Parashat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Yitzhak Mordecai Ben Rose Nizha by Joe Dwek and Family

Parashat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Yom Haatzmaut...

This past week we celebrated 72 years since the Independance of our homeland in the modern State of ISRAEL after 2000 years in Diaspora. This victory in 1948 could only have been accomplished by the hand of HaShem which displayed to the world that this was nothing less than a miracle! Since that time until today the Jewish people living in ISRAEL have lost about 24,000 souls to several wars defending its borders and countless suicide bombings. Ironically 24,000 is the same amount of students that Rabbi Akiva lost on these days of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot. Therefore it is the time each year that we reform our character through the study of Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) because as the Gemara in Yevamot states, that the students died because Rabbi Akiva’s students didn’t give each other the proper respect to one another. This is something that we cannot understand today since we know these Rabbi’s were very great and were at a very high level. What we do know is that we don’t have a Bet Hamikdash yet and through treating our fellow Jews and all human beings with the proper respect is our obligation and will be a Kiddush Hashem to Am Yisrael and ultimately will bring the Mashiach very soon in our days! Amen!

The Deaths of Aharon’s Sons

This week’s parasha is called Acharei Mot and begins with the passuk, “Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe acharei mot shenei b’nei Aharon bekarbatam lifnei Hashem vayamutu — Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they came before Hashem, and they died.”

This incident of Aharon’s two sons dying actually occurred in parashat Shemini. This week’s parasha brings up the death of Aharon’s two sons again, and it’s even named Acharei Mot after this tragic event.

Nadab and Abihu were two great tzaddikim. According to Chazal, the sin they committed that caused their death was that they brought a foreign incense into the Mishkan without discussing it with each other — but more importantly, without the consent of their rabbi, Moshe Rabenu. According to Rashbam, Moshe was waiting to bring incense only after the descent of the heavenly fire, because he wanted the first incense to be kindled with Hashem’s own fire to bring about a kiddush Hashem! Nadab and Abihu did not realize this, and rushed to bring incense with their own fire. This teaches us an important lesson. As much as one thinks he may know a certain halacha, he should always consult with his rabbi before he does something that could be questionable or even forbidden.

An obvious question is why this incident is brought down here in this parasha, when it actually happened earlier. The answer is in the next passuk, “And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Speak to Aharon, your brother; he shall not come at all times into the kodesh kodashim, so that he [Aharon] should not die.’” Rashi explains this with a parable of a person who is sick and goes to the doctor. The doctor warns his patient to stay away from certain foods and get the proper rest in order to recover quickly. If the doctor scares the patient, telling him that he could die if he doesn’t adhere to his instructions, the patient will be more likely to listen and follow the doctor’s orders. Rabbi Twersky uses the example of a person who continues to abuse drugs until he’s warned that if he doesn’t stop taking drugs, they could kill him the way they have killed others he knew personally.

But why is the Torah compelled to use these strong words — “don’t do it or you’ll die” — with Aharon, who was the kohen gadol and equal in spirituality to Moshe? Is there the slightest chance that Aharon would not obey Moshe’s instructions, even without the reminder of Nadab and Abihu’s deaths?

The Torah is teaching us an important lesson. As long as we inhabit our physical body, we will always have strong drives for forbidden things. Even Aharon could need to be taught a painful lesson in order to be able to overcome his yetzer hara. How much more so should we, who are at a much lower level of spirituality than Aharon, realize the danger of ignoring the consequences of prohibited acts.

Getting Rid of Baggage

The perek then continues to list all the forbidden relationships that we must abstain from. The Torah goes on at some length, describing each one of these prohibited relationships. These specific practices are mentioned because they were common in Egypt, where the Israelites lived for 210 years. When people live someplace for a long period of time, the foreign ideologies of that place become deeply ingrained in them. That’s why the Torah had to make such a point of saying that all of these practices are forbidden.

This is similar to what has been going on in American society today. Ask your parents and grandparents what life was like in the old days. America had moral values, and the people of this country were much more modest and had a better work ethic, but over time those morals and ethics have eroded to what we are experiencing today. We cannot be fooled into thinking that our environment doesn’t have an effect on us, because it definitely does. That’s why we must live within the confines of our communities, to make sure that our families are protected from the foreign elements of today’s society. This is the lesson we learn from our ancestors: When B’nei Yisrael left the decadent society of Egypt, they also had to shed their baggage, so it would not accompany them as they headed to take up residence in their new homeland of Eretz Yisrael.

Staying Busy During a Pandemic

At the end of this week’s parasha, perek 18 opens with an introduction to the prohibition of immoral acts. “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to B’nei Yisrael and say to them: I am Hashem, your G-d. Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions. Carry on My laws and safeguard My decrees to follow them; I am Hashem, your G-d! You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which a man shall carry out and live by them — I am Hashem!’”

When the Torah gives us such a powerful introduction like the one above, we must take heed, because the Torah doesn’t waste words, and we must be aware that what is to follow is of the utmost importance! The Torah mentions these two places, Egypt and Canaan, for a reason. They were both places of affluence.

Affluence leads to spare time, and when people have excess money and don’t need to work so hard, they have free time, which leads them to sin. When a person fills his time with learning or working hard, there is no time to sin. This also applies to the opposite of affluence. When people are unemployed — either because there is an economic crisis, such as the Great Depression, or during unexpected times like these when everyone is required to stay at home because of the pandemic — they are much more likely to get into trouble.

We have seen this happen over and over throughout history. When a person is employed, he has more self-respect, he has a goal, a structure, a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, and interactions with other responsible people. Boredom leads to improper behavior. During these unprecedented times, we must stay busy and fill our days with positive tasks. Attend virtual Torah classes, spend tech-free time with our children, do hessed for those in need, help our wives around the house. Hashem fiercely warns us in this very parasha about the dangers of boredom!

Kiddush Hashem

There is a story about the beauty of doing hessed like a Jew. There once was a woman who passed away who was in need of an advocate. The police determined there would need to be an autopsy on this met, because she was found alone and didn’t have family. Rabbi Bender from Long Island took it upon himself to advocate for this person and call the local investigator for help. The rabbi explained that according to Jewish law, the body can’t be disturbed and they have to do everything they can to avoid the autopsy. The police investigator was extremely kind and sensitive, listening intently to Rabbi Bender’s concerns. He did everything he could, and he pulled strings and helped give this woman a proper Jewish burial.

Rabbi Bender asked the police investigator why he was so helpful and sensitive, when he really didn’t need to be. The man answered, “Two years ago, I was stranded on a highway in New Jersey with a flat tire without a phone. Suddenly, a car pulled up, and a man got out. He had curls on his sideburns and he was wearing a black overcoat and a skullcap. I immediately recognized him as an Orthodox Jew. He asked me if I needed any help, and I told him I had a flat tire and I’d be so grateful if I could borrow his phone and call a tow truck. The man waved his hand and said, ‘Let me take a look.’ After my embarrassed protests, he bent down and assessed, he then went back to his trunk and brought out a jack, a spare tire, and some other tools. He immediately got to work! I couldn’t believe my eyes! When he finished I reached into my pocket to give him a reward, but he waved his hands away again and said, ‘Absolutely not!’ I asked him why he’s doing this and how I could repay him. He said, ‘This is who we are, we’re here to help!’ I was so awestruck and impressed, I will never forget what that Jewish man did for me. When you called me and explained that you needed help upholding Jewish law, I immediately thought back to what was done for me. Of course I wanted to help! It became so personal for me.”

This man from Chaverim on the highway did what many Jews would do. He performed an act of kindness purely for the sake of doing it, without expecting anything in return. He thought he was changing a stranger’s flat tire. Little did he know, he helped to get a Jewish woman a proper, dignified burial.

Hashem is Watching

The first passuk in Kedoshim begins, “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of B’nei Yisrael and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy.’”

In the previous parshiot we learned about the animals that we’re not allowed to eat. Then we learned about prohibited relations and immoral acts. The Torah prohibits all of these things so that our neshamot won’t become contaminated. A fringe benefit of observing these prohibitions is that they train us in the practice of self-discipline, which every one of us needs to live a successful and productive life.

Now we continue to learn what the nation that represents Hashem must do, and how we must act amongst each other in order to sanctify Hashem’s name. We learn how we must deal honestly with our fellow Jew and non-Jew alike in all of our business dealings. This is the theme of this week’s parasha, where Hashem gives the Jewish nation all the laws that we must adhere to for a healthy and fulfilling life.

Most of the decrees are between man and his fellow man. We are commanded, “You shall not steal. You shall not deny falsely. You shall not lie, one man to his fellow. You shall not swear falsely by My Name, thereby profaning the Name of your G-d. I am Hashem. You shall not oppress your fellow. You shall not rob. The hired worker’s wage shall not remain with you overnight until morning. You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall fear your G-d. I am Hashem.”

We may think that these acts can be hidden from our fellow man. You can cheat your neighbor and he may not be aware of it. You can curse the deaf and he won’t hear you. But according to Rashi, in addition to the literal meaning that you may not put a stumbling block in front of a blind man, the verse also allegorically means that you may not give bad advice to an unsuspecting person. The message of this commandment is that we are responsible for the welfare of others and may not do anything to undermine it.

At the end of the passuk again it says: “You shall fear your G-d...I am Hashem.” So in these pesukim Hashem is saying, “Don’t think that you’re doing something that I don’t see, because I see everything that you do.” Hashem sees all, and we will eventually answer to Him after 120 years!

And So Are Your Kids!

The juxtaposition in the commandment, “You shall revere your father and mother, and My Sabbath you shall observe — I am Hashem, your G-d,” tells us, according to the rabbis, that if a parent commands a child to desecrate the Shabbat, or do anything else against the Torah, the parent must not be obeyed. This can cause confusion for children if their parents are not on the same page with each other or the yeshivah that they’re sending their children to. In terms of our children’s hinuch, we may be doing them a very big disservice if at home we don’t take over where the school left off. Children from a very young age mimic what they see at home. So as parents, grandparents, and teachers we must be very careful with that responsibility and cherish every minute of it, as our children are growing and maturing day by day.

A Word on Coronavirus

The official COVID-19 lockdown started March 23rd, and will likely start to peak around May 1st. That is EXACTLY 40 days. The Latin root of the word "quarantine" is "forty". What does the Torah say about 40? The mabul lasted 40 days. The Jews wandered the desert for 40 years. Moshe waited on Har Sinai 40 days to receive the Torah. As we learned in last week’s parasha, a woman must rest 40 days after giving birth, after she is pregnant for a gestation period of 40 weeks.

It is said that the number 40 represents change. A fundamental change will happen after these 40 days in isolation. Please know that during this quarantine, rivers are cleaning up, vegetation is growing, the air is becoming cleaner because of less pollution, there is less theft and murder. Healing of our earth is happening, families are getting more in touch and connected, better appreciating loved ones and what they have, and most importantly, people are turning to Hashem. We are in the year 2020, and 20 + 20 = 40.

Lastly, 20/20 means perfect vision. May our sight focus on Hashem and living according to His commandments. May these days of quarantine bring spiritual renewal to our souls, our nation, and our world.

May we all be very careful in our dealings with people so that we can sanctify the name of Hashem! May we continue to keep the laws of kashrut, family purity, and modest dress as reminders of our status as a holy nation. May we continue to stay busy during quarantine with positive tasks. And may we continue to represent the Jewish nation by performing acts of kindness to those in need like the brave healthcare workers, Hatzalah, Shomrim, Chaverim, and countless other people donating money, food, plasma, and time during this difficult period.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

· What would we do differently if someone we respected was watching us?

Le’ilui Nishmat...

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah L'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or In Honor of someone, can email me at jrahmey@rahmeyfinancial.com.

Checks can be made out to “Mikdash Melech” for $101 and mail to 1326 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11230 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah Food for Shabbat”)

Anyone interested in past parshiot please go to the website ParashaPerspective.org

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah L'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or

In Honor of someone, can email me at jrahmey@rahmeyfinancial.com.

Checks can be made out to “Mikdash Melech” for $101 and mail to 1326 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11230 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah Food for Shabbat”)

Anyone interested in past parshiot please go to the website ParashaPerspective.org