The point of all this holiness code is annually enacted in Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. We are told to practice self-denial on the tenth day of the seventh month. This is the anchor of the High Holy Days, every fall in Jewish communities. It’s about sacrifice, and purity, and holiness, and that’s tough for us to hear through our fetishes of consumption, scientism, and regulation.
Once the day is proclaimed as mandatory, the preceding code makes new sense. Encyclopedic lists of do’s and don’ts, about killing animals and burning things on open fires in ancient deserts, or old temples, don’t make sense until the secret decoder ring of Yom Kippur is provided. Practice of this festival, and the others that follow in Leviticus, conveys the Torah, off the page.
Perhaps if we observed Holy Week, or Good Friday in particular, more closely, we might get at the sense of the high holy days. It certainly won’t come from Advent and Christmas, in our culture and generation. Pause and reflect, in fear and dismay, ‘were you there’? Then try to make it right, put it back on the road, at one again, and reconciled and renewed. That’s the rhythm of it.
Rabbi Ishmael said there are four divisions of atonement:
i. If one fails to observe a positive command and then repents, he is forgiven on the spot.
ii. If he transgresses a negative command and then repents, repentance suspends punishment and Yom Kippur brings atonement.
iii. If he commits a sin punishable by ‘cutting off’ or by the death sentence and then repents, repentance and Yom Kippur suspends punishment, and suffering throughout the year purifies him.
iv. But if one deliberately causes the profanation of God’s name and repents, repentance and Yom Kippur only remits a third, and suffering atones for a third, but only death, along with suffering brings full purification and atonement.
28 The one who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterwards may come into the camp.
29 This shall be a statute to you for ever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you.
30 For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the LORD.
31 It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves; it is a statute for ever.
32 The priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the linen vestments, the holy vestments.
33 He shall make atonement for the 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 This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the people of Israel once in the year for all their sins. And Moses did as the LORD had commanded him.