I Need Atonement

With two handfuls of incense and a shovel full of glowing coals from the altar, the high priest entered into the darkness of God’s throne room to make atonement.

A velvet cloth embroidered with an artist's depiction of the Temple in Jerusalem covers a table in front of the Kotel, the Western Wall, Jerusalem, where prayers are offered daily. (Image: © FFOZ/Boaz Michael)

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (אחרי מות/קדושים | After the death/Holy)
  • Torah: Leviticus 16:1-20:27
  • Haftarah: Ezekiel 22:1-19
  • Gospel: Matthew 15:10-20;

Regular readings above are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the current Torah Portion Schedule for all these variations, and special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Leviticus 16:1 | The Day of Atonement
    • Leviticus 17:1 | The Slaughtering of Animals
    • Leviticus 17:10 | Eating Blood Prohibited
    • Leviticus 18:1 | Sexual Relations
    • Leviticus 19:1 | Ritual and Moral Holiness
    • Leviticus 20:1 | Penalties for Violations of Holiness
  • Prophets
    • Eze 22:1 | The Bloody City

Portion Summary

Acharei Mot

The twenty-ninth reading from the Torah and sixth reading from Leviticus is named Acharei Mot (אחרי מות), two words that mean "after the death." The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which say, "Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron" (Leviticus 16:1). Leviticus 16 describes the Tabernacle ceremony for the holy festival of the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 17 establishes general rules for sacrifice and sanctuary. Leviticus 18 lays down specific laws about permitted and forbidden sexual relationships.


The thirtieth reading from the Torah and seventh reading from Leviticus is named Kedoshim (קדושים), which mean "holy." The title comes from the words in Leviticus 19:2, which says, "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." Leviticus 19 describes the holy community through a series of specific commandments. Leviticus 20 warns against the snares of sexual immorality and idolatry, mandating a death penalty for certain sins. Except in biblical leap years, Kedoshim is read on the same Sabbath as the previous reading, Acharei Mot.

The high priest carried the blood of the sin offerings into the holy of holies and splashed it seven times on the ark of the covenant, then seven times on the curtain that divided the holy of holies from the rest of the Tabernacle, and finally seven times on the altar of incense that stood before the curtain.

The high priest had to enter the holy of holies in order to make atonement for Israel, atonement for the holy of holies, atonement for the Sanctuary and atonement for the altar. Because these things remained continually in the presence of God, they needed expiation. He atoned for Israel and the Tabernacle through a complex series of blood rituals.These rituals provided the purgation necessary for the LORD’s presence to remain within the Sanctuary and among His people for another year.

The Hebrew word kafar (כפר), which our English translations render as “atonement,” can imply the forgiveness of sin and removal of guilt, but the Levitical sense of the word carries a broader meaning. It is helpful to think of kafar as purgation of spiritual contamination. In that sense, atonement involves the purgation of elements that offend the deity: sin, ritual impurity, and any other ceremonial or moral defilement that repel the presence of God. Without purgation, a human being cannot draw near to God, and without purgation of the Sanctuary and the holy things, the presence of God could not remain within the Tabernacle or Temple.

In the ritual context of Israel’s worship system, the worshipers, the priesthood, and even the Tabernacle and its furnishings all require atonement in order to stand in the presence of God. Without such covering, they would not survive the encounter with the consuming presence of God. God is dangerous. If common, mortal, finite and sinful man enters the presence of the holy, immortal, infinite and righteous God, the man must have some form of atonement. Typically, the Torah prescribes sacrifices or the application of blood as a protective covering; i.e., atonement.

The word kafar has a second, not unrelated implication. It can also be rendered as “ransom: for one’s life. In the Torah, a kofer can mean a monetary payment made in exchange for a blood-debt.

The suffering and the death of the righteous Messiah also accomplished atonement—not in the Sanctuary on earth but in the heavenly Sanctuary. Yeshua serves as “a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the LORD pitched, not man” (Hebrews 8:2). He has entered into the holy of holies in heaven—the throne room of God—and applied the merit of His own sacrifice to accomplish atonement. He entered into the presence of God for us so that He might usher us in as well:

But when Messiah appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered [the holy of holies] through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)

This indicates that the ceremony of the Day of Atonement foreshadows the work of Messiah: His death, His sacrifice, and the atoning merit of His blood. We boldly enter the presence of God because the blood of Messiah covers us. Today He intercedes on His people’s behalf before the throne of God as a high priest.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Shadows of the Messiah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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