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Acharei Mot Kdoshim – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

Aharei Mot-Kedoshim: Sunday: Focus on Your Lot

Yom Kippur is a special time to atone for sins of illicit relations. It is not for naught that the Torah reading in the Afternoon Services of Yom Kippur is from the section in the Torah portion of  Aharei Mot that revolves around illicit relations.

The rectification for the blemish of illicit relations begins with the proper construction of the family unit. Thus, the High Preist must be married, “And he will atone for himself and for his home (his home is his wife)”. Our Torah portion begins “after the death of the two sons of Aaron”. Nadav and Avihu did not marry. They died when they approached the holy place in an unbalanced manner (as we learned in the Torah portion of Shemini). But you, Aaron, may enter, while your wife is waiting for you outside. This rectified situation atones for the Nation. “ "בְּזֹאת יָבֹא אַהֲרֹן אֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ"/ With this (b’zot) Aaron shall come to the holy”. The word for “with this”, b’zot , is in feminine form, alluding to the wife of Aaron.

With this (b’zot) Aaron shall come’ alludes to the well-known phrase in Psalms, "בְּזֹאת אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ"/”In this (b’zot) I will put my trust”, which in turn alludes to the well-known phrase in Proverbs, בָּטַח בָּהּ לֵב בַּעְלָהּ/ The heart of her husband trusts in her. (The numerical value of בְּזֹאת אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ "/”In this (b’zot) I will put my trust”equals, Malchut, Kingdom. Women are the aspect of Malchut). The wife of the High Preist affords him complete trust that Yom Kippur will atone for Israel (according to the Sages, the very day of Yom Kippur atones for the evil – even without our own input). All High Priests are referred to as Aaron the Preist and by default, all their wives are referred to as Elisheva, the wife of Aaron. In gematria: The numerical value of אלישבע אשת אהרן כהן גדול/ Elisheva the wife of Aharon the High Priest equals three times בזאת אני בוטח/ In this (b’zot) I will put my trust” .

One of the special things about the service of Yom Kippur in the Holy Temple is the casting of lots:”And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for G-d and the other lot for the wilderness”. One may think that the outcome of the lottery is by chance. But in truth, it emanates from a very lofty place: the selection made by G-d. "בַּחֵיק יוּטַל אֶת הַגּוֹרָל וּמֵה' כָּל מִשְׁפָּטוֹ/”A person casts a lot close to his own chest, but G-d decides upon the portion that each person receives”. (Proverbs 16/33). This is the manifestation of G-d’s selection of the Nation of Israel, whereby all of its sins are cast away to the wilderness.

The lottery also has an essential connection to the rectification of the blemish of illicit relations: Every person has his own lot, and his wife is his lot as ordained in Heaven. בחיק יוטל את הגורל/ A person casts a lot close to his own chestalludes to אשת חיקךyour wife who lies close to your chest.  Don’t look astray to other places. Rather, remain focused on your own good lot. (From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Amudeha Shiv’ah)

Aharei Mot-Kedoshim: Monday: Only Once

Summing up the service of Yom Kippur, the Torah says, “And it will be for you for a statute for eternity to atone for the Children of Israel from all their sin, once in the year…” Yom Kippur happens only once a year. This is particularly highlighted on the backdrop of Rosh Hashanah, which is two days long. Even in the Diaspora, where all the holidays are observed for two days, Yom Kippur is one day only. Above and beyond the revealed halachic reason, there is a deep reason for this: The atonement of Yom Kippur comes from a lofty place that is above all doubt.

Just as the lottery determines which of the two goats will go to which fate, on Yom Kippur it is possible to determine the outcome of all doubt and to attain certain atonement. In the books of Kabbalah it is written that Yom Kippurim is K-Purim, like Purim. Just as on Purim, we erase the name of Amalek, the numerical value of which equals safek/doubt, so on Yom Kippurim we rise above all doubt. (There is also a deep connection between the lottery of Yom Kippurim and the lottery that Haman cast in the Purim story).

Of the atonement of Yom Kippur, the Torah says in this portion, “לפני הויתטהרו /Before G-d you shall be purified”. The first letters of the three Hebrew words, לית , allude to a unique expression of the sages of the Mesorah (linguistic tradition): When we want to denote that a certain word in a certain form appears only once in the Bible, we say "לֵית"  – there is nothing else like it. This is the highest, incomparable level, above and beyond any type of division or duality, alluded to in the acronym of the three words about Yom Kippur from this Torah portion.

In the Gemara it say that the Satan has control over all the days of the year – almost. He has permission  to prosecute and to entice people to sin every day of the year – except for Yom Kippur. This is alluded to in the numerical value of Satan, which equals 364, the days of the year minus Yom Kippur. In other words, Yom Kippur is above time. This is the power of teshuvah, return to G-d, which can work retroactively to rectify what has been done in the past, until intentional sins literally transform into merits. We can say of those who return to G-d (and we are all returnees to G-d) that “there is no order of before and after in the Torah” – the order of time is not preeminent. It is possible to skip above time and to rectify all that has been done in the past.

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Tuesday: Holy Hunting

And a person from the Children of Israel or of the stranger who lives in their midst, who will hunt the hunting of a(n) (kosher) animal or a bird that will be eaten, he should pour out its blood and cover it with dust”. The mitzvah of covering the blood is practiced in every slaughter of animal or bird, but the Torah here refers specifically to hunting the animal down (before it is ritually slaughtered).

In the Torah, hunting is the practice of evil people, like Nimrod and Esau. They are the people with the lust for spilling blood. On the other hand, Jacob is “a simple man, who sits in the tent”, who excels at the attribute of compassion. He does not go out to hunt just for enjoyment. If he nonetheless hunts, it is for a purpose. In that case, Jews cover the blood – showing that there is some embarrassment involved with spilling blood, which we do not desire in and of itself.

Furthermore: When a person is embarrassed, his face whitens (as in the concept, “to cause his friend’s face to whiten”), and the natural red color, which stems from normal blood circulation, drains from his face. Covering the blood of the animal or bird alludes to the attribute of positive embarrassment.

Any consumption of meat has some embarrassment associated with it, a reminder of the sin of Adam – the result of which is that we are allowed to eat meat.  Embarrassment notwithstanding, we do not have to be vegetarians. The consumption of meat for the health of the body so that we may serve G-d is positive. The tzaddik knows how to do so for the sake of Heaven, even transforming it into a type of offering. The word tzaddik/ צדיק begins with the letters צד, which means, “hunt”. The tzaddik knows how to hunt in holiness, like Isaac, who sent his son to hunt so that a spirit of holiness would rest upon him.

 (Based on an essay in Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Eitz Pri)

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Wednesday: How to Merit the Land

“And you shall safeguard My statutes and  My laws and you shall not do of all these abominations, the citizen and the stranger who lives in your midst. For all of these abominations, the people of the land before you did them, and the Land was sullied. And the Land shall not expel you when you make it impure, as it expelled the nation before you.”

The Torah connects between safeguarding the laws of improper relations with the merit of living in the Land of Israel. We can understand this unique bond according to the Biblical image of the relationship between the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel as the relationship between a man and woman. “As a young man unites with a virgin, so your children will unite with you.”  On an inner level, a person who transgresses the prohibitions of forbidden sexual relations betrays the true, consummate and committed relationship between man and woman. By the same measure, he does not understand that the relation between the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel is a consummate relationship – the completeness of the Nation and the completeness of the Land.

Just as the sanctity of marriage does not allow for two men to G-d forbid “share” one woman, so it is impossible for the Land of Israel to be divided into “two states for two peoples”. The Land of Israel is one Land for one Nation- the completeness of the Nation in the completeness of the Land with the completeness of the Torah.

 (From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Hameimad Hapnimi)


Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Thursday: Who is the Person who Desires Life

 “You shall not go as a peddler of gossip in your nation, you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor, I am Havayah.”  The Chofetz Chaim counts ten types of forbidden speech, from which a person must beware: Evil speech, gossip, falsehood, flattery, foolishness, deception, shaming, pride, contention, anger.

According to the inner dimension of the Torah, these ten types of forbidden speech parallel the ten sefirot, the ten basic powers of the soul. In short: pride is a blemish in the attribute of Chochmah, wisdom. Anger is a blemish in the attribute of Binah, understanding. Shaming is connected to Da’at, knowledge. Flattery is a flaw in the attribute of Chesed, lovingkindness. Foolishness is a flaw in the attribute of Gevurah, might. Evil speech is the opposite of Tiferet, beauty (condemnation instead of glorification). Contention is a blemish in the attribute of Netzach, victory (negative quarreling). Gossip-peddling is a flaw of Hod, splendor, as we will explain. Falsehood is a blemish in Yesod, foundation (which is called “the symbol of truth”). And deception is in Malchut, kingdom. We can also add idle talk, which is a flaw in the attribute of the superconscious Crown, to this list.

Let us focus on our verse,  “You shall not go as a peddler of gossip in your nation…”  Gossip peddling is connected to walking, which we can see from the similarity of the roots of the two words: רכל/(gossip) peddling and רגל/ foot (as Rashi explains)Walking is action that is done by habit (hergel, cognate to regel/foot). It is automatic and instinctive and thus corresponds to the innate dimension of the soul, the lower sefirot of the powers of action – particularly to the sefirah of Hod (which parallels the left leg in the body). The rectified inner, soul dimension of Hod is sincerity as in the verse, “He who walks with sincerity walks with confidence”, with acknowledgement, thanksgiving and devotion.

Gossip peddling is “counterfeit sincerity”. It is when a person – while figuratively walking, peddles gossip as if he were just innocently talking, with no harm intended.

The flaw of Hod is connected to the spilling of blood. If we re-arrange the letters of Hod/ הודwe get דוה /ill/menstrual bleeding (as we learned in the Torah portion of Metzora). Thus, gossip peddling brings about bloodshed: “You shall not go as a peddler of gossip in your nation, you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”   

Master of the Universe, may it be Your will, merciful and gracious G-d, that you will merit me today and every day to guard my mouth and tongue” .

(From the essay “Safeguarding the Covenant of the Tongue” in Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Malchut Yisrael. See the entire prayer there.)

Acharei Mot – Kedoshim: Friday: The Modern Molech

      ”And to the Children of Israel say, ‘Any person of the Children of Israel or of the foreigner who lives in Israel, who will give his offspring to the Molech, he will be put to death, the people of the land will stone him.”

There are different opinions as to what the worship of the Molech, to which the Torah relates with severity, actually was. In any event, it seems that the worship included blind admiration of the concept of kingdom. The word Molech, itself, is cognate to Malchut/kingdom.

If so, the modern version of the worship of the Molech is extreme fascism, which says that the king-kingdom is above all. The worship of kingdom is so absolute that the individual is willing to sacrifice his life and the lives of his family members on its altar. He is drunk and desensitized, as if there was no essential value to the life of the individual, G-d forbid. Self-sacrifice is a great and exalted trait, but the worship of the Molech is detested and abhorrent.

We must reiterate the clear law, “If a king decrees to nullify a mitzvah, we do not listen to him”. It is important to fulfill the directives of the king (and everything that pertains to the “law of the land” in general), but it is important to delineate the boundaries of compliance, which determine that the Torah is above the king. Otherwise, the king/melech will turn into Molech.

And now for a beautiful gematria allusion: The prophecies of Moses are unique in their expression, "זה הדבר אשר צוה הוי'" /“This is the thing that G-d commanded”.  That expression equals התורה מעל המלך/The Torah is above the king.

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