place inside us and through ecstatic practice, give it voice and space and an honored place in our lives. If we do not, it will get twisted and become a destructive force. Returning the goat to Azazel is allowing the wild part of us its wilderness, its place to be free.


There are two practices for this week of Acharey Mot.

Yom Kippur Katan

EACH NIGHT during this week of Acharey Mot, grant yourself a mini-Yom Kippur.

REVIEW YOUR DAY noting each interaction.

IF YOU HAVE HURT ANOTHER, make a resolution to apologize or compensate that person.

IF SOMEONE HAS HURT YOU, resolve to forgive them.

YOU MAY WANT TO RECITE this traditional prayer:

Eternal Friend,
Witness that I forgive anyone
Who hurt or upset me
Or who offended me
Damaging my body, my property
My reputation
Or people that I love;
Whether by accident or willfully,
Carelessly or on purpose;
With words, deeds
Thoughts, or attitudes;
In this lifetime
Or in another incarnation —
I forgive every person,
May no one be punished because of me.
Translation by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in Yedabber Pi: A Weekday Siddur — As I Can I Say It (2006), p.35.

Maintaining Holiness

DURING THIS WEEK OF ACHAREY MOT PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION to how and what you eat and how you use your sexual energy.

LET EACH ACT of eating or sex be an expression of your holiness.

Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.