Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim
Rav Yonason Eibeshutz was once collecting tzedaka for a poverty-stricken family, and approached one of the rich men of his town for a donation. The man attempted to excuse himself by quoting the Gemora in Kesuvos (50a), which discusses the verse in Tehillim (106:3) אשרי שמרי משפט עשה צדקה בכל עת – praised are those who protect justice and do acts of righteousness at every moment. The Gemora questions how it is possible to do tzedaka every single second, and answers that the verse is referring to one who sustains his own young children. With this, the man claimed that he had no need to contribute to the cause, as he already fulfilled the words of the Gemora and gave tzedaka בכל עת at every moment. To that, the quick Rav Yonason sharply responded by quoting our verse and explaining, ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש – one who only gives tzedaka based on the Gemora’s interpretation of the words בכל עת won’t be permitted to enter into Holy places!
בזאת יבא אהרן אל הקדש (16:3)
The Vilna Gaon quotes an amazing Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 21:7) which states that although all future Kohanim Gedolim were only permitted to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, Aharon himself was allowed to enter whenever he wanted throughout the year as long as he performed the service of Yom Kippur! This fascinating fact provides the key to answer many difficulties regarding the portion of the Yom Kippur service.
The Vilna Gaon explains that it is for this reason that the entire portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service repeatedly refers to Aharon and not more generally to “the Kohen Gadol,” and concludes (16:34) by stating that this service shall be a decree for the rest of the Jews once annually – but not for Aharon himself. This also explains why the Gemora in Yoma (71a) states that the entire service should be performed in the order it is written, except for one verse (16:23 – see Rashi there) which isn’t written in its place. The Gemora’s proof is that if the service was done in this order, the Kohen Gadol would only have to immerse himself in a mikveh 3 times, which contradicts the Gemora in Yoma (30a) which states that he must do so 5 times. However, if we understand that this section is addressing Aharon’s service on any day of the year that he chooses (when there is no obligation to immerse himself 5 times), we now understand that for him, this verse is indeed written in its appropriate place!
Based on this explanation, the Chochmos Adam (in Matzeves Moshe at the end of Hilchos Aveilus) adds that we may also understand why with respect to all other sacrifices, the Torah writes first the date and then lists the appropriate sacrifice, whereas here the date of Yom Kippur isn’t mentioned until the end (16:29). We may similarly explain another difficulty. At the end of this portion, the Torah concludes (16:34) that Aharon did as Hashem commanded him. Rashi is troubled by the fact that he was unable to do so as it wasn’t yet Yom Kippur, so he explains that Aharon did so when Yom Kippur arrived. However, according the Medrash, we may alternatively understand that Aharon immediately entered and performed the Yom Kippur service, as only he was permitted to do, with great alacrity!
The Gemora in Gittin (60a) states that there were 8 portions of the Torah which were given over on the day that the Mishkan was erected, one of which is Acharei Mos. Rashi there is bothered by the fact that all of the other portions were immediately relevant and needed to be taught at that point, but the details of the service of Yom Kippur wouldn’t be applicable for 6 more months. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky notes that according the Medrash and the above explanation, we now understand that it was relevant at that time, as Aharon was able to immediately enter the Holy of Holies and perform the Yom Kippur service.
Finally, the Gemora in Yoma (53b) derives from 16:13 that if the Kohen Gadol leaves out one of the ingredients of the incense or if he doesn’t cause the incense to make smoke, he is liable to the death penalty at the hands of Heaven. The Shaagas Aryeh (71) questions why there is a need to derive this point from a verse discussing the Yom Kippur service, when we could alternatively learn it from the more general principle that because the Kohen Gadol made a forbidden fire on Yom Kippur (since it wasn’t for the sake of doing the mitzvah properly), he is liable to kares (spiritual excision), which is an ever more severe penalty. The Steipler answers based on the aforementioned Medrash, that this derivation is necessary with respect to Aharon who is permitted to perform this service on days of the year when making a fire would otherwise be permitted, but improperly offering the incense in the Holy of Holies is not!
כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם (16:30)
The Mishnah in Keilim (17:14) discusses the creation of the universe and whether the items created on each day are susceptible to becoming impure. The 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 7th days of creation are considered “pure” in that everything which was formed on those days cannot become impure. The Shailos U’Teshuvos Mayim Chaim points out that because Yom Kippur is such a holy and pure day, it may fall on any of these four days but not on the other “impure” days.
The Yid HaKadosh from Peshischa adds that Purim is precisely the opposite, in that it may only fall on the 1st, 3rd, or 6th days of the week, which are the days which connote impurity. This is because the Medrash explains that Purim represents the concept of elevating the impure and making it pure. In order to do so, it specifically falls on these “impure” days.
However, Purim may also fall on the 4th and 5th days of the week, which are “pure” days on which Yom Kippur may fall. This is because the Mishnah there lists two items (כנף העוז וביצת נעמית המצופה) which were created on these two days which are considered Biblically pure but which may become impure Rabbinically. Therefore, both holidays may occur on these two days. Yom Kippur is a Biblical holiday, and from a Torah perspective these two days are completely “pure,” but Purim is Rabbinical in origin, and from a Rabbinical perspective these days are indeed susceptible to impurity!
Rav Menachem Ziemba suggests that the intent of this explanation is to address the difficulty in understanding what is the practical relevance of the teaching of the Mishnah, which generally refrains from relating mere historical facts. Rather, just as the Gemora (Pesachim 58b) relates that even when the Sanhedrin sanctified the new moon based on the testimony of witnesses, they refrained from allowing Yom Kippur to fall on Friday or Sunday which would cause two consecutive days to be forbidden in the performance of any creative labor, so too they were careful to arrange the calendar so that Yom Kippur would fall only on the aforementioned “pure” days!
כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם לפני ד' תטהרו (16:30)
The Gemora relates that when Rebbi – Rav Yehuda HaNasi – passed away, a piece of paper fell from heaven, on which was written that all who were present at that time would merit a share in the World to Come. Although his level of holiness and spirituality was great, why don’t we find similar episodes regarding the deaths of other righteous individuals?
Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor answers that the Gemora in Yoma records a dispute between Rebbi and the other Rabbis with respect to the atonement effected by Yom Kippur. The Sages maintain that Yom Kippur is only effective together with confession and repentance for one’s misdeeds, but Rebbi maintains that the holiness of the day itself intrinsically brings atonement and forgiveness for all. It is also known (see Rashi Bamidbar 20:1) that the death of the righteous effects atonement similar to Yom Kippur. Although the halacha is decided in accordance with the majority of the Sages, in deference to the opinion of Rebbi, his death was treated in accordance with his opinion and therefore all who were present received forgiveness, even if they didn’t repent!
והיתה זאת לכם לחקת עולם לכפר על בני ישראל מכל חטאתם אחת בשנה (16:34)
Before the beginning of the emotional Neilah prayers on Yom Kippur in 1959, Rav Eliyahu Lopian rose to address those gathered to pray in his yeshiva in Kfar Chassidim in
With this introduction, he cryptically continued, we may understand why our verse mentions that Yom Kippur shall occur once annually, something which should be obvious and which isn’t explicitly written in reference to any of the other Yomim Tovim. Rather, if the generation is lax and immoral, Hashem will have no choice but to take the righteous, whose death atones just as Yom Kippur, throughout the year in order to bring them forgiveness. The Torah therefore emphasizes that the decree is that there should be only one Yom Kippur each year and we pray for no more.
Those in attendance had a difficult time understanding Rav Lopian’s intentions until they heard at the end of Yom Kippur that just after Kol Nidrei on the evening before, the great Brisker Rav had passed away. His son Rav Berel Soloveitchik related that a few days previously, his father had cryptically commented, “This year there will be two consecutive days of Yom Kippur, one beginning just as the other ends,” the intent of which was tragically clarified a few days later!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Torah concludes the portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service by stating (16:34) that doing so will effect atonement on the Jewish people מכל חטאתם – for all of their sins. However, the term חטא is used to connote a sin which is done accidentally, which would seem to imply that one is unable to receive forgiveness on Yom Kippur for sins committed intentionally. Is this the case, and if not, why does the Torah use such seemingly misleading wording? (Kovetz Ma’amarim)
2) The Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 24:5) explains that Parshas Kedoshim was said to the entire nation because it contains all of the Aseres HaDibros. How many of them can you find?
3) When reaping the harvest, the Torah requires the farmer to leave the פאה – corner – of the field for the poor to gather (19:9). When shaving one’s head, the Torah also requires that one not round off or destroy the hair at the פאה of the head. Why with respect to the field do we leave only one corner to fulfill this requirement, while on the head we leave two? (Ritva Shevuos 2b d.h. V’al Ha’zakan, Radvaz Hilchos Matnos Aniyim 1:1, Imrei Emes, Taima D’Kra)
4) The Sefer HaChinuch, in explaining the roots of the prohibition against taking revenge (19:18), writes that everything which happens to a person is decreed by Hashem (as King David said when ordering that Shimi ben Geira be left alone after cursing him, that “Hashem told him to curse”). The Torah therefore forbids taking revenge against one who harms or hurts us, since he was after all just an agent to execute Hashem’s decrees. The Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh (Bereishis 37:21) explains that Reuven saved Yosef by suggesting that he be thrown into a pit containing snakes and scorpions because while humans have free choice and the ability to do to someone even that which wasn’t decreed in Heaven, animals have no free choice and are therefore limited to whatever was decided by Hashem. How can this be reconciled with the statement of the Chinuch? (Siach Chaim)
5) The Torah forbids the consumption of orlah, the fruits produced by a tree for the first three years (19:23). The Gemora in Shabbos (33b) relates that when Rav Shimon bar Yochai was forced to flee to cave in order to save his life, a carob tree miraculously sprouted there to provide him sustenance. How was he permitted to eat the fruits, which are considered orlah? (Imrei Daas)
6) A man who gives some of his offspring over to the worship of the idol Molech in the presence of witnesses who give him proper warning is put to death (Rambam, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 6:3). However, this is only the case if he gives over some of his children, but he is exempt if he gives over all of them (6:4). If so, how can he ever be punished when he gives over only some, as the warning he receives at the time is considered התראת ספק – a warning which is in doubt – as he may ultimately give over all of his sons and be exempt, and a doubtful warning is insufficient to make somebody liable for punishment? (Har Tzvi, M’rafsin Igri)
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