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Acharei Mot: The Secret of the Scarlet Thread

Updated: Jun 21

In Parashat Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1–18:3), we read of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, after they brought “strange fire.” The words Acharei Mot  mean “after the death.” In this sidra, we also read of the awesome day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the year. What is the connection between the two concepts? The Midrash explains,

א״ר חייא בר אבא בא׳ בניסן מתו בניו של אהרן ולמה מזכיר מיתתן ביום הכפורים אלא מלמד שכשם שיום הכפורים מכפר כך מיתתן של צדיקים מכפרת

“R. Hiyya b. Abba stated: “The sons of Aaron died on the first of Nisan. Why then is their death mentioned in connection with the Day of Atonement? It must be to teach that as the Day of Atonement effects atonement, so the death of the righteous effects atonement.” Leviticus Rabbah 20:12, Soncino Press Edition

This concept of מיתתן של צדיקים מכפרת (mitatan shel tzaddikim mekapparet), the death of the righteous atones is an important principle in Torah. This idea is specifically cited with regard to Miriam, Aharon, the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. The Tzaddik par excellence is typified by Yosef, who resisted the temptations of Egypt and remained faithful to HaShem despite unfathomable conditions of idolatry and immorality. The book of Proverbs explains the importance of the Tzaddik,

צַדִּיק יְסֹוד עֹולָם

“The Tzaddik is the foundation of the world.” Proverbs 10:25

The earth, and by extension the universe, exists because of the Tzaddik. In Genesis, we read of Yosef HaTzaddik being sold by his brothers to Gentiles,

“Yehuda said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, and let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not let our hand be on him; for he is our brother, our flesh.” His brothers listened to him. Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They brought Joseph into Egypt.” Genesis 37:26-28

Even though he was sold into Egypt the heart of spiritual depravity, the Midrash Rabbah highlights the ability of HaShem to bring light out of the darkness,

“R. Samuel ben Nahman commenced thus: ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says HaShem (Jer. 29:11). The tribal ancestors were engaged in selling Yosef, Yaakov was taken up with his sackcloth and fasting, and Yehuda was busy taking a wife, while the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating the light of Messiah: thus, And it came to pass at the time, etc. ‘Before she travailed, she brought forth’ (Isa. 66:7). Before the last who shall enslave [Israel] was born, the first redeemer was born, as it says, ‘And it came to pass at that time.” Genesis Rabbah 85:1, Soncino Press Edition

The Ramban, R’ Moshe ben Nachman (1194  – 1270 CE), summarizes a teaching from the Midrash Tanchuma,

The Ramban
Wall painting of the Ramban , at the wall of Akko’s Auditorium. Author: Chesdovi. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia Commons.

“I will tell you a principle, which you should keep in mind throughout the coming passages regarding the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is a major principle, which the Sages mention succinctly when they said,”Everything that occurred to the Patriarchs is a sign (or portent) for their descendants.” Ramban on Genesis 12:6, Mesorah Publications, ltd., pg. 293

The Artscroll commentary to the Ramban explains,

“Whenever the Torah records an incident that occurred in the Patriarch’s personal lives, it is because that event foreshadowed some parallel event that would affect the Jewish people in the future.”

R’ Ari Kahn of elucidates this important idea,

“In order to understand the significance of the teachings in Genesis generally, and in this Torah portion specifically, we must introduce the concept of ma’aseh avot siman l’banim, which literally translates “the actions of the forefathers serve as a portent for their descendants.” Put another way, history repeats itself, or, in theological terms, Jewish history is Jewish destiny.” R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish: Vayeshev, Light of Messiah, [1]

The echoes of the Sale of Yosef have resonated throughout history, and come to a climax on Yom Kippur. R’ Ari Kahn comments,

“Indeed, it seems difficult to argue that the brothers were not guilty of this act of perfidy. Jewish tradition refers to the sale of Yosef as a stain on the collective conscience of the entire nation – a stain that much of Jewish practice and Jewish history is geared toward cleansing. The Rambam notes that a goat is always brought as a sin offering on holidays, and ties this offering directly with the goat’s blood with which Yosef’s coat of many colors was stained by the brothers. The goat is a symbol of the treachery which continues to haunt the collective, a blot on the integrity and unity of the entire nation. On holidays, when we gather as a family, we bring the sin offering with the blood of the goat in order to attempt to bring about healing for the sale of Yosef at his brothers’ hands. In fact, our sages associate some of the most cataclysmic events in Jewish history with our collective guilt for the sale of Yosef: The martyrdom of Judaism’s ten greatest scholars, retold in the Yom Kippur liturgy each year, is said to be a tikkun for the sale of Yosef. It seems an inescapable conclusion that Jewish theology considers the brothers guilty of the sale, and senses the repercussions of that episode throughout our history.” R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish: For a Pair of Shoes, [2]

If what happens in Genesis has prophetic ripples into Jewish history, what event is foreshadowed by the brothers selling Yosef to the gentiles? It is important to note that all humanity is guilty before HaShem. And it is for Israel, and yes even the world, that Mashiach ben Yosef came. R’ Daniel Krentzman remarks on this incredible cosmic mission,

“The need for the mission of Mashiach ben Yosef came about as a result of the sin of Adam. In theory, had Adam not sinned and brought about tremendous spiritual damage to himself and the world, there would not have been a need for the tikun olam efforts of Mashiach ben Yosef, in every subsequent generation. Mashiach ben Yosef thus comes to rectify that damage and return mankind to the state of Adam before the sin.” Yonah the Navi as Mashiach ben Yosef, Daniel Krentzman, pg. 10 [3]

The Ben Ish Chai, R’ Yosef Chayyim (1835 – 1909 CE), comments on the dispute between R’ Dosa and the other Sages (Sukkah 52a),  as to the meaning of Zechariah 12:10,

“There is a dispute in the Gemara as to the reason for this incidence of great mourning in the future. Some say it is on account of the slaying of the Messiah descended from Joseph, a tzaddik who will pave the way for the coming of the Messiah descended from David. . . Actually, both opinions are true…the people will mourn the death of the Josephian Messiah “because they have stabbed him” – because it is their sins that will cause him to die, as it is written, “He was crushed because of our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). This is similar to the mourning over Yoshiyahu. . . the people will weep over him because their sins are what caused his death. Therefore when we say, “May you speedily establish the throne of David within [Jerusalem].” (daily liturgy), we are praying that he will not be killed. The Arizal explained that the “throne of David” refers to the Josephian Messiah, who is the “throne” or base of power, for the David Messiah (Sha’ar HaKavanot 37a).” Ben Ish Chai, Ben Yehoyada, Days of Peace, Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom Publications, pgs. 114-115

The Ten Martyrs

In the Machzor for Yom Kippur, as encapsulated in the piyyut Eleh Ezkerah (These I will remember), and on Tisha b’Av in Arzei Levanon (The Cedars of Levanon), we read the story of עשרת הרוגי מלכות Aseret Harugei Malchut, the Ten Slain by the Government. It speaks in detail regarding the death of the Ten Martyrs at the hands of the Romans, in words hauntingly reminiscent of Yeshua’s suffering in the Gospels. Although their deaths did not take place at the same time, the section in the prayerbook seemingly combines all of the events into one. The story begins as follows,

“After the destruction of the Temple, the impudent of the generation said “what loss have we suffered? After all, we still have scholars amongst us who teach us His Torah and mitzvot.” At once God put the idea in the heart of the Roman emperor to study the Law of Moses with the wise men and elders. He began with Bereishit and continued until they came to this verse: וגונב איש ומכרו ונמצא בידו מות יומת. A man who kidnaps another and sells him into slavery and is found with the victim, that man should surely die (Shemot 21:16). Upon reading this verse he commanded that his palace be filled with shoes. He then called for ten sages of Israel to be brought  before him, had them seated on golden chairs, and challenged them thusly: “What is the law regarding a man who kidnaps his brother and sells him into slavery?” They replied “The Torah states that such a man must be put to death.” “If so,” continues the Emperor, “you are all obligated to die.” “Why?” they asked. “For the sale of Yosef, who was sold by his brothers. Had the brothers been present I would have judged them, but as they are no longer alive, you shall bear the sins of your forefathers.” The rabbis asked for three days in which to seek a defense to the charges. Then they prevailed upon Rabbi Yishmael the Kohen Gadol to recite the Divine Name and ascend to Heaven to see if such a decree against them had been sealed by the Almighty. Rabbi Yishmael accepted the mission and reported back that the decree was indeed ordained in Heaven. In the end, the Sages were publicly executed by the Romans.” Eleh Ezkerah, cited in The Ten Martyrs, Dr. Deena S. Rabinovich [4]

Eleh Ezekerah
Page from מדרש אלה אזכרה (Midrash Eleh Ezkerah), Constantinople, 1620.

The text then describes their deaths in detail reminiscent of the final pages of the Gospels. R’ Yishmael plays a major role in the text of Sefer HaHeikhalot, sometimes called in English “3rd Enoch,” which deals with the transformation and description of Metatron. Regarding the names of the tzaddikim, the names sometimes differ. One list of the names is as follows:

  1. Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha the High Priest

  2. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel Hazaken

  3. Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon

  4. Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef

  5. Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava (Sanhedrin 14a, Avodah Zarah 8b)

  6. Rabbi Chutzpit HaMeturgeman

  7. Rabbi Yeshevav HaSofer

  8. Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua

  9. Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai

  10. Rabbi Yehudah ben Dama

The Midrash comments on the Ten Martyrs, each of whom stand in for the Ten Brothers who sold Yosef,

אמר ר’ יהושע בן לוי לא נמשכו עשרה הרוגי מלכות אלא בחטא מכירתו של יוסף מדרש משלי פרשה א סימן יג

“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: ‘The Ten Martyrs were not dragged down for anything other than the sin of selling Yosef (by his brothers).” Midrash Mishlei 1:13 [3]

The Ten Martyrs died to atone for Israel based on the principle of mitatan shel tzaddikim mekapparet, ‘the death of the righteous atones’ as we mentioned above. The sale of Yosef is connected with the worst sin in the history of Israel: The sin of the Golden Calf,

יש בידכם בתחילה ויש בידכם בסוף, יש בידכם בתחילה וישחטו שעיר עזים,ויש בידכם בסוף “עשו להם עגל מסכה. יבא שעיר עזים ויכפר על מעשה עזים, יבא עגל ויכפר על מעשה עגל

“You have in your hands [a sin] from the beginning and you have in your hands [a sin] in the end. You have in your hands in the beginning: “They [Joseph’s brothers] slaughtered a goat and dipped the coat in blood” (Gen. 37:31), and you have in your hands in the end: “They have made themselves a molten calf” (Ex. 32:8): Let a goat come and atone for an action with a goat; let a calf come and atone for an action with a calf.” Sefer Shemini 1, cited in Eleh Ezkerah: Re-reading the Asarah Harugei Malkhut, Nachman Levine, Hakirah Journal

How is it possible to make a tikkun, a repair, for this? Obviously it requires a great atonement. There are cases where atonement requires the blood of the Tzaddik, as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes in Likutey Moharan,

“…Israel’s spilled blood contains many lofty and hidden matters, be it blood spilled through embarrassment or other, actual spilled blood. For there are very many fallen souls which have no elevation except through the spilled blood of Israel; [that] of a great individual. In some cases, they have no elevation except through actual spilled blood.” Likutey Moharan II, 83:11, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 225

The Breslov Commentary on this passage states,

“Rebbe Nachman teaches here that this is the deeper reason – “the lofty and hidden matters” – that Israel’s blood has been spilled time and again down through the generations. Whether through embarrassment or murder, the spilled blood of the righteous – a “great individual” – raises the fallen souls and brings to their rectification. The Rebbe has already alluded to this spilled blood of a great individual in the previous section, where he spoke of the tzaddik who must undergo “ritual slaughter” so that God’s tasting his mitzvot is not the consumption of the limb of a living creature….In Likutey Moharan 1, 260, Rebbe Nachman teaches that there are times when, to gain forgiveness for the Jewish people, tzaddikim sacrifice their name and honor and willing suffer embarrassment. Other times, the truly great tzaddikim are required to make the ultimate sacrifice and give their lives to effect forgiveness. This related to the tzaddik’s spilled blood, and to the elevation of the very many souls which have fallen on account of Adam’s blemish of the brit and due to the sins of mankind ever since…The only way to effective unification when sins are prevalent is by the tzaddik’s ultimate self-sacrifice. The righteous are required to accept judgment upon themselves, giving up their lives for God. One such time is when the Holy Temple was destroyed. Sin abounded then, and many souls became trapped in the kelipot. The only possibility of releasing the fallen souls was by entering the realm of impurity itself. The Ten Martyrs, all very great and pure tzaddikim, undertook to do this. Accepting the judgment upon themselves, the Ten Martyrs made the ultimate self-sacrifice, submitting their physical bodies to the realm of the kelipot – the Romans, who tortured and murdered them. Through this “exchange” (for the bodies of the tzaddikim were so holy, they were equivalent to the souls of most other people), the Ten Martyrs rescued the trapped souls, whose elevation, an arousal from energy below, brought about a unification of the Holy One and His Shekhinah in the Upper Worlds…” Commentary to Likutey Moharan II, 83:11, Volume XV, Breslov Research Institute, pgs. 225-226

The Ten Martyrs gave their lives and submitted themselves via self-sacrifice to the worst klipah (shell, demonic force), that is Rome. Likutey Moharan continues,

“Self-sacrifice is in this category, as in the case of Ten Martyrs who sacrificed their souls sanctifying God’s Name in order to unite the Holy One and Shekhina. As is known, the main unification is by self-sacrifice.” Likutey Moharan 260, Volume XI, translated by Moshe Mykoff, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 285

We must ask why did HaShem choose the Ten Martyrs to atone for the sale of Yosef during the Second Temple period? What about this time frame was significant to exact the punishment for the selling of Yosef? Something happened during the Second Temple era that reminded HaShem of the selling of Yosef. There existed in the Second Temple era sinat chinam, a baseless hatred, which rose to the level of the sale of Yosef HaTzaddik. When one speaks of Yosef, it ultimately refers to the Mashiach ben Yosef.

Perhaps there is an “Eleventh Martyr,” more exalted, hidden and concealed than the rest, who also submitted his life to the klipah of Rome in order to elevate the fallen sparks and redeem all of Israel and the world. Today, his name is slandered as he is perceived to be within or part of Rome, but in truth, he is outside of its gates, waiting for Israel to be ready. All of this is in accordance with the principle, “The hands (the external) are the hands of Esav, the voice (the internal) is the voice of Yaakov.” Like Yosef HaTzaddik, Moshe Rabbeinu and Esther HaMalka, the Mashiach is concealed within the klipa of the enemies of Israel, that is Rome. The Machzor for Yom Kippur has an amazing prayer that can be found in the Hebrew of the Artscroll Nusach Sefard Machzor for Yom Kippur, on page 860, 2nd paragraph, 7th line from the top. It is as follows in an older Machzor,

“Mashiach Tzidkeinu is departed from us. Horror has seized us, and we have none to justify us. He has borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He bears our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at that time, the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring him up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on Mount Levanon, by the hand of Yinon.”

Some notes on the passage,

  1. Our Righteous Anointed – Mashiach Tzidkeinu, Messiah our Righteousness, a quote from Jeremiah 23

  2. He has borne the yoke of our iniquities – see our commentary on Isaiah 53

  3. He bears our sins on his shoulder – In a stunning statement, Messiah’s shoulders bear the sins of Israel, like a man who carries his cross (Genesis Rabbah 25)

  4. The Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature – through Resurrection

  5. O bring him up from the circle of the earth – Resurrect him from the grave

  6. Raise him up from Seir – Rescue him from Christianity, from the Gates of Rome to redeem us

  7. Assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon – bring us again to the Land, to the Temple Mount

  8. By the Hand of Yinon – Yinon is a Name of Messiah, before the Creation. Its letters yud-nun-vav-nun allude to the Name of Messiah in the time to come, yud-kei-vav-kei.

Sinat Chinam

As noted above, “Mount Levanon” is a term for the Temple, which means “white” and was the source for the cedar beams which form its structure. The Talmud asks, and answers, the question of why the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed,

“Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed . . .But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together . And [during the time of] the first Sanctuary did no groundless hatred prevail? Surely it is written: They are thrust down to the sword with my people; smite therefore upon my thigh,13 and R. Eleazar said: This refers to people who eat and drink together and then thrust each other through with the daggers of their tongue! — That [passage] speaks of the princes in Israel, for it is written , Cry and wail, son of man; for it is upon my people, etc. [The text reads] ‘Cry and wail, son of man’. One might have assumed [it is upon] all [Israel], therefore it goes on, Upon all the princes of Israel.” Yoma 9b, Soncino Press Edition

Tractate Yoma details a series of unusual events preceding the destruction of the Temple,

“Our Rabbis taught: Throughout the forty years that Simeon the Righteous ministered, the lot [‘For the Lord’] would always come up in the right hand; from that time on, it would come up now in the right hand, now in the left. And [during the same time] the crimson-coloured strap would become white. From that time on it would at times become white, at others not. Also: Throughout those forty years the westernmost light was shining, from that time on, it was now shining, now failing; also the fire of the pile of wood kept burning strong,14 so that the priests did not have to bring to the pile any other wood besides the two logs, in order to fulfill the command about providing the wood unintermittently; from that time on, it would occasionally keep burning strongly, at other times not, so that the priests could not do without bringing throughout the day wood for the pile [on the altar]. . . .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-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal, why will you  be the alarmer yourself? I know about you that you will be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Iddo has already prophesied concerning thee: ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars. . .  Which was tied between the horns of the bullock. If that became white, it signified that the Holy One, blessed be He, had forgiven Israel’s sin. Cf. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:8, Rashi).” Yoma 39b, Soncino Press Edition, cf. Rosh HaShanah 31b

 Note that the cause for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash was sinat chinam, baseless hatred:

“But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed . . . ? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause.” Yoma 9b, Soncino Press Edition

Now we must ask ourselves the question, “Who was the prophet who warned Israel to repent prior to the Churban(destruction of the Second Temple)? While prophecy was generally acknowledged to be dormant at this time, the Temple’s destruction and the worst exile ever must have merited in some way to have a person of the level of Jeremiah or greater to warn and encourage repentance? There are two figures who stand out, Yochanan the Immerser and Yeshua of Nazareth, who preached,

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Matthew 3:2

This was an offer to Israel, if they repented, they would be worthy to receive Mashiach ben David in that generation. However, like Yosef HaTzaddik, he experienced sinat chinam, as he says,

“He that hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they would not have sinned: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this has come to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their Torah, ‘They hated me without a cause.’  John 15:23-25

Therefore, Yeshua came riding on a donkey, as Israel was unworthy to receive him, as the Talmud says,

“R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua b. Levi pointed out a contradiction. it is written, in its time [will the Messiah come], whilst it is also written, I [the Lord] will hasten it! — if they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, [he will come] at the due time. R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven whilst [elsewhere] it is written, [behold, thy king comes unto thee . . . ] lowly, and riding upon a donkey! If they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven; if not, lowly and riding upon a donkey.” Sanhedrin 98a, Soncino Press Edition

Kol HaTor identifies the Mashiach who rides upon the donkey as Mashiach ben Yosef. Yeshua rode into Jerusalem with shouts of the Hallel,

“They brought the young donkey to Yeshua, and threw their garments on it, and Yeshua sat on it. Many spread their garments on the way, and others were cutting down branches from the trees, and spreading them on the road. Those who went in front, and those who followed, cried out, Hoshia’na! Blessed is he who comes in the name of HaShem! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming in the name of HaShem! Hoshia’na in the highest!” Mark 11:7-10

Four days later, Yeshua was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles – resulting in his death at Passover. As mentioned in the Talmud above, the scarlet thread finally ceased to turn white at the time Yeshua was crucified circa 30 CE. The scarlet thread, as explained in the above passage, miraculously turned white if HaShem forgave the sins of the people. If the thread did not turn white, then they were saddened, as their sins were not forgiven. Forty years later, on Tisha b’Av 70 CE, the Temple was destroyed, because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, against Mashiach ben Yosef.

The Scarlet Thread

The book of Genesis speaks of the birth of twins, and one has a scarlet thread wrapped around his arm,

“It happened in the time of her travail, that behold, twins were in her womb. When she travailed, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, This came out first.It happened, as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out, and she said, Why have you made a breach for yourself? Therefore his name was called Perez.[1] Afterward his brother came out, that had the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.” Genesis 38:27-30

Throughout the Tanach, we see the scarlet thread woven throughout a grand tapestry,

  1. Tied upon the arm of Zerach

  2. Woven into the Fabric and Curtain of the Mishkan

  3. Part of the Garments of the High Priest

  4. Is used in the Purification of the Leper

  5. Connected with the Sacrifice of the Red Heifer

  6. Used to Save the life of Rachav

  7. Likened to the Lips of the Bride

The Midrash connects the thread of scarlet to the sacrifice Yom Kippur,

“YOUR LIPS ARE LIKE A THREAD OF SCARLET: this refers to the crimson strip (on Yom Kippur). AND YOUR MIDBAR IS COMELY: this refers to the scapegoat.” Song of Songs Rabbah 4:12, Soncino Press Edition

The scarlet threads that form a warp and woof throughout the Hebrew letters of the Torah all find their culmination upon the back of Mashiach ben Yosef,

“They put a scarlet robe around Him. And weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Matthew 27:28-29

Yaakov and Esav

In Genesis 37, we read that the brothers deceived Yaakov with the blood of a goat,

“They took Yosef’s coat, and killed a male goat, and dipped the coat in the blood. They took the coat of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, “We have found this. Examine it, now, whether it is your son’s coat or not.” He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s coat. An evil animal has devoured him. Yosef is without doubt torn in pieces.” Yaakov tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days.” Genesis 37:31-34

The Midrash comments,

“And they took Yosef’s coat, and killed a he-goat (37:31). Why a he-goat? Because its blood resembles that of a human being.” Genesis Rabbah 84:19, cf. Targum Yonatan

The Zohar (I:185b) examines the passage in an astonishing light. [5]  As Yaakov deceived his father Yitzhak with a goat, causing him to tremble, so he was deceived with a goat (via its blood), causing him to tremble. The passage of Yaakov dressing as Esav and going in to meet Yitzhak bears remarkable similarities to Yom Kippur. Rebecca spoke to Yaakov, and devised a plan to rescue the progeny and spiritual mission of Avraham from Esav, and includes an incredible detail,

“Go now to the flock, and get me from there two good young goats. I will make them savory food for your father, such as he loves.” Genesis 27:5-9

Why does the text specify TWO goats? The book of Leviticus details the sacrificial offering on Yom Kippur as follows,

“Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats, and set them before HaShem at the door of the Tent of Meeting. Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats; one lot for HaShem, and the other lot for the scapegoat. Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for HaShem, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell for the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before HaShem, to make atonement for him, to send him away for the scapegoat into the wilderness.” Leviticus 16:6-10

According to R’ Ari Kahn, Yaakov bringing the two goats to Yitzhak is a prophetic antecedent to Yom Kippur, in which the goats symbolize two twins, Yaakov and Esav. The Mishnah says,

“The two goats on Yom Kippur, the Mitzvah is for them to be identical in appearance, size, and value, the two shall be chosen together.” Mishnah Yoma 6:1, Yoma 62b, cited in [6]

עשו = אדום = שעיר = שעיר

Seir = Sair = Edom = Esav

Hairy = Goat = Red = Esau

The Hebrew word for ‘goat’ is שעיר (sair) meaning ‘hairy’. This is one of the names of Esav, because he was hairy, hence his territory was called ‘Seir’, as Genesis states,

“Esau lived in the hill country of Seir. Esau is Edom.” Genesis 36:8

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra makes an extremely cryptic comment on the passage,

“And if you are able to understand the esoteric meaning of that which is after the word Azazel, you will also know the esoteric meaning behind [the goat sent to Azazel] and the esoteric meaning of its name – for there are “chaverim” (i.e. other parallel examples) for it in Scripture. And I will reveal a little of the secret through a hint: When you are thirty-three you will know it.” Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 16:8 cited in Ramban, Leviticus, Mesorah Publications, ltd., pg. 411

The Ramban explains the passage as follows,

“Now Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra is “the man of faithful spirit who conceals a matter.” But I will be the talebearer who reveals his secret – for our Sages have already revealed it to us in many places. The he-goat, this is an allusion to Esau, as it is stated, “But my brother Esau is hairy man [שעיר] (Genesis 27:11)…”Now Ibn Ezra has hinted to you that you will know the esoteric meaning of [Azazel] when you get to the verse: ‘They shall no longer slaughter their offerings to the demons, [which is the thirty-third verse after Azazel’s first mention. . . ” Ramban, Leviticus, Mesorah Publications, ltd., pg. 411

It may be a complete coincidence that the reference to “thirty-three” was the likely age of Yeshua’s death. The age of “thirty-three” was a hint, according to Ramban, to skip down to the thirty-third verse, where it says that Israel will no longer make offerings to “seirim” (that is, a type of a goat demon). However, Ramban does note that the secret meaning is that this is an allusion to Esav. This brings us to two important questions. Is the Ibn Ezra referring derogatorily to Yeshua of Nazareth, and is the “l’Azazel’ goat a sacrifice to a goat demon?

We will answer the last question first. We must first ask, who or what is “Azazel”? Rashi interprets the words as a “jagged place.” The text Apocalypse of Abraham says that “Azazel” is the unclean bird that tried to take away Abraham’s sacrifice. The text of 1st Enoch depicts Azazel as the corrupter of mankind,

“The whole earth has been corrupted through the works  that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.” 1 Enoch 10:8

The Sages taught that Azazel is the celestial minister of Esav-Edom, i.e. the satan. The “goat to Azazel” has been misinterpreted as a “sacrifice” or an “offering.” This was not a sin offering, as it was not sacrificed, nor was it ritually slaughtered in the Temple. The Torah specifically prohibits this, which is cited by the Ibn Ezra,

“No longer will they offer sacrifices to the goat-demons, before whom they prostitute themselves! This is a permanent regulation for them through all their generations.” Leviticus 17:7

The l’Azazel goat is sent to the wilderness, and if it returned, it was deemed a bad omen. So eventually, they took the goat to the wilderness and and kicked it off a cliff,

“He divided the thread of crimson wool, and tied one half to the rock, the other half between its horns, and pushed it from behind. And it went rolling down and before it had reached half its way downhill, it was dashed to pieces.” Yoma 67a, Soncino Press Edition

The wilderness and desert places are the domain of demonic forces, as Yeshua says,

“But the unclean spirit, when he is gone out of the man, passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and doesn’t find it.” Matthew 12:43

The l’Azazel goat was like a messenger that returned the sins of the people back to their demonic source, away from Israel. This was as if to say, “no thanks” to sin and the source of sin. Now for the second question. It is well known in Rabbinic literature that Esav refers to Christianity. R’ Ari Kahn states,

“The idea of the two goats is intrinsically related to the personalities of Jacob and Esau, identical on the outside but so different in terms of their essence…The idea of twins – twins who are opposites – is a familiar theme in the Torah. The most famous twins in the Torah are, of course, Jacob and Esau. They were complete opposites, one good, the other evil. No one could ever confuse them. On the other hand, perhaps they did possess some similarities. Rashi (Genesis 25:27) tells us that until the age of 13 they were indistinguishable…” Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish, The Dangers of Ecstasy, [7]

Yaakov and Esav were twins, but polar opposites in the spiritual world. Before Yeshua of Nazareth died, he also had a “twin.” The Gospel of Matthew says,

“They had then a notable prisoner, called Bar-Abba. When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Bar-Abba, or Yeshua, who is called Messiah? For he knew that because of envy they had delivered him up.” Matthew 27:16-18

In some manuscripts, Bar-Abba’s first name is “Yeshua.” This is stunning. Like the goats of Yom Kippur, and the two birds in the sacrifice of the leper, one was set ‘free’, and one was killed. Yeshua of Nazareth, the true ‘Bar Abba’ gave up his life, while the insurrectionist “twin” who lived by the sword was set free. Those who live by the sword are of Esav. We are warned by Paul,

“For if he who comes preaches another Yeshua, whom we did not proclaim, or if you receive a different spirit, which you did not receive, or a different good news, which you did not accept, you put up with that well enough. . . For such men are false emissaries, deceitful workers, masquerading as Messiahs emissaries. And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” 2 Corinthians 11:4-15

There is a difference between the Yeshua of Nazareth and the “Jesus” of Christianity. One upholds the Torah (Matthew 5:17) and the other abolishes it. They appear to be “twins” but one is a counterfeit, someone who “looks like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon.” Although it is unclear to me at this point, if Ibn Ezra did have Christianity in mind, he is not speaking of the Jewish, Torah observant Yeshua of the “New Testament.” All of this is revealed in the passage where Rebekah convinced Yaakov to ‘cloak’ himself with the garments of Esav,

“She put the skins of the young goats on his hands, and on the smooth of his neck.” Genesis 27:16

וַיִּגַּשׁ יַעֲקֹב אֶל־יִצְחָק אָבִ֖יו וַיְמֻשֵּׁהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר הַקֹּל קֹול יַעֲקֹב וְהַיָּדַיִם יְדֵי עֵשָׂו

As Yaakov enters in to receive Yitzhak’s blessing, Yitzhak makes a cryptic statement,

“The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esav…” Genesis 27:22

This is a great secret. On the exterior, it appears as if Yeshua is Esav, yet he is only concealed there. This is akin to King David having red hair, the external attributes of Esav. This is akin to Moshe being dressed as an Egyptian. This is likened to Yosef HaTzaddik having the name “Tzofnat Paneach.” It is a concealment within a concealment. Yet, in truth, the “voice”, the interior, the inside, is truly Yaakov – that is the Mashiach.

The Nazarene

All of this leads to a stunning conclusion. To arrive there, we must go to the book of Matthew. Yosef has returned from Egypt, where he fled Herod, who was an Edomite, i.e. from Esav. To avoid his son, Herod Antipas, the Gospel says that Yosef was,

“…warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Natzeret (נצרת) that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets: He will be called a Nazarene (נצרי).” Matthew 2:22-23

This passage has puzzled many believers and fueled the anti-missionary arguments against the validity of the Gospel of Matthew. Ask a believer who speaks English only where the prophet said the Messiah will be called a “Nazarene” and you may be met with a blank stare, or perhaps thirty-minutes of flipping pages. Oftentimes, the translation will put the phrase, “he shall be called a Nazarene” in quotes, as if it were referencing a specific prophecy in the Tanakh. However, this is a perfect example to illustrate that one must have some type of grasp on the Hebrew language to understand the New Testament. Notice how the Gospel doesn’t identify a “prophet” but rather says “prophets”? This indicates that the connection to the word Nazarene is found in at least two places in the Tanach. The most famous connection is found in Isaiah 11,

“A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch (נצר) out of his roots will bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1

The word “Branch” (Netzer) here is universally recognized in Judaism as a reference to Mashiach. The letters that form the word, נצר (nun-tzade-reish) have a special place in the שָׁלוֹשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה מִידוֹת הרַחֲמִים (Shelosh Esrei Middot HaRachamim), the 13 Middot of Mercy, as elucidated in Exodus 34,

“HaShem descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of HaShem. HaShem passed by before him, and proclaimed, “HaShem! HaShem, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth, keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:5-7

The Thirteen Attributes are as follows [8]:

HaShem - compassion before a person sins

HaShem - compassion after a person has sinned

El - mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need

Rachum - merciful, that humankind may not be distressed

VeChanun - and gracious if humankind is already in distress

Erech appayim - slow to anger

VeRav chesed - and plenteous in kindness

VeEmet - and truth

Notzer chesed la'alafim - keeping kindness unto thousands

Noseh avon - forgiving iniquity

VaFeshah - and transgression

VeChata’ah - and sin

VeNakeh - and pardoning

Incredibly, the Hebrew of this passage shows an usually large letter, the letter nun, which begins the chain of the word נצר (nun-tzade-reish). The words are ‘Notzer chesed le’alafim’ (who keeps kindness for thousands). We may draw a connection between the Notzer and the Netzer of Isaiah 11 – as the words are spelled exactly the same, and this is what the Mashiach secures for Israel and the world. In an another passage, the Messiah is spoken of as a “Branch” using the word “Tzemach”,

“Yes, take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them on the head of Yehoshua the son of Yehotzadak, the high priest; and speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says HaShem of Hosts, ‘Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: and he shall grow up out of his place; and he shall build the Temple of HaShem; even he shall build the Temple of HaShem; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on his throne; and he shall be a priest on his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” Zechariah 6:11-13

The Targum elucidates the passage,

“Behold a man whose name is the Messiah shall be revealed in the future and he shall become great and build the Temple of Hashem” Targum Yonatan to Zechariah 6:12, Cited in Trei Asar, Mesorah Publications, ltd., pg. 238

The man’s name is the “Messiah.” thus let us plug in the word “Messiah” for “Branch” as the Targum does,

  1. Behold the Man whose Name is the Branch

  2. Behold the Man whose Name is the Messiah

While not Masorah, Philo of Alexandria makes a curious commentary to this passage,

“Behold a man whose name is the East!” A very novel title indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is made of body and soul. But if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal Being who in no respect differs from the Divine Image, you will then agree that the name of the East has been given to him with great appropriateness. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the Eldest Son, whom in another passage he calls the Firstborn, and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of His Father, looking to His archetypal patterns, forms the same.” Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues, 14.62, Hendrickson Publishers, pgs. 239-240

The word Philo translates as the “East” or “Rising” (Anatole) is the word “Tzemach”, which the Targum identifies as a title for Mashiach. The word itself has the gematria of “Menachem” which is one of the names of the Messiah, identified in the Talmud. Of whom was this prophecy speaking about? This passage is speaking of Yehoshua the son of Yehotzadak, who in Ezra is called Yeshua,

“Then stood up Yeshua the son of Yozadak . . .” Ezra 3:2

The book of Nehemiah also calls Yehoshua the son of Nun, Yeshua,

“ . . . since the days of Yeshua the son of Nun . . .” Nehemiah 8:17

Thus, let us complete the puzzle. knowing that the man’s name is the Messiah, and knowing that the person’s name was Yehoshua, who was called Yeshua, we may interpret as follows:

  1. Behold the Man whose Name is the Branch

  2. Behold the Man whose Name is the Messiah

  3. Behold the Man Yeshua is the Messiah

When Pilate brought out the “two goats,” that is Bar-Abba and Yeshua of Nazareth, one was released, and one was to be slain. Then Pilate says something unusual,

“Yeshua therefore came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” John 19:5

It is time for us to open our eyes, to “behold the man.” Yeshua is the Messiah. The Netzer, the Nazarene, the goat for HaShem, the Voice of Yaakov. All of this was spoken of ahead of time, yet concealed. It is time to return Mashiach ben Yosef to his brothers. When this happens, the mission of Mashiach ben David will commence. As Yeshua said, we must repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, as the beginning of Redemption is dependent upon teshuvah. May he be raised up from Seir! May he assemble us a second time, on Mount Levanon, by the hand of Yinon. The Key of Repentance that unlocks this door rests in the hands of Israel. Isaiah says,

“Come now, and let us reason together, says HaShem: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18



  1. R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish: Vayeshev, Light of Messiah,

  2. R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish: For a Pair of Shoes,

  3. Yonah the Navi as Mashiach ben Yosef, Daniel Krentzman, pg. 10

  4. Eleh Ezkerah, cited in The Ten Martyrs, Dr. Deena S. Rabinovich

  5. A Goat for a Goat,

  6. Mishnah Yoma 6:1, Yoma 62b, cited in

  7. R. Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish, The Dangers of Ecstasy,

  8. Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, copied from Wikipedia for easy formatting

For Further Reading

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