OU Torah Insights Project
Parashat Acharei Mot - Kedoshim
When required, Torah portions are joined together not only to make up the necessary count but also because they possess a complimentary theme or subject matter.
On the surface, this norm seems to be absent in this weeks merger of Acharei Mos with Kedoshim. The themes of these portions seem out of sync with each other, as Acharei Mos deals with the high holiday of Yom Kippur and its service, and Kedoshim deals with low crimes, such as robbery, cheating and slandering, and matters of fair trade and compensation.
Two totally different aspects of lifethe holy and the mundaneare linked today in one Torah reading. What kind of combination of themes and subjects do we have here?
Moreover, the title of the second portion, Kedoshim, denotes holiness. But its subject matter seems far from holy. What accounts for this designation?
Let us answer the question with a question: Who took care of the maintenance of the Holy of Holies, the cleaning, the washing, the repair, during the course of the year?
Answer: Ordinary persons. This extraordinary place was tended to by ordinary individuals.
By the same token, seemingly ordinary subjects and affairs have the potential to become extraordinary when they are tended to by individuals who are bound by the ethical and moral laws of the Torah. When done properly, even temporal dealings with neighbors and business associates become meaningful and holy.
When we are careful not to mislead people, not slander others, when we show love and respect to all, when we share our wealth with those of lesser means, when we do not allow hate to overcome us but instead show unlimited love even to those with whom we have disagreementsthen we have brought the ordinary stuff of life into the Holy of Holies.
Jewish practice was never meant to be shut behind the closed doors of the Holy of Holies. Quite the reverse. The same sanctity and spirituality which we tend to feel on Yom Kippur in the presence of the Holy of Holies ought to be extended and applied the other 364 days of the year, out in the open, in the marketplace, in the home, in our daily lives.
As we apply the laws of Kedoshim to every aspect of living, making them meaningful and purposeful, each of us becomes a kohein gadol in his own right, transforming life into something extraordinary.
The profound privilege and responsibility of being part of a "nation of priests" becomes clear in the most well known pronouncement of this morning's Torah reading: "Veahavta leraiacha kamochaLove your neighbor as yourself." This pronouncement goes against every natural instinct we possess and even against basic Jewish law, as one may not forfeit his own life to save another.
What perhaps is being implied, therefore, is that one must love his neighbor no less and no more than himself. This assumes that one has a sense of value and self-worth, that one sees honor and purpose in his existence, recognizing the contributions he has to make to society and to the Jewish community.
Recognizing your own value as a person, as a spouse, as a child, as a member of a community, you should expect no less from your neighbour.
In other words, you are charged to become the kohein gadol, restoring and enhancing the integrity of your neighbor on a regular basis, through every experience with which you relate to him. As the kohein gadol prays for the atonement of Israel one day a year, we are commanded to advance the integrity of our neighborhoods and communities each and every day of the year.
Acharai mosafter the passing of this one holy day of Yom Kippur, we take on the role of kedoshimto make that one day everyday.
Rabbi Mordecai E. Zeitz
Rabbi Zeitz is rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Montreal, Canada