Mixing with the Crowd

Friday, 6 May, 2016 - 12:13 pm

Mixing with the Crowd

By this point in our journey through the book of Leviticus, we have encountered a great variety of sacrificial offerings, each with distinct laws, significance and symbolism.

In the portion of Achrey Mos, the sixth portion of the book of Leviticus, G-d instructs Moses that his brother Aaron may not enter the inner chamber of the temple at will. The high priest, the only person allowed entry to the holy of holies, Judaism's holiest site, may do so only once a year, only after offering multiple offerings and carrying out the specific instructions of the service, spelled out in the Torah.

Aaron was to offer specific offerings as atonement for himself and his family, as well as various offerings on behalf of the people of Israel. As the Torah states:

With this shall Aaron enter the Holy: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering[1]..

And from the community of the children of Israel, he shall take two he goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering.[2]

The Torah continues to detail the specific procedure for each of the offerings, and then, the verse tells Aaron to do the completely unusual: to mix the bloods of two offerings and sprinkle the mixture on the alter: 

And he shall then go out to the altar that is before the Lord and effect atonement upon it: He shall take some of the bull's blood and some of the he goat's blood, and place it on the horns of the altar, around.[3]

Typically each offering was distinct. Each offering had its unique laws and required a unique intention, the accidental mixing of bloods of various offerings create many Halachic challenges. Yet, once a year, on Yom Kippur, Aaron was commanded to deliberately mix the blood of the goat and the bull. Why? Every detail in the Torah contains profound insight. What can we learn from this detail about Aaron, about the essence of Yom Kippur, and about the meaning of leadership?

The high priest was a spiritual leader serving to inspire the people, to elevate them, to motivate them to climb ever higher and to help them escape the gravitational pull of materialism. The high priest was the symbol of holiness and purity, the high priest embodied the ideal state of sanctity, which, at least on occasion, the people were intended to strive for.

Aaron served as a source of inspiration, as a model of what the Jew should aim for. Throughout the year, however, there was a great gulf dividing the leader and the people. While the people were devoted to navigating the challenges and trials of daily life, their leader Aaron, by contrast, was far removed from the mundane and was immersed in the spiritual service of the temple.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, Aaron was required to influence the people of Israel even more than on any other day. On Yom Kippur, therefore, both Aaron and the people of Israel understood, that once the external layers of identity were peeled away, the people and Aaron were  one and the same. The Torah tells Aaron that in order for him, or for any leader for that matter, to have a meaningful impact on the people he wishes to lead, he must mix the blood of his bull with the blood of the goat of the people. For Aaron to influence the people and for the people to be inspired by Aaron, Israel must feel that Aaron recognizes that he and they are essentially one. 


[1] Leviticus 16:3.

[2] Ibid.16:5.

[3] Ibid. 16:18. 

Comments on: Mixing with the Crowd

Philip wrote...

Does it hold special meaning that the blood they are mixing are both from sin offerings?

What is the priest's sin and why is it equal to two (?) sins by the community?

MF wrote...

The word for sin “חטא” comes from the word “incomplete”. Even if the priest and the community have not committed a sin in the conventional meaning of the word, the sin offering lade to the recognition that no person is perfect and that there is always room for growth.
The blood of the sin offerings were sprinkles on the alter, as well as in the holy of holies, to “atone for the impurities of the temple”. The blood would atone for any impurity brought to the temple by the people or the priests.
(Although the people brought two goats; only one of the goats was a sin offering in the classic sense. The other was sent away to the wilderness) see