This year for Passover, we had more friends than family members, which – for our family – is quite a feat indeed. While we were cleaning up, I was thinking about what I told our guests. I weaved some of the familiar similarities of the Passover and the Messiah – the standard fare for those who’ve never experienced a Seder – but I spent more time talking about the many of the misconceptions Christians have with the events leading up to Yeshua’s murder and the role the Pharisees played in those events. I suddenly realized I had a complexity that I had to investigate. That anomaly is found in the phrase, “Behold, the Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the World.” In fact, this declaration is made again in the 36th verse of John’s Besorah, and with this statement, some of the Immerser‘s disciples unlatch from Yochannan [John] and follow Yeshua. The reason the text gave me a mental pause is because the Pesach lamb, the lamb we slaughtered at Passover [in Egypt or in the Temple] does not atone for sin! How is it, then, that Yeshua is called “the Lamb who takes away the sins of the World?”
I made the mistake of telling our Shabbat morning Torah study that I was currently studying why Yeshua was called the Lamb of G-d in the Besorah [the Newer Testament] in order to gain a more complete understanding because I didn’t have an answer. One person in particular expressed a concern to my wife that I may be antimissionizing myself! However, Tractate Sukkah of the Mishnah has a phrase that perfectly explains my reasoning, “He who hollows out a space in a haystack to make a sukkah therein, has no sukkah.” Now, what I mean is that our doctrine, our Halacha, our Besorah, must endure these hard questions. If it can’t, it’s all hay and stubble and not worthy product in which to build a dwelling.
According to David Stern’s commentary to the Newer Testament, Yochanan identifies Yeshua with the dominant sacrificial animal in the Torah since He’s the one who is taking away the sins of the world. I do not disagree, per se, with Mr. Stern, but I hesitate to go as far as he did. I think the statement made by John the Baptist has two parts and must be understood in a slightly different light.
Behold the Lamb of G-d… [Redemption]
In the Exodus story, we are provided an intimate look into the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. In Exodus 4:22, Hashem instructs Moshe to make this declaration, “Israel is my son, my first-born.” The next seven chapters details Moshe’s intercession on Hashem’s part [as His prophet] to redeem Hashem’s firstborn son.
The redemption from Egypt did not occur because of our righteousness, but because of the covenant promises to Abraham. R’ Yose HaGlili said, “For the sake of my great name and because of the merits of the fathers, I will bring them out.”
With the declaration of the tenth plague, the makat bechorot, Hashem also declared that the firstborn of all of Israel are sanctified – meaning the firstborn are Hashem’s of all the people of Israel. Just as Israel is sanctified as the firstborn of all the people of the earth, so too the firstborn of all the households are Hashem’s for a special work. Because of the sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem redefined the firstborn as the sons of Levi because they sanctified the name of Hashem by ridding the community of those who sacrificed to the golden calf. The Pesach lamb and the Redemption of the Firstborn are irrevocably tied together. The Pascal Lamb was intended for the redemption of the firstborn – hence the connection. If there is doubt we need only turn to Exodus 12 – 13 where, in juxtaposition to the Passover regulations, the consecration of the firstborn is instructed (v.1, 11-16).
There are terms that the Bible links together and uses synonymously. For instance, 1 Corinthians 5:7 says “for indeed, Messiah, our Passover, was sacrificed.” Often, Pesach [Passover] is a multifaceted term used in connection with the actual festival [Exodus 34:25] as well as the lamb slaughtered at Passover [Exodus 12:11, b. Pesach 63a]. Because of the versatile use of Pesach in Scripture, we can make the connection in the Corinthians’ text between Yeshua and the Passover lamb. The Passover Lamb is also tied to Redemption, because with the death of the lamb, our fathers swiped the lintel and the doorposts with its blood and as the hamashchit passed over the houses, Hashem stayed his destructive hand. Therefore, in death, the lamb saved [or redeemed] the people.
In like manner, 1 Corinthians 5:7 reports that Yeshua in his execution [or if you prefer, his death or sacrifice], the Death Angel passes over us at the final judgment, allowing us to attain everlasting life in the Kingdom. “For indeed the Messiah our Passover was sacrificed.” We must understand that there is an intrinsic tie between Elijah and Messiah. In the last verses of the third chapter of the prophet Malachi, Elijah is declared to be the harbinger of the great and terrible day of the L-rd. The Newer Testament, the Talmud, and the Midrashim all announce Elijah as the one who comes before Messiah, and the Messiah is revealed during the Passover season.
Within the redemption motif, 1 Peter 1:19 reminds us that we were redeemed with neither silver nor gold whose value is varied, nor with your vain works that you received from the fathers, but with the honored blood of the lamb in whom there is not spot or blemish; this being the Messiah. This text needs to be understood to indicate that redemption comes by the grace of Hashem; it cannot be purchased and we cannot bribe G-d with our works.
…Who takes away the sins of the world [Atonement]
It’s easy to understand how Yeshua could be viewed as the Lamb of G-d because He represents the redemptive qualities of the original Pesach lamb that liberated not only the firstborn from death, but all of Israel from bondage. It was more difficult to understand the second phrase, which is “who takes away the sins of the world.” It was shortly thereafter that I started to study for the next Shabbat’s Parashah. The portion was Acharei Mot, Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30. The beginning of the portion deals with the Yom Kippur service. It suddenly began to make more sense: this year at least, the Passover season coincided with the reading of Yom Kippur.
Before I get into the comparison between Yeshua and Yom Kippur, I would like to preamble this with some background information. There are three classes of people in the world:  the completely righteous,  the completely wicked, and  those who are in between. Before you become dismayed over the three groupings and place yourself in the wrong categories, it’s important to get the rabbinic perspective of the three factions.
Our Oral Tradition says the completely righteous are those who uphold the covenant. They find value in their relationship with Hashem and do their best to fulfill their covenantal obligations to Hashem by obeying his Torah. Though neither perfect nor sinless, they understand the crucial fact that observance of Torah is our grateful response to the prior actions of G-d.
The completely wicked are those who, like Esau, find the covenant to be worthless; and as such, they do not practice Torah and find its application to be a nuisance at best. If at any time they’re found obeying Torah, it’s for their benefit alone. In the understanding of our fathers, only the most unregenerate transgressors were excluded from the covenant and the covenant promises. This universally held view says that G-d appoints means of atonement for every transgression except the intention to reject G-d and his covenant – this is the second group: the wholly wicked. Non-Jews who hate Israel because of the covenant are like their brother Esau and fall into this group as well.
The middle group, are those who are somewhere in between. Any number of descriptors can be used to identify members of this group, so it can be a bit more difficult to codify these except to say that they do not fit into either of the other two groups.
When we fail to uphold our end of the covenant by disobeying the edicts of Torah, we are expected to make teshuvah. Teshuvah is the process by which we realize the error of our way and make the decision to turn from our sin. Midrash Tehillim says If judgment follows sin, let the sinner find comfort in Hashem; the Rabbis say, “Let a man not say, ‘Since I’ve sinned, there’s no hope for me,’ but let him set his trust in the Holy One, blessed be He. Let him do teshuvah and He will receive him. Let him hate dignity and humble himself in teshuvah.”
Those whose hands are dirtied by sin and live a lifestyle defined by sin, they are warned their prayers will be to no avail – even on Yom Kippur. For when we string Proverbs 11:22 with Isaiah 55:11, we get a warning of how Hashem will not listen to our requests for absolution when we live a life of rebellion. While the Midrash Rabbah uses the passage in Proverbs against Torah teachers who sully the Torah with their sinful abandon, we, here, can use the passage to show how we dishonor the grace and mercy of Hashem when we ask for Him to forgive the very sin we elevate to a lifestyle. Hashem through his prophet says, “My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in that which I sent it.” In the Declaration of the 13 Attributes, Hashem says, “not clearing, clearing” as well as “bearing iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” These two statements declare that Hashem bears iniquity, rebellion, and sin when our heart convinces G-d that He sees genuine teshuvah. G-d will not clear if the condition of genuine repentance is not met. This is what I mean when I say His word will not return void.
Once we understand our error, we must determine if restitution is required. Restitution, for example, is returning stolen or lost goods, righting the wrong we caused to someone’s name or reputation, or repairing or replacing damaged property. Once we make restitution, we can approach Hashem and request atonement. But what are we to do when we cannot make restitution? I will answer that question momentarily.
Even with a careless reading of the Tanakh and the Newer Testament, it’s not difficult to understand that for sin, G-d deems punishment and correction a fit reckoning. Running alongside this coarse path, however, lays the softer and greater side of Hashem: the attributes of mercy and grace that allow for forgiveness. Contrary to many popular Christian teachings, G-d is not and has never been in the business of cheap unconditional forgiveness. Every crime carries with it the need for teshuvah, all damages entail restitution, all this followed by a subsequent requirement for atonement. As an acquaintance of mine once said, “Even with divine forgiveness, pardon, and mercy readily available, there must always be kaparah, or atonement.”
Atonement, [to differentiate it from teshuvah, restitution, and begging forgiveness], is when we receive forgiveness. Various forms of atonement include sacrifice, simple repentance, Yom Kippur, suffering, death, good works, studying Torah for the sake of Heaven, sickness, substitutionary suffering, experiencing tribulation or pain, giving charity in any of its forms be it monetary- or time-based. These all carry the function of removing our sin as if they never happened.
How these eleven sources of atonement apply to situations is a significant debate, but they all share one common thread. Atonement is not a covering or a hiding. It’s an erasure. In G-d’s court, it no longer exists. The only ones who will hold that sin against you will be your enemies, the World Wide Web, your friends, your family, and you. Being freed from such domination does not mean you carry that burden on your backs as you travel to Sinai – it means you are truly freed, not partially, not sort of, not until some later date! When G-d forgives, He fully forgives!
Minor sins and errors of judgment, according to the rabbis, is forgiven as soon as teshuvah is made. Other, greater sins require progressively more difficult teshuvah. It is said it’s easy to gain atonement for crimes against G-d, and I agree for the most part. The avaira [sin] we commit against our fellow human being, on the other hand, is a far stickier situation, for forgiveness comes from those whom we wrong.
The sacrifice of wrongdoers is an abomination. Again, unless confession with restitution is combined, even the sacrifice of Yom Kippur is not able to atone; and this goes equally for the death of Yeshua. We do not worship a G-d who takes atonement so lightly that He will forgive anyone for anything. Without a personal forfeiture of some kind [usually found in sacrifice, restitution, and/or humbling one’s self], atonement is not granted, even with Yom Kippur or with the work of Messiah. It was taught in a baraisa, “Rebbe says, ‘For all the sins in Torah… …Yom Kippur atones, except for one who throws off the yoke of Hashem [by deeming the covenant as worthless], or one who speaks with insolence about the Torah, or one who violates the covenant of the flesh [circumcision]. That if the transgressor repented, Yom Kippur atones, but if not, Yom Kippur does not atone.’”
Hebrews 1:1-3 is a prayer we recite at Synagogue Ohr Chadash every week: Ha Elohim Asher Diber. Within this prayer is the phrase that Yeshua made purification or atonement for sin. This phrase is indicative of the removal of sin. Among the seven opening phrases of the book of Hebrews, this one stands alone as having a parallel in the activities of other humans – that of the sacrificial work of the priest of the Temple. It is this priestly work that becomes a central focus in the 9th and 10th chapter of Hebrews.
The vision of the Hebrews passage is that of Yom Kippur. Therefore, Yeshua’s death and resurrection is tied to Yom Kippur. But how do we answer those who do not see Yeshua as the promised Messiah, as Moshiach ben Yosef, as the suffering Messiah? What are we to do when we cannot make restitution? Both of these questions have a common answer [found in the five points below]:
- Some of the earlier rabbis argued that the atoning efficacy of the tamid offering depended upon the virtue of the Akeidah [the binding of Isaac], whom G-d recognized as the perfect victim of the perfect burnt offering.
- In the Yom Kippur Machzor, the text indicates that Israel relied upon the merit of the Patriarch to be rewarded and spared punishment for our sin. In the interim, this merit was used up. Nevertheless, G-d’s covenant with us not to destroy our offspring remains in effect for all time; a covenant, by definition, must remain permanent.
- In the Talmud, R’ Elazar said, “The Holy One, blessed is He, said to the angel, ‘Take for me the great one among them, for there is sufficient merit in him to exact payment from them for many of their sins.’ In that hour, Avishai ben Tzeruyah died, who was the equivalent in his greatness to the greater part of the Sanhedrin.”
- Further, it’s stated that R’ Ami said, “Why is the death of Miriam juxtaposed to the passage about the parah adumah? This serves to tell you that just as the parah adumah provides atonement, so do the deaths of the righteous provide atonement.”
- On the next day, Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a grievous sin! And now I shall ascend to Hashem – perhaps I can win atonement in the face of your sin. Moshe returned to Hashem and said, “I implore! This people has committed a grave sin and made for themselves a god of gold. And now if you would but forgive their sin! But if not, erase me now from your book that you have written.”
We must be careful to understand that while these passages can be looked at as human sacrifice for the benefit of others, I think it’s more appropriate to view them as cases of substitutionary restitution.
In accord with the Rabbis, Paul, a rabbi from Tarsus says Yeshua exchanged his life with that of Israel in order to accomplish restitution for damages against Hashem and the Torah contract and this restitution leads to atonement. In addition, Caiaphas, the high priest that year said, “consider what’s expedient for us: that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation should not perish.” And he said this not of himself. Being high priest that year, he prophesied Yeshua should die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but that he would gather together the children of G-d that were scattered abroad as well. By performing this task, Yeshua provides a path for the Ruach Hashem to leads us to righteousness, to Torah: the Torah that can be interpreted not only as a lifestyle for the redeemed community, but also a schoolmaster to introduce us to the Messiah – a messiah that upholds Torah.
Therefore, as one who takes away the sins of the world, Yeshua is being compared to Azazel. During the Yom Kippur service, one goat, labeled as “for Azazel.” Hands were laid upon him and the sins of the nation were declared. This animal was led out and pushed over a cliff according to Tractate Yoma of the Talmud. In like manner, Yeshua was sent out of town and hung on a tree.
In the five points above, the Rabbis give us a glimpse into a divine concept that many will find a bit uncomfortable, but nonetheless vital in our understanding of the work of Messiah. By opening this door, we see that substitutionary suffering provides restitution for sin, so long as the sufferer is a tzaddik.
Therefore, the Besorah takes this concept and solidly places the work of Yeshua within its framework. Hebrews 7:26-28 states that Yeshua offered up himself for sin once for all. Meanwhile, 1 Corinthians 15:3 invokes Isaiah 53:5-12 when it states that Yeshua died for our sin according to the Scriptures. In addition, the voice of Yeshua rings with the same tenor: “Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.”
No matter how far he falls, man is always free to knock on the gates leading to G-d’s mercy. If he repents sincerely, he is forgiven immediately. Forgiveness is found from the first columns of the Torah to the last column of the prophets, leading its way to the most modern of synagogue prayers. The necessity of teshuvah stems from the evil impulse which prompts us to sin; justice, then, demands that an antidote of repentance be provided for our reconciliation to Hashem. Therefore, the Rabbis postulate that teshuvah existed before the world itself was created. Teshuvah is the graviton [to tickle Gary Kolosey’s ear] that keeps the world from spinning out of control. G-d even forgives those who rebel against him when they return to Him wholeheartedly, as it says, “G-d our L-rd is compassionate and forgiving, though we have rebelled against Him.”
In the concluding verses of the book of Hebrews’ comparison of Yeshua and Yom Kippur, the author makes an interesting statement, “Lets us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Here, the author is not persuading us to attend church every Sunday, but is encouraging us to attend the Temple ceremony of Yom Kippur each year, unlike the Essenes who felt the Temple was polluted by a corrupt priesthood, or the Ebionites who believed Yeshua abolished the whole sacrificial system, or the Epicureans who abandon the covenant of Hashem.
The Biblical and Rabbinic idea of redemption refers to the renewal of Israel through the forgiveness of her sin, the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land, the reestablishment of the Temple and the influx of non-Jewish people to the worship of Hashem, and the renewal of the cosmic order with the return of the Shekhinah to Zion. While Messianic Judaism shares this view with our fellow Jews, we believe Yeshua is central to the accomplishment of this redemption, and the Jewish people – all Messianic and non-Messianic – are the locus of this redemptive activity.
The authors of the Newer Covenant acknowledge the coming of Yeshua is problematic because he did not fulfill the Messianic expectation in terms of restoring Israel and establishing the Messianic Kingdom. When G-d redeemed us from the Land of Egypt and the sea was parted from before us, it was another 40 years before we were able to enter the land. We were rebellious and we failed to enter when we had the chance. In a similar manner, Yeshua came and redeemed his people by overcoming sin and death. In his second coming, the full realization of the Kingdom will be published.
In all this talk about atonement, covenant, and obedience, I would like to reiterate that I am not advocating the position that one needs to keep the Torah perfectly to become or remain within the covenant. R’ Joshua ben Karha, for example, once said, “Why does ‘Shema’ precede ‘And it shall come to pass if you keep my commandments?’ So that one should first acknowledge the sovereignty of the Almighty and then recognize the obligation to the commandments.” Here, the Rabbi is saying: The covenant alone provides the assurance of our admission into the Olam Haba; the Torah is merely a subset of this covenant and is not the means by which to enter the covenant! Another way to look at is by the use of concentric circles. The outer circle represents the Covenant and the inner circle being obedience to Torah. One cannot properly get to Torah before passing into and becoming a participant in the covenant first. After all, All Israel has a share in the world to come, as it is said, “Your people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands that I may be glorified [Isaiah 60:21].
Rabbi Akiva said, “Everything is foreseen, yet the freedom of choice is given. The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends upon the abundance of good deeds.” Rashi interprets the term goodness [tov] as referring to Hashem’s attribute of Mercy. However, the term may also be applied to man’s good deeds. The world is not judged capriciously, but rather on the basis of its moral behavior. Without moral choice, we cannot join all of Israel in the Yom Kippur service and say, “Our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, forgive and pardon our iniquities on this Day of Atonement. Subdue our heart to serve you and bend our yetzer [our tendency] to turn to you. Renew our reigns to observe your precepts and circumcise our hearts to love and revere your Name, as it is written in your Torah, ‘And the L-rd your G-d will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed, to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.’” Repentance is as wide as the sea. As the sea has no bounds and can never be emptied so is repentance, so that whenever we desire to repent, Hashem receives us, hears our prayer, and sanctifies us with the atonement afforded through His son. The atonement of Yeshua, as revealed through Paul and the other writers of the Besorah, accredits an undeniably huge sum of righteousness to the credit and name of all Israel. As it says, He died “once for all” as a one-time lump-sum restitution against an unpaid balance.
Take the next few moments for silent reflection and prayer. Shabbat Shalom
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 John 1:29
 The basis of Jewish Tradition
 M. Sukkah 1:8
 I, personally, cannot bury my head in the sand and pretend my doctrine has no problems. First, I would not be true to myself, and second, there’s not enough room in the sand for another head.
 Mekilta Beshallach as quoted in Sanders p. 99
 The death of the firstborn of Egypt [Declared in Exodus chapter 11 and fulfilled in Exodus 12:29-30]
 Numbers 3:11-13
 From an email exchange with Matthew Salathe [23 – 26 June 2011]
 The Destroyer [Targum Yonatan translates it as “Destroying Angel”]
 David H Stern, p. 449
 Matthew 11:14, 17:3, 17:10-12; Mark 9:4-5;, 9:11-13; Luke 1:17, 9:30-33 equate John with Ejikah; John denies being Elijah in John 1:21, but read through verses 19-29.
 b. Shabbat 118a, Eruvin 43b, Pesachim 68a, Yoma 19b, Sukkah 52a-b, Bava Metzia 85b, Sanhedrin 48a, 97b, 98a
 Midrash Rabbah Exodus 18:12, Numbers 14:1, 14:4
 The Torah is separated into 54 section or parashyot in order to make the yearly reading cycle easy and consistent.
 Tosefot Sanhedrin 13.3
 Midrash Shocher Tov 40:3 [also known as Midrash Tehillim or Midrash Psalms]
 Midrash Rabbah Exodus 22:3
 Exodus 34:5-7
 Numbers 5:5-8
 Ezekiel Chapter 18
 Galatians, A Torah-Based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Content, Avi ben Mordechai, Millennium 7000 Communications Publications, ©2005, P.228
 Leviticus 4:27-31, et al
 Jeremiah 3:22
 Leviticus 16:30
 Psalms 89:33
 Isaiah 22:14
 Proverbs 16:6
 B. Menachot 110a, Proverbs 23:32 + Psalms 119:142, m. Peah 1:1, y. Peah 1:1
 Isaiah 6:10
 Exodus 32:32
 Job 33:19
 Proverbs 10:2
 A possible answer, for instance, a sin that causes a person to suffer an incurable contagion that eventually takes the person’s life, the person’s death will atone for the sin, even though teshuvah is completed.
 From an email exchange with Matthew Salathe [23 – 26 June 2011].
 For a great treatise on repentance, see The Gates of Repentance by Rabbeinu Yonah ben Abraham Gerondi.
 Proverbs 21:27
 For more information on atonement, forgiveness, and restitution, please read the following tractates from the Talmuds and the Mishnah: Yoma and Kereitot [in particular].
 R’ Judah ha Nasi
 B. Shevuot 13a
 B. Berachot 62b [this is in reference to the ending of the plague when David counted the sons of Israel in an improper manner [see 2 Samuel 24]
 The ashes of the red heifer are an essential part of the purification of people and items that are contaminated with the tumah [uncleanness] from a corpse.; see Numbers 19; Miriam’s death is detailed in Numbers 20:1
 B. Moed Katan 28a; while the parah adumah is not a conventional sacrifice, Numbers 19:9 calls it a chattat [an offering to atone for sin]; Tosefot says it atones for the sin of the Golden Calf
 Exodus 32:30-32 from The Stone Edition Tanach, Artscroll/Mesorah Heritage Foundation, page 218-219
 Galatians 1:3-5
 Heb. Kaparah
 John 11:49-52
 John 15:13
 That comes from the prophet of the Diaspora: Daniel 9:9
 The heretics
 These three groups are they whom the Talmud refers as “minim.”
 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
 m. Berachot 2:2
 m. Sanhedrin 10:1. The Mishnah goes on to say, “And these are the ones who have no portion in the world to come: he who says the resurrection of the dead is a teaching which does not derive from Torah, the Torah does not come from Heaven, and an apostate.
 M. Pirkei Avot 3:19
 Rabbi Yosef Stern, p. 213-214
 Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10; The word ephapax has the sense of “completion in one act,” meaning His one death provides the restitution and atonement for all sin [Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, p. 330]