The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is called Achrei Mot and is found in Leviticus 16:1-18:30. In this passage God instructs Moses about the Yom Kippur rituals during which the High Priest was to cleanse and purify the sanctuary from the effects of the sins of the Israelites. Only on that holiest of days was Aaron permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary. He was to dress in special linen garments and to bring a purification offering on behalf of himself and his household. The people were to observe Yom Kippur each year as a day of fasting and abstinence from work so that their sins might be forgiven. Moses tells the people that animals, whether they were intended for food or as sacrifices, were to be slaughtered only at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, rather than outside the camp, and that they were strictly forbidden to eat blood since it represented the life force. God instructs Moses to tell the people that they are not to copy the practices of the Egyptians or the Canaanites. Finally forbidden sexual relationships are specified as being degrading to those who commit them.
Since we talk about the Yom Kippur rituals during Yom Kippur, I will choose to focus on the remainder of the passage which focuses on the importance of respecting life. When animals are consumed, the Israelites are not allowed to eat blood out of respect for the life force of the animal. This is consistent with other regulations in the Torah regarding animal life. For example, only certain animals and birds that are not scavengers or are vicious may be eaten and they must be killed humanely so as not to cause them to suffer. If one is hungry and wishes to take an egg from a nest, he or she must wait until the mother bird is gone so that her pain of seeing the egg taken is lessened. Likewise, the last section of the parasha also forbids certain sexual relationships, listing several examples of incest, because it shows a lack of respect for the other person and is unnecessarily degrading. From this passage then, we are reminded to respect other living things, both people and animals, because God created them both and both carry the life force in them.