Parashat Acharei Mot / Kedoshim
Dedicated Le'ilui Nishmat Chana bat Leah, Arlene Tebele Braha A'H by Bobby, Amin, Lilian and Raymond Adjmi
Parashat Acharei Mot - Kedoshim 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.” As we learned two weeks ago, Aharon’s 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 the Death for this tragic event. Nadav and Avihu 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! Nadav and Avihu 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 Nadav and Avihu’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 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. Staying Busy Perek 18 discusses further 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. Meaning, 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 quarantining after someone in a household tests positive for COVID — 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. We must always stay busy and fill our days with positive tasks. Torah classes, tech-free time with our children, chesed for those in need, helping our wives around the house. Hashem fiercely warns us in this very parasha about the dangers of boredom! Forbidden Relationships 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 in a certain place for a long period of time, the foreign ideologies become deeply ingrained in them. That’s why the Torah had to make such a point of saying that all of these foreign 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. Rabbi Frand comments on the particular prohibition where a man is forbidden to engage in a relationship between two sisters. Unlike the other immoral relationships, the Torah did not forbid this because it’s essentially disgraceful, but because of the social harm it would bring to the sibling bond. Placing two sisters into this situation will inevitably cause those who should have been best of friends to have a hostile relationship with one another. The Torah distinguishes that it’s inappropriate to make two sisters into co-wives to show how important it is for siblings to get along with one another. Whether we ourselves are siblings or whether we are parents with children who are siblings, we all know that this is indeed a very big challenge. Rabbi David Ashear wrote a story in Living Emunah 5 about loyalty between siblings. Shlomo, a taxi driver in Israel picked up a distinguished looking man in need of a ride from the airport. As they drove toward their destination, the passenger casually rolled up his sleevs. “It’s warm in here, right?” he asked conversationally. Shlomo glanced over, and when he saw the man’s arm, he gasped. “Are you all right?” the passenger asked, noting Shlomo’s distress. Shlomo proceeded to tell him a story. “Years ago, I worked on a kibbutz. My job was sorting apples. I would put the good apples in one pile, to be sold, and throw the lower quality apples into a giant blender to make juice. One day, I had an urge to see how the blender worked. After filling it with bruised apples, I climbed up to the top to watch the apples get chopped. Suddenly, I lost my balance and fell into the deep vat. The machine was running, and I had very little time before the blades would strike me. I began to scream. Right in the nick of time, I felt someone grab me. He pulled me out and saved my life. I thanked him profusely from the bottom of my heart. From that day forward, we became friends.” “On occasion,” Shlomo continued, “I noticed my new friend would seem depressed. One day, I gathered the nerve to pry and asked him what was bothering him. He told me he was a Holocaust survivor. He and his only brother went through the war together before he was taken away. ‘I haven’t seen him since,’ my friend said. ‘Sometimes I think about him and I get really sad, remembering how close we were.’” Shlomo said to the passenger, “He showed me the number on his arm, 8862. His brother’s number was one higher, 8863. It has been about ten years since my friend told me that story. He still gets sad about his long-lost brother. I’ll never forget that number. You just raised your sleeve and it’s there! 8863!!” Shlomo drove his passenger straight to his friend’s home and let his tears flow unchecked as he watched the brothers’ emotional reunion. This episode was orchestrated by Hashem for many years, showing us the loyalty of a sibling is unmatched. Hashem is Watching The first passuk of the second parasha this week, 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 at the end of the passuk it says again, “You shall fear your G-d. I am Hashem.” 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! According to Rashi, in addition to the literal meaning of not putting 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. 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 represent the Jewish nation by performing acts of kindness to those in need. Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
What would we do differently if someone we respected was watching us?
Nadav and Avihu 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 the consent of their rabbi, Moshe Rabenu. 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.
When people have excess money and don’t need to work so hard, they have free time, which leads them to sin. We must always stay busy and fill our days with positive tasks. Torah classes, tech-free time with our children, chesed for those in need, helping our wives around the house.
The parasha discusses the prohibition of forbidden relationships. The Torah distinguishes that it’s inappropriate to make two sisters into co-wives of the same husband not because it is necessarily immoral, but to show how important it is for siblings to get along with one another.
Most of the decrees in the parasha are between man and his fellow man—stealing, lying, cheating. But at the end of the passuk it says again, “You shall fear your G-d. I am Hashem,” to remind us that though we may be able to hide these things from our fellow man, Hashem is always watching.
According to Rashi, in addition to the literal meaning of not putting 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.
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