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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Leviticus/Vayikra - Achrei Mot 101
Posted April, 2000
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Parashat Acharei or Acharei Mot can be found in Vayikra (Leviticus) Chapters Tet-Zayin through Yud-Chet (16-18).  This Parshah focuses on a number of things beginning with the how the Kohain Gadol (High Priest) is to prepare himself for entering the Sanctuary.  From there, the discussion moves to various offerings including the scape-goat sacrifice, the Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the positive commandment of bringing offerings to the Temple, laws concerning the consumption of blood, and various laws of morality.

First, I would like to cover a particular point that is all too often taken out of context in Yud-Zayin (Chapter 17).  To demonstrate how this is accomplished, I will quote that which is most often quoted, "for it is the blood that atones for the soul."  From this, it would appear that the Torah is saying that a blood offering is required for atonement.  Now, let's look at the entire phrase: 

10. Any man of the House of Israel and of the proselyte who dwells among them who will consume any blood -- I shall concentrate My attention upon the soul consuming the blood, and I will cut it off from its people:

11. For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the Altar to provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for the soul:

12. Therefore I have said to the Children of Israel - "Any person among you may not consume blood; and the proselyte who dwells among you may not consume blood": 

This puts the phrase into proper context.  It should be noted, as is pointed many other places in the Tanach, that a blood sacrifice is only one method for attaining atonement.  More important, as the Psalmist tells us, "it is a broken heart and repentant spirit that I desire more than blood sacrifice." 

The reason that consumption of blood is prohibited is multifaceted.  However, because it leads to the discussion for this week, I will focus on one of the reasons.  God commands us to be elevated above the animals - to accept a status that reflects the fact that we are created in His image.  Think of a wild animal that has run down and killed its prey.  It eats nearly anything of that prey and it is not hard to imagine the lion that, while eating its prey, has blood on its mouth. 

Now then - to the issue of this week - striving toward spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental perfection.  Just prior to Pesach (Passover), which began this past week, I was fortunate enough to acquire the Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash with its complete commentaries.  To provide a little background, Rav Hirsch lived in the 19th Century (1808-1888) and was a major influence on Modern Orthodoxy - the concept that one can live an Orthodox life without having to be segregated from the world.  Most important, in my opinion, was Rav Hirsch's attitude toward Jews and Judaism.  It can be summed up with his commentary on Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 60:21, which says: 

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as it is said: 'And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of My planting, My handiwork, in which to take pride' 

Here is Rav Hirsch's commentary: 

The term Israel refers to any individual who has not utterly divorced himself from Israel's lofty spiritual and ethical destiny.  His portion in the World to Come will vary according to his merit, but as long as he remains part of 'Israel,' he will never lose it entirely. 

This provides an excellent example of Rav Hirsch's attitude toward all Jews - avoiding any sense of being judgmental, welcoming all and excluding none, except those who choose to exclude themselves.  But it doesn't stop there, as you shall see… 

In Yud-Chet (Chapter 18), verses daled and hay (4 and 5), it says: 

(4) My social laws shall you practice and My laws shall you guard to walk in them.  I, God, am your Lord. (5) And you shall guard My laws and My social laws, which if a man do, he shall live thereby; I am God. 

First, note that verses 4 and 5 are almost identical in what they say.  The Torah is known as being one of the most, if not the most, parsimonious works of all time.  If something was repeated, there was a reason, either to examine the dictum from a second direction or to bring emphasis.  In this case, it is because there are two points being made - each of which is critically important. 

To reach the first point, it is necessary to look at the words, "which if a man do," and their meaning.  Rav Hirsch points out explicitly that the words are "a man" not "a Hebrew, an Israelite, a child of Israel," or anything that suggests this only applies to a Jew.  Although the Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel), it is a blueprint for reaching spiritual perfection - for every person.  In fact, Rav Hirsch says the following: 

". . . even a non-Jew who keeps God's Laws is equal of the High Priest for it says: ' . . . which a man shall fulfill them to live.'  Similarly, it also says:  'This is the teaching for man,' and does not say for priests, Levites, and Israelites.  Equally so: 'Open ye the gates, that priests, Levites, and Israelites may enter' is not said, but 'Righteous ones may enter." . . . And finally it does not say: 'Deal well O God with Priests, Levites, and Israelites,' but: 'with those that are good.'  From all these quotations from the Holy Writ, it follows that even a non-Jew who fulfills the Law of God, is equal to the High Priest.  Life, the Teaching, the Proximity to God, Happiness and Well-being is not opened solely for Israel with these Torah laws but for everyone, everyone who draws their outlook on life and men out of them, and bases the principles of his life on them, and who elevates himself to the heights of pure humanity by keeping their khukim and mishpatim

Mishpatim are the laws that are understandable.  Khukim are those that seem to defy reason - obviously God had reasons.  Accepting that is a part of the lessons of the Torah.  In any event, the obvious point is that accepting the Torah can lead any person to purity and perfection. 

Now to the second part of the double statement…  Note that, in verse 5, it says, "And you shall guard My laws and My social laws. . . ."  What is meant by the word "guard"? 

Rav Hirsch goes to great lengths to explain that "guard" means two things - learn and practice.  This especially applies to the Khukim because they seem to have no logical purpose, at least not to us.  This does not make these laws any less relevant or important to achieving spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional perfection and purity.  However, because of the difficulty in understanding, it makes it that much more important to study them and to practice them to the best of our abilities.  As Rav Hirsch points out, 

"The value of 'learning,' of Torah study is only so great . . . because it leads to practice.  More, true study, the right and true knowledge, is only acquired by . . . the intention to practice . . . the understanding of what is good is only reached by such who do not only study the Divine Torah, but who practice it.  Hence the Word of God finally combines them all together both study and practice for both Khukim and Mishpatim, because only when one is clear about both of them, and both find their realization in one's social and one's private life, is the lofty goal of a perfect human life achievable.” 

As I find the commentaries of Rav Hirsch to be filled with positive messages of hope for Jews and for all mankind, future Parashot will focus on these uplifting and affirmative looks at the wonder of God's Torah.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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