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Parsha Acharei Mot

05/02/2019 08:30:40 PM

May2

Jewish thought suggests that there are two factors that govern holiness- time and place- with each of these variables having their own ability to create and affect holiness.  Although both time and place control holiness, the relationship between time and holiness differs greatly from the relationship of place and holiness.  Time and holiness stem from Creation itself, when upon completing His work, God rested on Shabbos and sanctified that time for all weeks to come.  Place, in contrast, does not play a decisive role in holiness until the Mishkan is built, and given that even the Mishkan is explained by the Meforshim to appear only after the sin of the Golden Calf, it seems that place and holiness are not as deeply connected like time and place.  Evident in the fact that there have never been any breaks in the holiness created by time, unlike place’s holiness that comes and goes in Jewish History, it further seems that the holiness and time are inseparable in a way that place and holiness are not.  We cannot fathom Judaism without Shabbos or Yom Tov, but Judaism in the darkest of Exiles without any Temple or homeland is something quite familiar and comfortable.  Perhaps the sharpest distinction between time and place is that place must be achieved by human interaction, whether it be building or settling a place, designating a place for something holy, or by at least moving ourselves to experience the holiness of a place, but time is completely invariable specifically because it is completely an act of God.  (This idea is the basis for the depth for the first mitzah we received as Jews, “Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem,” a mitzvah by which God allows us to take his time and sanctify it for ourselves by regulating the calendar, allowing us to perform a most “Godly” act by using time to create holiness.)     

After understanding the background of time and place, we can now approach Parshas Achrei Mos and appreciate Man’s struggle regarding holiness and place in a way that is not found with time.  The beginning of the Parsha discusses the laws of Yom Kippur and specifically the unique restrictions for entering the Kodesh Kodahsim.  The context given for these laws is provided by the opening Pasuk that says that these laws were taught after the death of Nadav and Avihu who mistakenly came too close to God, and against this painful tragedy God now teaches Aron the guidelines for “coming close.”  Furthermore, there are more restrictions taught against anyone else entering the Holies at the time when the special service is performed, and general prohibitions against entering the Holies at any point without a specific reason.  This idea is again present in the law that the Kohen Gadol must immerse himself between each change of location during his service on Yom Kippur, and yet once more reiterated when the Torah singles out the sin of entering the Mikdash in an impure state as a sin atoned for by the Yom Kippur service.  After the laws of Yom Kippur, the next discussion is about “Shchutei Chutz”- the prohibitions against offering a Korban outside of the Temple grounds, where the Torah goes so far as to link this practice to the worship of Avoda Zara.  Ironically enough, this is also a sin with the holiness of place, but the very inverse of the sin of Nadav and Avihu.  While Yom Kippur establishes parameters for how close we can get, Shchutai Chutz establishes parameters for how far we can get, and the overall conclusion is “not too close, but not too far.”  Place’s holiness can falsely appear “fake” at times, and as such, we can make mistakes about coming too close by thinking we are holier than we really are and we can also stay too far away by thinking we are less holy than we really are.

The balance in finding the right distance in the holiness of place is described by H’ Hirsch as the struggle between finding the balance between the internal man and beast.  The very act of eating meat, writes R’ Hirsch, suggests the duality of both ruling over the beast by killing it for personal use and also of equality with the beast by placing the meat inside us to make it a part of our bodies.  When we are inspired and locked in to a given “moment,” the boundaries and relativity of place seem impossible to our idealism, much like Nadav and Avihu felt when they came closer than they should have.  Shchutei Chutz backs this up as the opposite extreme, because sometimes when the beast inside rages, we feel that we can’t approach God with our Korbaos and that we are just slaughtering to the beasts around us.  The Torah demands that we recognize our holiness and that we rise above those feelings to approach God with an honest reflection of where we are and what our ideal wishes are, and with that, we can find the right medium within the holiness of place. 

 
 
 

 

Sat, September 21 2019 21 Elul 5779