Dvar Torah Parshat Acharei-Mot & Kedoshim 5775 2015

Hashem instructs Moshe to tell the people: כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ …לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן …, , “Do not perform the practices of the Land of Egypt…and do not perform the practices of the Land of Canaan…” (Lev. 18,3) The caution refers, of course, to the evil practices of these nations that are diametrically opposed to Jewish practice.

There is, however, another aspect of these instructions. We are admonished to not imitate their practices even if they are not evil. We have a different way of life that creates among us a form of holy existence. It is not only the avoidance of wrong doing that results in this sacred and devout way of living. It is also due to the positive things we are instructed to do.

Before we start the morning service we recite daily some of these great deeds. Among them are: honoring one’s parents, acts of kindness, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, escorting the dead, and many others.

Avoiding evil acts is one aspect of righteous living, but positive acts is really what helps an individual and a people reach true sacredness.

Dvar Torah Shabbat Yom Kippur 5775 2014

The Torah reading on Yom Kippur comes from the Portion Achre Mot. We are told that on the tenth day of the seventh month, which we call Tishre, we are to celebrate the day of Yom Kippur. On this day: תְּעַנּוּ אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, “…you shall afflict your souls.” (Lev. 16,29) We are all familiar with the five afflictions of Yom Kippur, the prohibition of eating and drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations.

Rabbi Soloveitchik refers to a Rashi on this passage in the Talmud. Rashi mentions another affliction, preparing salad to be eaten after the fast. Rashi states that coming in contact with food and resisting the temptation of eating it is a form of affliction.

Rabbi Soloveitchik relates a story apropos to this Rashi. An esteemed Rabbi was once invited during the break in the services on Yom Kippur to come to the home of a member of the famous Rothschild family. When the Rabbi came into the dining room he saw the table was set and the host poured wine into the Kiddush cup. Rothschild proceeded with the following: “Master of the Universe, today is Yom Tov and we should make Kiddush. However, since it is Yom Kippur and the Torah says we must afflict our souls, we shall forego the meal, return to the synagogue, recite Vidui and pray.”

It is obvious that besides the five afflictions Chazal mention there are other things that can also cause pain and discomfort. The purpose of these restrictions is to create in us a feeling of unease so that we do Teshuvah or repentance.

Dvar Torah Parshat Achre Mot-Kedoshim 5772 2012

The Portion of Kedoshim tells us that we must be holy. Just exactly how are we supposed to act to be holy? The Torah tells us how by explaining all the different moral and ethical laws we should follow. Unfortunately, there are people who think that by cutting oneself off from the community and living a secluded life one can become holy.

The famous Rabbi Yonatan Eibschitz once encountered such a person. This man had shut himself off from the community and did not want to have anything to do with it. He did not attend general meetings that dealt with problems the public faced; he did not participate in any charitable collections; and he did not feel that he wanted to be spiritually contaminated by getting involved with civic troubles.

The Rabbi asked to see him. When he discussed with him his behavior he pointed out that the Midrash tells us that when Moshe expounded this particular section of the Torah telling us to be holy, he did so publically. In the language of the Midrash: פרשה זו נאמרה בהקהל, “This portion (of Kedoshim) was said publically”. (Vayikra Raba, 24,5) Why so, asked the Rabbi. Simply, he answered, because being holy does not mean isolating yourself from the community. It means being part of the community and dealing ethically with the community. It means living a normal life but with moral principles and with honest conduct.

Dvar Torah Parshat Achrei Mot 5771 2011

It is indeed a desirable trait to keep oneself spiritually holy at all times. One should study, pray, and do Mitzvot to the best of their ability. This is an admirable characteristic. Aharon the Kohen Gadol was probably one of the holiest men in Jewish history.

Yet the Torah in today’s portion restricts him in a sense from pursuing this conduct exclusively. Hashem warns Aharon: VE’AL YAVO VECHOL ET EL HAKODESH, “…he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary…”. (Lev. 16,2) In a homiletical sense the Torah is saying that Aharon should not be constantly engaged in spiritual matters.

A spiritual leader must be ready to step down to the level of the average person and get to understand their needs and their hopes and aspirations. Not everyone can reach the heights of a spiritual leader and it is thus incumbent upon the leader to step down and see how the other person lives and what their spiritual needs are.

Hashem tells Aharon the Kohen Gadol that you must not always be engulfed in spirituality but must be able to see things in this mundane world and deal with them appropriately.

Dvar Torah Parshat Achre Mot-Kedoshim 2009 5769 דבר תורה פרשת אחרי מות – קדושים

Hashem relays the message through Moshe to Bnei Israel and says: USHMARTEM ET CHUKOTAI VE’ET MISHPATAI ASHER YA’ASEH OTAM HA’ADAM VACHAI BAHEM…, “You shall observe My decrees and My laws which man shall carry out and by which he shall live…”. (Lev. 18,5) It should be noted that the Torah does not say a Jew should carry them out but rather a man should carry them out and live. This means that it refers to all mankind.

CHUKIM or decrees are generally explained as those dictates for which we have no explanation or understanding and observe them because we are commanded to do so. These decrees are obligatory only on Jews. MISHPATIM or laws, on the other hand, are dictates for which we can understand their purpose and all society must abide by them. They are not directives targeting only Jews.

There is, however, a difference between the observance of laws by non-Jews and Jews. A Jew observes them because it is a command from Hashem. A non Jew observes them because of what is known as a “social contract”, an agreement among people to observe them in order for a society to be able to survive.

That is what the Pasuk means when it says a “man shall carry out and by which he shall live”. All men carry out the laws so that society can survive but a Jew carries them out because he is commanded by Hashem to do so.

Dvar Torah Achre Mot – Kedoshim 2007 – 5767 דבר תורה אחרי מות – קדושים

The Torah tells us that we should not follow MA’ASEH MITZRAYAIM nor MA’ASEH ERETZ CANAAN, the ways of MITZRAYAIM nor the ways of CANAAN. (Lev. 18,3) The obvious meaning is not to pursue their idolatrous practices.

Someone, however, gave it a different twist. The Jews of Egypt got used to living in Galut and were enjoying their life there although they were subjected to slavery. When it came to leave the land and return to the land of Canaan, their ancestors’ land, most did not want to leave and had to be taken out by Hashem.

This is what the Pasuk means. Don’t follow the ways of Galut and become so entrenched that you truly enjoy its pleasures and consider it your permanent home. Don’t abandon your hope of returning to the land of your forefathers until, Heaven forbid, you are forced to leave.

It is not feasible nor expected that every Jew should drop everything and make his way to Israel. There are, indeed, many concerns and consequences that must be considered. However, every Jew should have a plan, a realistic plan with a real time schedule, with a true determination for making the move and for considering Israel the permanent home of a Jew.

Dvar Torah Achre Mot – Kedoshim 2006 – 5766 דבר תורה אחרי מות – קדושים

The Torah says: ET MISHPATAI TA’ASU … LALECHET BAHEM, “carry out my laws … to walk in them”. (Lev. 18,4) To walk in them is a strange expression. Yet the entire code of Jewish law is based on this expression. We call the Jewish law HALACHAH which means walking.

The use of this expression is not arbitrary but is a lesson in itself. We are being told that when it comes to Jewish law we cannot stand still. We must always be moving forward. We must on one hand always be studying the law so that we move ahead in its understanding and on the other hand we must always be striving to fulfill more of the laws. We cannot stand still, for standing still is really moving backwards.

One cannot say, I studied through the entire Shas and Shulchan Aruch. What more need I study? One cannot say I live a truly Jewish life and keep all the laws what more can I do. The answer is that there is always more to learn and there is always more that one can do.

When we stop moving forward we are passed by and in effect we are really moving backwards. One must always strive to go forward.