Acharei Mot and Kedoshim : A psychoanalysis of the purpose of their surface contradictions
between ritual and ethical/spiritual.
These are the rough notes to my discussion on this topic on this weeks Torah reading of the combined portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, Leviticus 16-20.
You can follow my oral comments directly by following this link and start at 1:40:00 on the timeline.
A link to my discussion on May 2
Where is purification found? In ritual or in ethics? Do we need one to get to the other? Does one stop the other?
All of Leviticus up to this portion-ritual pollution and purification
First portions- the order of sacrifices. Then- a mysterious death of two sons of Aaron for unknown sin. Then, ritual pollution through childbirth, skin diseases, bodily fluids, pollution through impure animals.
This leads us now to this portion: the key theme- purification of Aaron, the priests, and the people on Yom Kippur. Note the progression.
“The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the LORD.
The LORD said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover.”
Two goats are taken:
“He shall then slaughter the people’s goat of sin offering, bring its blood behind the curtain, and do with its blood as he has done with the blood of the bull: he shall sprinkle it over the cover and in front of the cover.”
“Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.
Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.”
Then we wrap it up:
It is clear that purification needs the strange ritual that we come to know as “scapegoat”, seir la-azazel. The goat sent to “AzAzel.” Anyone’s; guess what it originally meant. Ez-azal-the goat has gone, or Azaz-el, The force or divine entity of Azaz, the goat demon.
It is clear that what is recorded here is a ceremony that far predates the Torah, that has its parallels in many societies. Impurities happen and we do not know why, and purification takes place by this ceremony. So it would seem.
The human being is complex- not a rational entity-an entity with feeling, imagination, creativity. In the literature of psychology- also, an entity driven by inner guilt, anxiety, fear. Freud used the ancient Greek myths because they provided the sounding board for human behavior over the centuries. The story of Oedipus- the hero has no clue of his sin. He is innocent. He has fallen into a state of sin-murdered his father and married his mother, because he is a hero, not because he is a villain. He must fall into this act of sin because it is fated for him at birth. Freud found this the appropriate metaphor for repressed desire for the mother and anger at the father, something that he felt was at the root of all civilization. That is the grounds for all ancient civilizations, and, Freud felt, was at the root of modern civilization as well.
Now, back to Yom Kippur- our sins are sins that we have fallen into by just being people. They overwhelm and cripple us- that is the core theme of Freud’s psychotherapy.It is through ritual actions that we are able to shake off our demons-Seirim- the goat-demons- send them off to the wilderness, sacrifice to them no more.
But now,we now have two new elements:
#1- The cleansing is from God, not from the ceremony of the goats
“For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD. “
#2 – Two actions are needed by the people- a complete Shabbat and “ self-denial” – ve-initem et nafshotyechem.
It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time.”
This is what Freudians would call “Catharsis”. From the Greek word for Purification!
Now, we move to the formation of the adult, from the pagan child to the responsible adult.
The text then goes on to intentionally forbid sacrifice to the “ seirim”, the goat-demons, that same “Azazel.” It then prohibits categorically, the ingestion of blood as the source of life. ( Ch 17)
Finally, it calls for a sexual discipline, a restraint on with whom or what we have relations with, very clearly because these are acts, like the sacrifice to the demons, that are associated with pagan ritual—the Kedeshah ( from the word"Kadosh", sacred)– both female and male prostitutes of the pagan temples.( Ch 18)
Clearly, Leviticus has shifted Yom Kippur from a magical purgation of demons to a spiritual connection to God and is working to disconnect the people from all that has been associated with pagan cults.
Now, the next portion makes full sense. From the ritual purification , we can get to the moral purification: Ch 19 Kedoshim, which has the most famous line that Jews and Christians share, "Love your neighbor.".
Referred to as the Holiness Code:Till now, attaining holiness has depended upon the Cohen. Now, it is shifted to the people:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Lev 19: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.
Of the missed wheat or the fallen fruit” you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the LORD am your God. “
You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.
Do not deal basely with your countrymen. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow: I am the LORD.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.
Together with these are religious regulations, which all are carefully designed to keep the people away from paganism, and loyal to God.
So, you can see the careful progression from what is ritual to what is moral/spiritual.
Now, here is the question: Can we cut out the middle man, can we cutout the ritual aspects of religion and retain only the moral and spiritual aspects?
Judaism has always adopted a position of “miztvoth ben adam lemakom” and “ben adam leadam”. Commands toward God, and commands toward our fellow.
God can do without us- why not just focus on our moral obligations? Is that the final step to becoming the mature adult?
Couldn't we skip what we know as halakhah, the burden of religious observances.
It was on this very issue that early Christianity split with Judaism: For example, Paul, in Galatians:
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”[e] 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”[f] 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”[g] 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”[h]
So, for the early Christian, the observance of the Torah, which Jesus never denied, became a stumbling block.
For the Jew, it was the system that leads to binding one to God and to elevation.