Light from the Sidra

Acharei Mot (‘After death’)/Kedoshim (‘Holiness’)

Torah: Haftarah: Lev. 16:1–20. Amos 9:7–15

The four miracles of Yom Kippur

The following remarkable passage appears in the Babylonian Talmud in tractate Yoma 39b: ‘Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [For the Lord] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves…’


I’ve often wondered how accurate the account of these apparently miraculous events is but in view of the fact that none of miracles are favourable, I can only conclude that (at the very least) the writer of the passage believed it was true. Each of the miracles is immensely significant.


‘During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [For the Lord] did not come up in the right hand…’
On the Day of Atonement, two identical male goats were to be used for the removal and forgiveness of sins (Lev 16:5-10). The removal of sins required a scapegoat and the forgiveness of sins required a goat for the Lord. The sins of the people were placed upon the head of the scapegoat which was led out into the wilderness to die; forgiveness came at the same time through the blood of the sacrificed goat for the Lord.


The casting of lots determined which goat would be ‘for the Lord’ and which goat would be sent to the wilderness. During Second Temple times, a white stone representing the goat for the Lord and a black stone representing the scapegoat were used for this purpose. Statistically, there was always a 50/50 chance that the black stone would be selected in the priest's right hand but during the last forty years before the destruction of the temple (30 to 70 CE) the black stone always came up in the right hand. This would be equivalent to flipping a coin 40 times and getting tails every time. The probability of this happening is about 1 in 1.1 trillion!


‘Nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white…’
In Second Temple times, a red ribbon was tied to the head of the goat ‘for Azazel,’ which was then sent taken off to the wilderness (Lev 16:20-22). If the LORD accepted the of atonement, the ribbon would always turn white. If He did not accept it, the ribbon would stay red (Isaiah 1:18). A red ribbon was also tied to the door of the temple. In the intense Middle Eastern sun the ribbon would be bleached white without any divine intervention but there could be no natural explanation for it remaining red. 


According to the Talmud, in approximately 30CE the ribbon stopped turning white, which meant that God no longer accepted the sacrifice of the goats for the purpose of atonement for sin.


‘Nor did the westernmost light shine...’
The priests lit the menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it each morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups. The Western Lamp was left burning all day and was refilled in the evening. The flame from the Western Lamp was used to light the other six lamps yet, by a miracle that lamp remained alight until the following evening. The miracle, however, ceased after the death of Simeon the Righteous, who was high priest forty years before the destruction of the Temple.


‘The doors of the Hekal [Temple] would open by themselves…’
The Beautiful Gate was said to have opened on its own every night for the last 40 years of the Temple's existence. This is confirmed by the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus: ‘At the same festival (Passover)... the Eastern gate of the inner court of the Temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a base armoured with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth our of the night’ ( The Wars of the Jews, 6.5.3)


All these miracles began to occur either in the year Jesus commenced his Messianic ministry (30 CE). After he offered himself the ultimate atonement for sin, there was no more need of the temple or the offerings. What other explanation can there be for the four miracles of the Day of Atonement?

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