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October 25, 2016 / 23 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Holy’

Respectful Dialogue, Nuanced Views: New Visions for Peace in the Holy Land

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Recently, at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center a forum hosted by the Home/Bayit organization, had a candid and wide-ranging discussion on ways to solve the conflicts in Israel between the Israeli’s and Palestinians and create something new and better for everyone in the Holy Land.

The fact that discussion of volatile issues could take place in such an atmosphere of respect was even more impressive than the solutions proposed. Inon Dan Kehati is chairman and founder of Home/Bayit, and his insistence on respectful and open dialogue really worked. One panelist quipped, “how many conferences have you all attended where everyone stays for four hours?” The energy was hopeful despite the potential for rancor. The respectful atmosphere meant that each participant could express the nuances of their views, which lessened the potential for polarization.

For example, Sami B Awad is a member of the Arab Christian community in Bethlehem, and one of the panelists. He indeed supports the BDS movement as a means to pressure Israel to address the grievances of the Palestinian population here, and decidedly not as an effort to displace or threaten Jews. He sharply criticized parts of the BDS movement for harboring antisemites who have no interest in Israel, but are joining BDS due to their distaste for the Jewish people. This he rejects outright, and in the strongest language. So as threatening as the actions of BDS can be to many, it was refreshing to see this nuanced approach.

We need more of that. And there was.

Sheikh Abu Khalil Tamimi of Ramallah has a bearing both regal and low-key. He rejects the mixing of religion and politics. He has studied under the Tablighi Jamaat movement, a pacifist Muslim movement founded in India nearly a century ago, which emphasizes the importance of one’s personal character improvement and rejects involvement in politics. True to his position, he maintains that it matters less whether there is one or two states, what is essential is freedom of movement for all people of the land in the entire land. Arab and Jew should be able to travel and live wherever they like. Rights for all, everywhere. And he added, “according to the Qur’an, the Jews will gather here in this land at the End of Days. And this is what we are witnessing!”

The Sheikh spoke in Arabic, with Sami B Awad translating. It was just part of the beautiful atmosphere of the evening – a Christian translating as a Sheikh quoted the Qur’an.

Oslo is dead was pretty much the consensus, the majority in attendance seemed to agree that a two state solution simply does not meld with the aspirations of the people actually living here. Both Arab and Jew love the entire Holy Land. Both Arab and Jew yearn for freedom of movement in its entirety, in the entire land. The concept of – “you go get your rights over there, and not here” was held up as a mockery of justice and a solution unacceptable to both Arab and Jew alike.

Freedom of movement for all, everywhere in the land

The desire for freedom of movement for all was echoed repeatedly throughout the evening by most of the panel. Ahmed Maswade, law student from Bir Zeit university and resident of East Jerusalem, put it this way, “I want Jews to be able to go to Hebron and Arabs to be able to go to Jaffa.” He does advocate for a Palestinian state, but with porous borders with Israel and one in which Jews can live freely. Sami stated, “it cannot be that the only way I can express my Christianity is on Christmas day in Bethlehem. I want to be able to visit Christian sites up in the Gallilee, and to visit the churches in Jerusalem.” Sheikh Abu Khalil Tamimi, trained to eschew both politics and state borders, echoed this need – and we heard the same expressed by Jewish leaders as well.

Rabbi Gabriel Reiss of the Lavi organization lives in the Judean Desert with his family. With his trademark gritty passion and big-hearted concern for all, he addressed the Arabs present by apologizing “on behalf for myself at least, because how, 60-plus years after the founding of the state of Israel, can there still be Palestinian refugees living in camps?” Applause stole some time off of his ten minute slot. An advocate for Jewish sovereignty in the entire land, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, sovereignty means responsibility for all inhabitants of the Land. Two state solutions amount to a certain schizophrenia, in which no leaders need take responsibility: the state of Israel can claim, why should we invest in areas that we are destined to give up? And leaders from the PA can claim, the occupation is preventing us from improving the lives of the Palestinians. That leaves people suffering in the middle. A one state solution would mean responsibility and a better life for all.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen of Alternative Action echoed the call for sovereignty-cum-responsibility for the entire land by decrying the current water shortage in Bethlehem. “It should be considered an embarassment that anyone lacks water in the Jewish homeland.” Echoing the discussion about identity, he emphasized the importance of expanding the narrative of each community, so that all residents of the Land have a real awareness of the aspirations and experience of each other.

Abrahamson Panel

Rabbi Yishai Fleisher is spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron. He combines a sense of humor with a broad knowledge of history and law. His humor is admittedly tinged by a certain sadness; he explained that he is part of a movement of those holding on tightly to what they value most, and feeling under constant threat from many directions. “We are like roots, holding on tight, and roots are not always pretty.”

“Hebron!” He teased, throwing out that word to the audience, “what do you think of when you hear that word? Settlers, land-grabbing, violence? What we should think of is – this is the place where my forefathers and foremothers are buried….Think about it – the members of Hebron have a religious ideology, are armed, you would think we would be shooting every day and we are not.” And later on, attorney Jonothan Kittub, Palestinian Christian and human rights activist, decried the way the residents of Judea and Samaria have been portrayed in the media. “In order to push Oslo, the efforts of the settlers had to be put in a negative light.” An unfair portrayal he rejects outright.

And for even more nuanced views, Attorney Kittub decried ‘puppeteering’ in the form of democracy. He put it bluntly – people do not need a “parliament,” they need the representation and civil rights, not some body that marginalizes anyone who disagrees. We do not need a “state,” we need self-determination, not a sham government.

Palestinian self-determination is still part of the vision of the Arab panelists who were present, but this would not come at the expense of freedom of residency and movement for all. Their vision is that two states would have porous boundaries with Jews living freely in Judea and Samaria, and Arabs within the ’67 borders, members of both populations free to travel and work where they wish.

A representative of J Street represented her view against the occupation of Judea and Samaria very aptly, and it was moving to hear her family’s personal story which proved her love for the state of Israel and heartfelt concern that the state live up to democratic principals. When members of the Arab community from Judea and Samaria expressed willingness to live under Jewish sovereignty, as long as citizenship and civil rights were granted, she did not capture the nuanced mood of the evening. Israel must withdraw from those territories was her final word, no compromise. This was, in her words, in order to preserve Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state. Good for Inon for inviting her and really living up to freedom of dialogue among different views; I was taken aback at her inflexible stance. That may change.

What she was hinting at was preserving a Jewish majority within the green line – what Yehuda HaKohen refers to as “demographophobia.”


Activist Emanuel Shahaf mentioned that now that Israel does not rule Gaza, we need not fear a demographic threat. Jews will remain in the majority, even including Judea and Samaria. Murmurs of of disagreement with his basic premise followed. Yehuda HaKohen has spoken against the whole concept of “demographic threat”, stating that neither side should fear a member of the other population having this or that number of babies. We need a paradigm that jettisons this fear.”Demographic threat” is the main reason some want to relinquish Judea and Samaria – it is to remain in the demographic majority within the green line. Population numbers as a factor in democracy just does not work in the middle east. It may seem generous to give up territory, but this really means giving up people – we do not want to know from you, go get your rights over there and not here – not real generous after all. Many in fact actually want to live in harmony, together.

Jonothan Kittub added that given Jewish sensitivities about security, no matter what the demographics, Jews need to run the security establishment. This was a perfect example of someone who was able to conceptualize what is essential to another community – the expanded narrative that Yehuda HaKohen is advocating for. We can create paradigms that are uniquely suited to the fabric of middle east culture. One is the need to embrace overlapping identities and an expanded narrative. And fears of a “demographic threat” have to be jettisoned.

Inon Kehati graciously gave me the floor to propose the concept of Muslim and Jewish religious courts that will work in parallel and unison to adjudicate conflict and to guide our peoples philosophically. The courtroom of the media will be replaced by the adjudication of G-d fearing leaders who will rule on the issues and rumors that divide our peoples. I am quite serious – the first meeting of Sheikhs and Rabbis is scheduled in a month’s time!

This was but one example of efforts to acknowledge the Other, an effort we were all making that evening, despite our differences, getting towards a unified narrative that will serve all peoples that dwell in the Land.


Rebecca Abrahamson

The Kotel: Have We Gone Mad? A Call to All Denominations and Other “Holy” Warriors

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

You, dear readers, must forgive me for asking this question, but: Have we Jews gone mad? Kotel mad? Have we lost it? Are we Jews, who represent the best brains in the world, incapable of solving a minor – albeit pressing – problem in our long history of unprecedented upheavals and unparalleled challenges?

Yes, I know that no one will take my suggestion seriously, but since we seem to have not yet regained our sanity, I offer it nevertheless:

We must free the Kotel of all denominations and abolish all synagogue services at the site, including bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. We must remove all sifrei Torah,tefillin and tallitot and restore the Kotel to its former state: A place where all are welcome and where not even the most lenient halacha can be violated. Where there are no mechitzot (partitions) and other sources of ideological or physical conflict. A place used solely for individual prayer and meditation, just as our ancestors treated it throughout our long history.

The Kotel is not a synagogue. It never was a synagogue and should never become one. It is a place where we Jews can meet, pray and share what we have in common instead of focusing on what divides us. Where we can smile at each other and laugh about ourselves, even when we vehemently disagree.

The Kotel situation is extremely explosive, and the stakes are high. It seems that we are unable to maintain enough unity to preserve even one single place in the entire world where we can come together without any party lines.

We run the risk of allowing our disagreements to spiral out of control and harm all of Israel, far beyond what we could have imagined. And once that happens, no government will be able to put its foot down, not even if forced to bring security personnel to defend us against ourselves.

It is precisely because we all view the Kotel as a place of such infinite holiness, that these clashes can result in almost irreparable damage and impurity.

The greater its sanctity, the deeper it can fall into an abyss. It can easily turn into a place of such desecration of God’s name that once it does, all of us will hide our faces in shame and ask ourselves how this could ever have happened to us.

It won’t take long before the nations of the world will be utterly disgusted at the sight of a people that represents the Bible and its unprecedented moral and religious values; a 4,000-year-old nation that has outlived the Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks and the Babylonians; a nation that managed to survive the greatest atrocity ever committed in human history only a few decades ago; and that has now fallen so low that its people are fighting each other at the holiest place in the world. They will think we have gone mad. And right they will be!

The Kotel is the only place in the world where there is no clock, no earlier or later. It is the one site that has never been abandoned by the Jews throughout our long history; the place for which we prayed for thousands of years, and at which we mourn every year. It is a wall that no Babylonian, Greek or Persian was able to destroy; a place for which, throughout millennia, we have broken millions of glasses at our children’s weddings, and for which our soldiers have sacrificed their lives. It is a wall soaked with the frozen tears of millions of Jews – women, men and children.

And now we are destroying it with our own hands, robbing it of its holiness and eternity. We are desecrating the tears embedded in its stones, and violating the memory of our soldiers who bravely fought so that we can present ourselves before God at the holiest place in the world. We will be left with only a wall drowned in fights and power struggles that hide behind questionable religious laws, secular agendas and huge egos.

Is this what we returned to our ancestors’ land for, after 2000 years? Is it for this that millions of prayers were sent to Heaven, collected by God, and ultimately answered in ways we dared not imagine but which actually materialized in our own days?

Here, then, is my humble request to all fighting parties: Leave the Kotel alone and stop this madness. Go and fight somewhere else.

And though I realize that my suggestion will probably not be taken seriously by many of you, the day may likely come when you will regret it.

And if you will not, perhaps it is preferable that the government close down the Kotel entirely and wait until we Jews regain our sanity, and can sit together to discuss its future in a civilized manner.

When that takes place, God will wink at us approvingly because we will have finally grown up, and we will wink at God since we will have realized how foolish we had behaved.

Perhaps then the Mashiach will come. But not a second earlier. Until now, we have blocked his entrance to the gates of the Kotel.

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Rabbi Asher Weiss Calls on All of Klal Israel to Support his Holy Work [video]

Monday, June 20th, 2016

R’ Asher Weiss has dedicated his life to continuing the quest started by his holy father and the Klausenberger Rebbe. As they survived the fires of Auschwitz, to rise up and rebuild Torah after the war, so too is R’ Asher Weiss creating a new army of Torah leaders.

Today Jews around the world have the opportunity to join with him to continue this holy work.

Join him in his life mission to inspire, teach and spread the light of Torah.

Hear R’ Asher Weiss tell in his own words the experience of his father in Auschwitz and how he fought to keep the light of Torah alive.

Jewish Press Staff

Redeeming Relevance: Parshat Naso: Holy Negativity is Still Negativity

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

You’d think that a ‘holy man’ wouldn’t be so controversial. And yet… The Talmud (Taanit11a), offers different opinions on whether a Nazir, who chooses to abstain from that which is permissible, is doing something inappropriate.

Following one approach in Nazir (3a), Kli Yakar suggests an interesting compromise position: The objection to nezirut is only operative when it is not carried to term, due to pre-mature contact with the dead. In such a case, writes Kli Yakar, the days that the nazir took on the prohibitions of nezirut had no halachic value. And in that case, his abstinence was essentially meaningless.

We learn from Kli Yakar that once meaningless, abstinence is not only neutral, it is actually destructive. We would expect, however, that the same be true of the reverse – if the problem is something being meaninglessness, then meaningless indulgence should also be destructive. Yet the Torah does not require atonement for it – why not?

Perhaps the answer is that indulgence of wine, etc. can never be totally meaningless. For enjoyment of God’s world always comes with some innate meaning – something which is lacking in the case of abstinence. In his ‘For the Perplexed of the Generation,’ Rav Kook points out that negation is, by its very nature, lacking any intrinsic meaning. That is because negation is not about any positive value. Instead, it is about staying away from something potentially destructive. Positive action, on the other hand, generally involves at least an admixture of added value.

With the enjoyment of the good tastes or smells, etc., one necessarily appreciates what is given to us by God. And with this appreciation, one automatically praises God, even if that is not his intention. Those who cook know this – if diners enjoy their food, it is a tribute to the cook, even if those diners don’t know who cooked it. All the more so is this true with God, who has greater involvement with what we enjoy than could be the case with any human being.

There is another insight that can be drawn from the comments of Kli Yakar as well. Ifnezirut is terminated early, it is as if nothing meaningful occurred at all. This deserves our reflection, as it is not immediately intuitive. Generally, processes are gradual – if the entire process is meaningful, part of it should be meaningful as well. Yet sometimes there are thresholds – and if the threshold is not passed, the entire process remains sterile. Going back to the kitchen, if a potato is taken out of the oven too early, it is no more edible than if it were raw – except now, it is also hot, and painful to hold.

It is true that starting a meaningful trajectory is often worth doing, even if we don’t know whether we will take it all the way to the end. But this is not always the case. In a finite life, it is important not to waste precious time on projects we know we are unlikely to finish and which, by being half-baked, will bring no new meaning. Like the potato in the analogy, we will have only wasted precious resources (of time and energy) yet produced nothing that can nourish us.

Rabbi Francis Nataf

The Jewish Holy Land

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, FirstOne Through}

Roughly 3300 years ago, the Jews received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  Those commandments were designed for all Jews to follow at all times, whether the positive commandments like respecting one’s parents, or the negative commandments like not murdering.

One of the positive commandments included a reason for the order: keeping the Sabbath:

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. “ Exodus 20:8-11

God told the Children of Israel to not work on the seventh day of the week, just as God rested on the seventh day when He created the entire world.  By doing so, He made that seventh day holy, and commanded the Jews to make it holy as well.

The other nine commandments did not have explanations; the commandments were simply stated such as “You shall not steal.”  The second commandment of not taking the name of the Lord in vain “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children…” reveals more about the ramifications of ignoring the commandment, when no such threat was made in the text for the Sabbath.

Jews were told to actively remember the Sabbath, so, in turn, they can actively remember God’s creations and His decision to stop, rest and make the seventh day holy. The reason is not so much of an explanation, as it was meant to focus what should be remembered.


God gave the Jews other commandments beyond the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The Jewish tradition is that the Torah contains 613 commandments, all of which were given at Mount Sinai.  The sages conclude this from Leviticus 25, where God commands Jews to observe shmita on Mount Sinai. The biblical commentator Rashi (1040-1105) stated that clearly mentioning that such law was given on Mount Sinai was to show that all of the commandments were given there as well.

1The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”  Leviticus 25:1-7

The commandment of shmita resembled the commandment of keeping the seventh day a day of rest.  In this case, the people may work the land for six years, but must not work the land on the seventh year, as the land must be given rest.  However, unlike the commandment for remembering the Sabbath day, the underlying reason for giving the land rest was not given.

Further, this commandment was localized to the Holy Land.  Only “when you enter the land I am going to give you,” when the Jews crossed the Jordan River, was the commandment relevant.

Field in Israel declaring its observance of shmita in 2008

Field in Israel declaring its observance of shmita in 2008

Nachmanides, or the Ramban (1194-1270), noted that there was a similarity of the Sabbath day and shmita when he wrote that shmita is about remembering this world and the world to come.  He derived that from Avos 5:9 which described that Jews would be punished with exile if they did not keep shmita. Ramban added  “whoever repudiates [shmita] shows that he does not acknowledge the truth of Creation and the World to Come.”

However, during his long explanation, the Ramban did not delve into the local nature of shmita.

Was the intention of the command’s preface to just let the Jews know that shmita was not necessary during the time from standing at Mount Sinai until they arrived in the Holy Land?  Or was there a message behind the land itself?

The Holy Land for the Jewish Nation

The commandment to observe Sabbath day became effective immediately when it was received on Mount Sinai.  Throughout the wanderings of the desert before they entered Israel, Jews kept the seventh day holy.  They did so, because they continued to live and benefit from God’s creations – even the desert itself.  Jews continue to observe Sabbath when they are not in the Holy Land for the same reason: the commandment’s underlying reason was to remember God’s creation of the entire world.

Was the commandment of shmita about memory too? Was it about remembering the “World to Come” as Ramban suggested?  If so, why did the commandment need to only be kept in Israel and needed to be delayed until they arrived in the Holy Land?

Perhaps the parallel of memory in the Sabbath day and shmita was not about “the truth of Creation and the World to Come,” but about God’s gift of the land of Israel to the Jewish people.

God included the reason of keeping the Sabbath day as a remembrance of the world’s creation within the command itself.  Keeping the Sabbath included remembering the story of creation.

In the commandment of shmita, maybe there was also an explanation inside the text: “the land that I am going to give you.”  It was not just an explanation of when to begin observing the law, but the reason of observing the law: the land was God’s gift to the children of Israel.

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַיהֹוָה:

The Hebrew biblical text is different than God’s other promises of the promised land in the Torah.

  • When God promised the land to Abraham, it was described as “the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), not give you.
  • In Exodus chapter 3, God described leading the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey that is occupied by many other nations.
  • In Exodus chapter 33, God told the Jews to go to the land that He promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Only in Leviticus did God change the language as giving the land to the Children of Israel themselves (Leviticus 20:24).  It was a gift for them, not just a promise made to forefathers.

That is why the commandment is localized in the Holy Land.  The commandment is not to just let the land lie fallow every seven years, but like the Sabbath, it is to remember that the land is God’s gift to the Jewish people.  It would be an insult to that special present of Israel for Jews outside of land to celebrate shmita.

God’s gift of Israel to the Jewish people is not limited by time, but an eternal present.  That is why even on the seventh year, when Jews cannot work the land, they can still enjoy the fruits of the land.  The gift never stops, even while Jews pause to remember the gift itself.

Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

Like the Sabbath day that is commanded to Jews, but to be respected among non-Jews that live with Jews, so is God’s gift to the Jews of the land of Israel.  The fruits of such gift may be shared broadly among those living in the land together with the Jews.

Enjoy and actively remember the gift of the Holy Land every day.  Try not to wait every seven years.

Related First.One.Through articles:

Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

The Nation of Israel Prevails

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

“Flowing with Milk and Honey”

From Promised Land to Promised Home

Wearing Our Beliefs

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Paul Gherkin

For I Am Holy

Friday, May 13th, 2016

In Parshas Kedoshim the concept of holiness is mentioned three times:

“Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-d’” (Shemos 19:2).

After the Torah warns about the severe prohibition of worshipping idolatry the verse states, “You shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d” (20:7). And at the conclusion of the parsha, after the Torah states that one may not “render your souls abominable” by eating non-kosher birds and any crawling insect, it says, “You shall be holy for Me, for I, G-d, am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine” (20:26).

The Nesivos Sholom explains that these three verses correspond to the three chief detractions from holiness: immorality, idolatrous beliefs which enervate one’s faith, and partaking of forbidden foods. In regard to these three areas one must go beyond the actual prohibitions of the Torah. One must erect personal safeguards and stringencies to ensure that one does not fall prey to these egregious sins.

Conversely, there are three main sources of holiness from which one can elevate oneself: the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos, the holidays and special times which are propitious for spiritual growth, and the overcoming of physical desires and inclinations. The more a person transcends his desires for physicality and the pleasures of life the more control he maintains over his evil inclination. These three areas represent the cadre of holiness in the life of a Jew.

The centrality of the commandment of being holy is evident. Becoming a holy, G-dly person is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a Jew. Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend why this injunction seems to fall by the wayside even amongst scrupulously observant Jews.

The Nesivos Sholom explained this enigma by citing a Medrash (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 16:9) that relates a parable about a king who wanted to determine the extent of the allegiance his many servants and sons had to him. He wanted to ascertain who truly loved and feared him and accepted his monarchy with reverence. In order to do so, the king ordered an architect to construct a palace with an eccentric entranceway. To enter the palace one had to pass through a narrow room, which led into an even narrower room, which led to a third even narrower room. A person would literally have to squeeze his body, slowly pulling and pushing himself through the little room, limb by limb. Beyond the small room was the majestic and opulent throne of the king in a vast beautiful royal chamber.

When the palace was completed, the king summoned his servants and sons. He sat on his throne and waited. He watched as each individual approached walked through the increasingly narrower rooms. He watched as some plunged on into the increasingly narrow constraints, while others just walked away. Only those who were willing to suffer the pain of the struggle were his true servants and loyalists.

The Rebbe explained that the narrow rooms symbolize the obligation of a Jew to transform himself into a receptacle of holiness. The responsibility of becoming a holy person is arduous. It encompasses every aspect of a person – body, soul, thoughts, emotions, desires, and even the things he yearns for. Only a person who truly loves his King and wants to be in His embrace would accept on himself such a Herculean undertaking.

It is for this reason that the obligation to be holy is not counted among the 613 mitzvos. Prior to giving the Torah at Sinai, G-d declared to Klal Yisroel, “You shall be for Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:6). Those words were not stated as an obligatory commandment, but rather as a revelation of G-d’s will. G-d was expressing His newfound expectation that the nation receiving the Torah strive for holiness and devoutness.

Rabbi Dani Staum

Redeeming Relevance: Parshat Achrei Mot: Nameless Heroes and the Holy Path

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Parshat Achrei Mot represents a transition in the book of Vayikra. We now go from the first half with its emphasis on Aharon and his sons to the second part which is generally addressed to the Jewish people as a whole. It goes from the model of Torat Kohanim (The Law of the priests) to that which is extrapolated from it – that which I call Torat Mamlechet Kohanim (The Law of the nation of priests).

Before speaking about the priestly service on Yom Kippur which is told from the perspective of atoning for the various impurities that this section culminates, the Torah engages in an unusually stylized flourish. It tells us that these laws were given after the death of the Aharon’s two sons. Of course, this could be just a time marker, though there would be other ways to denote such a marker; for example, “In the second week of the operation of the Mishkan.” That it does not use such a phrase, strikes us a clear maneuver to recall and emphasize one of the Torah’s most dramatic and difficult events. Before we get to that, it is worthwhile to not only note the fact that the event is mentioned, but also how it is mentioned.
We have often pointed out that the Tanakh artfully describes people in different ways depending on what it wants to emphasize. Here Nadav and Avihu are described without their names but solely as Aharon’s two sons. Each word is carefully chosen here. Their identity is that they are Aharon’s sons. Moreover, there is an implication is that they are his only sons, or at the very least his main ones. (Finally the fact that they are two sons is something that we already know, hence the word, two, here is also presumably meant to add significance.)

So why is it that they are identified as Aharon’s sons? It is well known that Aharon was more popular than Moshe. As such, he may have been the most popular man in the nation, certainly the most popular senior leader. This is easily understood. He had been Moshe’s public figure and in charge of speaking to the people. And, paradoxically enough, his failure at the golden calf might have added to his popularity, rather than taken away from it: He was the man on the spot and tried hard to bridge the people’s needs with God’s demands. There was no easy way out and he showed the people his willingness to take great personal risks to maneuver through an untenable situation..

Now we understand the significance of their being called Aharon’s sons. Sometimes we care about a person more for their parents than for themselves. Given Aharon’s popularity, Aharon’s tragedy was no doubt one that the entire people felt on a very personal level. And if they were his main sons, all the more so. It is thus no doubt the fact that it was Aharon’s sons that were the ones taken by God that affected the people so profoundly.

This brings us back to the point of mentioning this detail now in the middle of Vayikra, several chapters after it occurred. There are many laws that the Torah will now discuss that are related to earlier laws in the book of Shemot. And there are even more laws that could have easily found their place there, along with all of the other particulars that one finds in Parshat Mishpatim. Yet the Torah waited with all of these, because the Jews were not yet ready to hear about the importance of detail for their national mission. Some laws, primarily dealing with civil law had, to be heard right away for the smooth ordering of their society and these were already recounted in Shemot. But when it came to going beyond the ethical into the realm of the holy, the Jews needed to wait for certain things to happen This is because it is not intuitive that attention to detail can make us a holy people. And yet, on some level, this is what the laws addressed to the Jewish people in the book of Vayikra are all about.

Because the spiritual dimension of attention to detail it is not intuitive, it needed particular emphasis. The Torah does this by showing us that the greatest and most beloved Jews tried the road of not paying attention to detail. If it would have worked for anyone, it should have worked for them. The fact that it didn’t should tell us that there is truly only one road.

Millennia later, we all know that attention to detail is at the heart of the Jewish experience. It can even be described as Judaism in a nutshell. Moreover, this did not start with the rabbis. It started with a seminal tragic event necessary to put the holy nation on track for that very special historical mission that is taught in this book of Torat Mamlechet Kohanim.

Rabbi Francis Nataf

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/redeeming-relevance-in-the-bible-francis-nataf/redeeming-relevance-parshat-achrei-mot-nameless-heroes-and-the-holy-path/2016/05/03/

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