Acharei mos / Kedoshim

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah                                                               for her neshama.

By Shoshana Rosa


Kedusha means to be holy; its essential meaning translates to separation and/or, elevation.

This Shabbos, the  ba'al koreh (person who reads from the Torah) will be reciting the two parshiot (chapters): acharei mos / kedoshim. Why are these two chapters sandwiched together? Aside from that we missed two Shabbos Torah readings thanks to Pesach (since it took two weekends instead of one to get through the holiday) and need to squeeze an extra parsha in, acharei mos and kedoshim make a great team: they bring the idea of kedusha down to earth.

The whole precept of holiness is intended to make borders between us and the other nations. For instance, Parshas Shmini, a chapter I never got around to writing about, explains the ins and out of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). Besides the laws of Kashrut themselves, only one thing is certain about Kashrut: it is a chok (commandment that isn't based in human logic) and we keep it, for the same reason we keep laws like the red heifer and shatnez: because G-d told us to. However, one of the side benefits of kashrut is that it creates separation between those who keep it and those who do not. "The best ways to a man's heart is through his stomach." Enjoying a meal with someone is one of the strongest bonding experiences. That's why business deals are often made over lunch. If you cannot share a meal with someone, you are less likely to become buddies with him. 

Why do we have to make a separation between ourselves and everyone else? Jews are meant to be an example of truth to the rest of the world. How can we do this if our ideologies are watered down through exposure to immoral behaviors?

Acharei Mos and Kedoshim provide the details we need so that we can learn how to behave with loftiness. Acharei mos gives a description of the Kohen Gadol's (high priest's) service on Yom Kippur in minute detail. Yom Kippur is called the holiest day of the year because it is the one time man is free to serve his Creator without being bothered by earthly lusts like food, drink etc. He separates from this world and thus, he becomes elevated and holy.

Next, Parshas Kedoshim is introduced and summed up in one of the first of Rashi's commentaries. He says, "Most of the Torah is dependent on what it [Kedoshim] has to teach" (Leviticus 19:1). The parsha's intent is to tell us what inappropriate behavior is and how to separate from it. A man is forbidden to offer up sacrifices on a personal altar called a bamah, to drink the blood of both animals and humans, and to partake in sexual immorality. The Torah tacks a warning onto this last thought, "Engaging in these forbidden relationships will lead to an expulsion from the land of Israel for the land cannot tolerate immoralities." 

Now that we have been told what to separate from we are ready for information on how to be holy, as in, elevated. This second list of commands teaches us how to perform certain mitzvot and the parshah lets us know how our mitzva observance is meant to reflect a general manner of behavior. For instance, we are told to honor our parents by showing fear for our mothers and love for our fathers. The specificity in wording brings an awareness to the fact that fearing one's father and loving one's mother comes naturally. Therefore, G-d tells us to work out a balance. Other commandments tell us to observe the shabbos, to leave part of our harvest for the poor and to take care of the converts, widows and orphans in our cities. These commandments, the way we go about fulfilling them, are here to help us infuse our actions with meaning.

The concept of separation and elevation need not relegate itself to Jewish law, only. To some degree, everyone must take on the art of putting distance between oneself and negative influences. What about limiting time spent, or cutting off time spent with bad friends and/or illegal substances? One is liable to discover in the aftermath that he enjoys the mental lift. Exalt yourself.   

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