Aharey Mot 5769

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Bekah Hakimian

May 2nd, 2009/8 Iyar 5769

This Shabbat we read another combined parsha, Parashat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim. We begin with Achrei Mot, which means “After death,” which is referring to Nadav and Abihu’s death, who are the sons of Aaron. God tells Moshe to instruct Aaron not to come freely into the Holy of Holies. Only once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, is the High Priest to enter the shrine behind the curtain. This is the day on which atonement is to be made for all of the sins of the Israelites. No work is to be done on this day and on it the Israelites are to practice self-denial. Is this sounding at all familiar? Achrei Mot details the coming together of the holiest person among the Israelites, the High Priest; the holiest place, the Holy of Holies; and the holiest day of the calendar year, Yom Kippur. On the Day of Atonement, or the original Yom Kippur, the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies and he is to wear plain linen robes and he is to make expiation for himself and for his household and then for all of the Israelites.

Then the High Priest is to take two male goats and, by lot, mark one for God and one for Azazel. He is to slaughter the goat marked for God as a sin offering and use its blood to cleanse the Tent of Meeting, the altar and the Holy of Holies of the sins of the Israelites over the goat for Azazel and the goat is to be set free in the wilderness. Later on this Parsha, Moshe is told further to instruct the Israelites that all meat is to be slaughtered in a ritual way before the Tent of Meeting. The people are reminded not to consume blood, for blood represents life itself, and not to eat of an animal that has died or been torn by wild beasts.

A wide variety of meanings have been applied to the goat marked for Azazel. The name Azazel may drive from a rebellious angel. Or perhaps Azazel took on a demonic personification as a result of the associations of the word in this portion. Some scholars believe that Azazel is not a name at all, but a compound or contracted noun meaning “the goal that goes,” a “wild goat,” “dismissal,” or perhaps the name of the mountain over which, in later times, the goat was thrown. As the biblical text explains, the goat would “bear” the sins of the Israelites symbolized by red wool tied between its horns. The goat would be given to a specially chosen man who would lead it into a desolate area. The goat was allowed to escape into the wilderness. From this idea of the escaping goat, who bears other’s sins came the term “scapegoat.”

The second part of this double parsha, Kedoshim, contains the bulk of the “Holiness Code,” characterized by the commandment You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. The many mitzvot found here call for striving for holiness in all areas of life – ritual (You shall keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, 19:30), civil (You shall not falsify measures of length, weight, or capacity, 19:35), and ethical (You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old, 19:32). Its best-known commandment is Love your fellow as yourself and don’t insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind. Israel is told to observe all of God’s laws and rules. God tells Moses to warn the people against child sacrifice and witchcraft and divination. The laws of forbidden sexual relationships are repeated. Similarly, God warns Israel not to follow the practices of the Canaanite nations and to remember that God has set them apart to be a holy people.

Kedoshim is the plural form of the word kadosh, holy. Holiness is the key that unifies the diverse laws detailed in this portion. It is through the observance of these laws that the Israelites are to be holy as God is holy. Holy can mean many things – sacred, unique, divine, complete, etc. In one sense, holy can also mean to be separate from. The word Holy can also be defined as “perfect in a moral sense; pure at heart: religious: set apart to sacred use.” From the Torah, we learn that holiness is not to be achieved by withdrawal from daily life, but rather by active participation in it.

How can we personalize this parsha? According to Kedoshim, how does the Torah want us to treat the disadvantage? The handicapped? The elderly? Strangers? What are the implications of these laws for today? USY, my challenge to you is: Every day, try to do at least one mitzvah that can have an impact on someone around you. Holiness is easily attainable in the sense that one little act of loving-kindness can bring us closer to that goal of holiness. Whether it is being nice to a sibling or simply holding the door for a stranger, small things can go a long way. Shabbat Shalom!