Ancient Paths featured omer Parashas PARSHA post

Parshas ACHAREI MOS

04-May-2019Achrei Mot1Leviticus 16:1 – 16:1717
04-May-2019Achrei Mot2Leviticus 16:18 – 16:247
04-May-2019Achrei Mot3Leviticus 16:25 – 16:3410
04-May-2019Achrei Mot4Leviticus 17:1 – 17:77
04-May-2019Achrei Mot5Leviticus 17:8 – 18:514
04-May-2019Achrei Mot6Leviticus 18:6 – 18:2116
04-May-2019Achrei Mot7Leviticus 18:22 – 18:309
04-May-2019Achrei MotmafLeviticus 18:28 – 18:303
04-May-2019Achrei MotHaftaraI Samuel 20:18 – 20:42 | Shabbat Machar Chodesh

IMPORTANT NOTICE: 

On this and the coming Shabbatot until May 25, the Torah reading in Diaspora communities is different from the Torah reading in Israel. This is because Shabbat April 27 was observed in the Diaspora as the Eighth day of Pesach, which is not observed in Israel. Thus on Shabbat April 27 in Israel the portion of ACHAREI MOT was read, while the Diaspora Torah reading was the special Pesach festival reading, and the Diaspora communities will read ACHAREI MOT on Shabbat May 4 when communities in Israel will be reading the ensuing portion of KEDOSHIM.

The Shabbat Torah readings in Israel and Diaspora will continue to be out of sync until Shabbat May 25, when the Diaspora communities will catch up with Israel by reading the double portion of BEHAR and BECHUKOTAI, whereas the Israeli communities will have read BEHAR the previous Shabbat and on May 25 will read only BECHUOTAI. 

Each week’s Torah portion commentary emails during this period will include commentary on both the portion read in the Diaspora that week and that read in Israel. Please scroll down for the commentary on this week’s portion in Israel.


DIASPORA TORAH READING FOR SHABBAT MAY 4: ACHAREI MOS 

Universal Torah commentary
By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Torah Reading: Parshas ACHAREI MOS, Leviticus 16:1-18:30
Haftara Amos 9:7-15 (Sephardi ritual: Ezekiel 22:1-16). 

AFTER THE DEATH OF AARON’S TWO SONS

Our parshah, ACHAREI MOS, introduces the account of the awesome service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, by noting that this parshah was given to Moses AFTER — in the light of — the death of Aaron’s two sons when they offered “strange fire” inside the Sanctuary.

Nadav and Avihu wanted to redeem the entire world and bring it to G-d in an instant — but they themselves were consumed by G-d’s jealous fire. Their endeavor was in the realm of excess. There is an evil in the world that cannot be redeemed: it’s only redemption lies in being smashed and destroyed forever (just as TUM’AH, ritual impurity, leaves a clay vessel only when it is broken).

At the center of the High Priest’s service on Yom Kippur lies the profound mystery of the GORAL. This was the “lottery” by which one of a pair of identical goats was chosen to be the holy sacrificial offering whose blood would atone for Israel in the Holy of Holies. The other was taken to a remote mountain-crag and cast down to AZAZEL, the Devil, being quickly broken to pieces on the mountainside. This mitzvah is numbered by the Rabbis together with the purification from defilement from the dead through the ashes of the Red Heifer as among those incomprehensible CHUKIM, “statutes” at which the nations and the evil inclination scoff. 

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once put the question in a graphic form: “In the Purim play, why should one person be chosen to play Mordechai the Jew and live, while another plays Haman and gets hung?”

There is no satisfactory answer to the deepest questions of destiny in this world: it is simply not given to the eyes of flesh and blood to understand why this one is given one role in life and that one another. There is a heavenly MAZAL at work that brings about the GORAL, “fate”. What our parshah tells us is that we are free to choose our path in the world, and that following G-d’s commandments guarantees us life.

“And you shall guard my statutes and my laws which, when a man — HA-ADAM — does them, he shall LIVE through them, I AM HASHEM” (Leviticus 18:5). 

The SIFRA DEVEY RAV, the oldest rabbinic midrashic commentary on Leviticus, goes to some lengths in commenting on this verse to emphasize that this applies to all mankind. “It does not say ‘which, when a Cohen or Levi or Israelite does them’ but ‘when a MAN — HaAdam — does them’, including a GOY”. Incidentally, this is the exact Hebrew word there. While many gentiles find the word Goy offensive, it should not cause offence. It is simply the standard rabbinic term for one who was not born an Israelite — “gentile” is the Latin equivalent. In the comment quoted here, the Rabbis were EMPHASIZING that the Torah path is the universal path, open to Goy, Israelite, Levite and Cohen, as long as they are willing to follow it in truth.

Only one person can play the role of the High Priest. Thus when studying the portions dealing with the High Priest’s Yom Kippur service, we are onlookers at the ritual. Yet there is also a deep personal message for us. We study this parshah at this time of the year, as we proceed on the fifty-day SEFIRAS HA-OMER count towards our annual peak, the Giving of the Torah on the forthcoming festival of SHAVUOS. The season of Counting the Omer is a time for reflection on who we are and what we are trying to achieve. The High Priest’s entry into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur is a lesson to us to appoint special times for seclusion in order to enter into the personal sanctuary that we must reserve within the depths of our own hearts for true encounter with self and with G-d. One of the best facilitators of this encounter with self and with G-d is the Sweet Singer of Israel, King David. It is customary to give particular emphasis to recital of the Psalms during the Sefirah period, for the psalms are conducive to healing, repentance, atonement and LIFE. 

* * *

The account of the High Priest’s Yom Kippur service is followed by a number of commandments establishing the centrality of the Sanctuary in the G-dly service of the community. The prohibition of animal sacrifices outside the Sanctuary, and later, outside the Temple in Jerusalem, forbids each person building his own personal Temple and Altar, whether literally or in the form of pride and self-worship. There is only one place for a literal animal offering. That is Mount Moriah, where Abraham bound Isaac and where Jacob saw the SULAM, the ladder of ascent, that is SINAI (SULAM and SINAI have the same gematria.) After the wandering in the Wilderness, the final resting place of the Shechinah for all time is in Yerushalayim, Ir HaKodesh, in the Temple on Mount Moriah.

Among the commandments relating to the slaughter of animals is the severe prohibition against eating blood, which is one of the fundamentals of our daily dietary code. The Shechitah method of slaughter ensures that the vital blood of the animal, strictly forbidden for consumption, is shed at the time of slaughter. The removal of the veins of the animal by the butcher and subsequent salting of the meat according to ritual law ensure the removal of the blood from the meat. This is necessary because an animal spirit resides in the blood. If this blood is consumed by man, he falls from his level and is overcome by an animal spirit. The laws of Kashrus are the very foundation of a diet that ensures that we have a human spirit, and that we think and behave like Bney Adam.

* * *

THE LAWS OF FAMILY PURITY

The third and concluding section of the parshah, which contains the above-quoted verse, “he shall LIVE through them”, lays out the basic family law of the Torah, including the fundamental laws of incest and the various forbidden relationships, including mother and son, father and daughter, brother and sister, adultery, forbidden intercourse during monthly period, prohibition of homosexuality, bestiality, etc.

In more innocent times, some people were taught that certain forms of behavior are fundamentally WRONG. The various incest laws of the Torah, which are the Holy root of this code, can be seen in clear letters in our Parshah. But anyone who ventures outside the holy camp of the Torah to observe the “wider” world (such as dating services, Internet chat-rooms, etc.) can rapidly discover that those interested in any or all of the above prohibitions and perversions can quickly get fully involved in a whole world where they are all freely available. What Internet has begun to reveal appears to be only the tip of the iceberg of the actual behavior of a very large part of the human population. Even in Israel vociferous secularists are openly identified with the reformist line that the fundamental statutes governing human relationships may be freely broken. This is precisely what leads to the breakdown of basic human norms that we witness all around the world today in the name of “freedom” and “liberation”.

This is no liberation. The only freedom and life are those promised by the Torah: “And you shall guard My statutes and My laws which when a man will do them, he will live through them, I am HaShem.”

The law of Shabbos and the fundamental laws of the code laid down in our parshah are the foundation of the family life which is the basis for the rearing of a new generation — our children and our children’s children. We are all bound to know the basic laws, and if our paths in life bring us to places where these laws are infringed, we must be properly forewarned. It is most important to teach children with sensitivity how they must take care of themselves against strangers and even with friends and close relatives.

The best ways for Jews and Bney Yisrael, Bney Bris, members of the Covenant of G-d, to maintain health and life is through strengthening ourselves with our families and good friends. This is accomplished when we bond together, as we did on Pesach. Now, after Pesach, we carry through the holiness attained during the festival into the days of the year as we Count the Omer — count the days and learn to value each day, day after day. During the long summer days, we must make time to study G-d’s laws, the laws that bring LIFE, celebrating the Shabbas, the Day of Life. Fathers and sons should take time to study G-d’s Torah together regularly, and so mothers and daughters.

If all Israel would keep two consecutive Shabboses, they would be redeemed.

Shabbat Shalom!!! 

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

ISRAEL TORAH READING FOR SHABBAT MAY 4: KEDOSHIM

Universal Torah commentary
By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum 

Torah Reading: Parshas KEDOSHIM, Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Haftara: Amos 9.7-15 (Sephardi ritual: Ezekiel 20.2-20).

BE HOLY FOR I AM HOLY

This week’s parshah, KEDOSHIM TIHYU, “Be holy.”, was specifically addressed by G-d through His prophet Moses “to all of the assembly of the Children of Israel” (Leviticus 19:2). In the words of the Midrash: “This parshah was addressed to all of the assembly because most of the main bodies of Torah law depend upon it. ‘Be holy’ — be pure (PERUSHIM), separate from the world’s vanities. ‘For Holy am I, HaShem your G-d’: This teaches that if you sanctify yourselves, I consider it as if you had sanctified Me. And if you do not sanctify yourselves, I consider it as if you have not sanctified Me. Could it mean that if you sanctify Me then I am sanctified but if not, then I am not sanctified? No – because it says, ‘.for I am Holy’ — I am in My holiness whether they sanctify me or not.” (Sifra, Kedoshim 1:1).

The code of conduct whose foundations are laid forth in the present parshah gives practical expression to the challenge addressed to the Children of Israel when they assembled at Sinai to receive the Torah. “If you will surely listen to My voice and guard My covenant, you shall be a precious treasure out of all the nations, for the whole earth is Mine. And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a HOLY NATION: these are the words you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Following the account of the Giving of the Torah in YITRO, parshas MISHPATIM laid down many of the basic laws governing man’s behavior with his fellows including the prohibitions of murder, robbery and theft, the laws of restitution for damages, etc. Many of the laws in MISHPATIM are somewhat specialist in the sense that they apply particularly to Dayanim, Torah judges.

However the code laid forth in the present parshah, KEDOSHIM applies to everyone, as it is the basic Torah code for everyday life, starting with the respect due to parents and the observance of the holy Shabbos — which overrides even the former, should any conflict arise.

The next Mitzvah in the parshah — to eat sacrificial portions within their appointed time — cannot unfortunately be observed today in the absence of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, it is worth noting that correct timing is an important part of G-d’s code. Things should be done at their appointed time and not dragged on until all the taste goes out of them. The entire Oral Torah begins with an extensive discussion about the exact time for reciting the evening Shema (Berachos, Chapter 1). It is unfortunate that at times SJT (“Standard Jewish Time”) strays somewhat widely from precision timing. Every moment in life should be treasured, and people’s time should not be wasted for no reason.

The Mitzvos that follow in our parshah are those of giving gifts of produce to the poor, and of basic integrity: “Do not steal, do not deceive and do not lie to one another. Don’t impound your friend’s money, don’t delay payment for services rendered. Don’t unjustly favor either the poor or the rich. don’t hate your brother in your heart, give due reproof, do not take vengeance or nurse a grievance against the children of your people, and love your friend as yourself, for I am HaShem”.

The code of Holiness contained in our parshah is not one that requires its followers to separate from the material world and live apart in ascetic communities such as in monasteries and the like. On the contrary, true KEDUSHAH comes to a person precisely through living his or her life with family, friends and associates, within the wider community and in the workaday world. Making a living within the boundaries of the halachah, taking into account the needs of the needy, dealing correctly in business, abstaining from all theft and corruption, from hatred, vengeance, etc. etc. It is precisely through keeping these commandments in our everyday material lives, while actually dealing with all that we have to deal with each day, that we become purer.

This “purity” is the KEDUSHAH, the “holiness” which is the defining attribute of the path of life set forth in our parshah. In mystical writings, KEDUSHAH is particularly associated with the mental and spiritual faculties of CHOCHMAH, BINAH and DA’AS, while the very foundation for their healthy functioning is the purity of YESOD, moral purity.

In giving us a code of “holiness” that governs the way we do business with one another, how we talk to and about one another, as well as so many other details in our lives in the world, the Torah is teaching us to constantly activate our CHOCHMAH, BINAH and DA’AS powers in everyday life. In the words of the Baal Shem Tov, “An everyday barter exchange also involves the Talmudic law of ‘exchanging an ox for a donkey’.” In other words, everything we do, including in our business lives, is a G-d-given opportunity for discovering buried “sparks” of holiness within the very situations that confront us. We need to activate our minds to recognize the holy potential contained within everyday affairs. Nothing is more evanescent than today: the day is quickly gone. But if we are alert to the mitzvahs we can perform every day, particularly in the realm of “love your friend as yourself” — which includes all forms of kindness — we gather great treasures day by day, all of them stored in G-d’s memory, where nothing is forgotten.

* * *

THE FOUNDATION

As mentioned above, the spiritual traits of CHOCHMAH, BINAH and DA’AT — the ability to perceive G-dliness and to grasp the divine wisdom — are bound up with YESOD, the “Foundation” — sexual purity. This is the subject of the latter part of this week’s parshah. Thus the Torah Code of Holiness in daily life — KEDOSHIM — comes “sandwiched” between the concluding part of the previous parshah, giving the fundamental incest prohibitions, and the concluding part of this week’s parshah, setting forth the penalties for their infringement. This underlines the fact that the true KEDUSHAH depends upon observance of the Torah moral code.

A fundamental principle of Torah law is that wherever a punishment is laid down, the prohibition is also explicitly stated in the Torah. This explains why the incest prohibitions in KEDOSHIM appear to duplicate those at the end of ACHAREY MOS. In fact, there is no duplication: the laws of ACHAREY MOS state the prohibitions, while the laws of KEDOSHIM state the penalties for their infringement.

At the head of the list of forbidden practices is the giving of seed to Molech (Lev. 20:3). This is explained as a form of idolatry assumed by many to be defunct today in which a father would give over some of his children to be walked by priests through fire as a form of initiation and consecration.

Actual Molech-worship within the technical parameters of the term may or may not be defunct, yet there are indications that various kinds of rituals involving children including pedophilia and actual Satan-worship are practiced in this day and age in many different places in the world. For example, in Australia, a woman who won a national award for championing victims of childhood sexual abuse is now reporting a major cover-up of pedophiliac-Satanic activities in the country involving leading politicians, media and business interests, the police and the underworld.

What innocent parents may not realize when they submit their children to television, video, magazines and the other communications media of contemporary society is that they may also be exposing those children to a kind of Molech-worship. Thus most secular TV and other media show images of the uncovered human form, many unashamedly erotic, without the slightest compunction. Today images of the uncovered form are so universal that few people can remember the world of a mere fifty years ago, when indecency was still considered shocking.

With all this suggestion and blatant eroticism around them, it is hardly surprising that many teenagers growing up in a secular environment are deeply obsessed with their bodies and their sexuality. The place of the body, sexuality and romance in the mind of many teenage girls, for example, can be seen from a quick survey of the literature they read. What the popular literature does not spell out is the personal pain and agony of so many helpless victims of this culture and their problems of depression, anorexia, substance abuse, thoughts of suicide, etc.

For parents who seek to bring up children who will become and remain true Israelites all their lives, there is no option today but to actively seek out ways of separating them culturally from the secular mainstream. Ideally, the purest environment for young Jewish souls to grow up in is one that is Television-Free from the youngest age. It is of great importance to protect children for as long as possible from the assault on their consciousness by the unhealthy images and sounds of the contemporary secular media. Only with the power of deep inner conviction together with imaginative educational methods is it possible to fire young people with the zeal for the Torah that alone can immunize them from the evil influences of the prevalent culture which sooner or later they will have to face for themselves.

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum