Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim
Rav Yonason Eibeshutz was once collecting tzedaka for a poverty-stricken family. He approached one of the rich men in 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 guard justice and do acts of righteousness at every moment.
The Gemora questions how it is possible to do tzedaka every second, and answers that the verse is referring to a person who sustains his own young children. The man claimed that he had no need to contribute to the Rav’s cause, as he already fulfilled the words of the Gemora through his children and was considered somebody who gives 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 allowed into Holy places!
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 of Peshischa adds that Purim is precisely the opposite. 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 the “impure” days.
However, Purim can also be on the 4th and 5th days of the week, which are “pure” days on which Yom Kippur may fall. This is because the aforementioned Mishnah 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.” 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 the practical relevance of the teaching of the Mishnah, which generally refrains from relating mere historical facts. 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. We may now suggest that they were also 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 in Kesuvos (103b) 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 (85b) 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 law is decided in accordance with the majority of the Sages, in deference to the honor of Rebbi his death was treated in accordance with his opinion, and all who were present received forgiveness, even if they didn’t repent!
ובחקתיהם לא תלכו (18:3)
Rav Chaim Kanievsky is world-renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge and memory, as well as for his characteristically terse replies to questions. Somebody once wrote to him to ask for the source of the concept of making a party to celebrate one’s birthday, wondering whether it was perhaps based upon an obscure Medrash or the writings of one of the early Rishonim. He was quite surprised to receive Rav Chaim’s concise reply: מנהג פרעה – it is a non-Jewish custom which originated with the practices of the wicked Pharaoh (Bereishis 40:20)!
For this reason, it is recorded that the Aderes, Rav Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz-Teumim, would get upset at those who extended to him wishes for a “happy birthday.” He added that if the Gemora in Eiruvin (13b) concludes that it would have been better for man had he not been created, how could a person possibly celebrate the day on which something occurred that wasn’t in his best interest!? The Taam V’Daas writes that for these reasons, the Chasam Sofer claimed that Jews shouldn’t celebrate the day on which they were born but rather the day on which they were circumcised and entered into the Covenant.
In the interest of presenting a balanced perspective, it is interesting to conclude by relating that a Rabbi once said that when his wife was in seminary, the teacher was discussing the Jewish view of birthdays and presented the aforementioned non-Jewish origins of the concept.
One of the girls raised her hand and innocently protested, “But my Zeide sends me a birthday card every year!” The teacher obviously didn’t want to insult the girl’s grandfather and suggested that she should continue to enjoy them, but emphasized that the girls should understand that the idea of celebrating one’s birthday isn’t a Jewish tradition.
Undaunted, the girl pressed her point, arguing that “my Zeide surely knows what he’s doing, and if he sends birthday cards, it must be a Jewish custom!” The teacher felt bad for the girl, but once again reiterated her philosophical stance for the rest of the class. To her surprise, the girl exclaimed, “You don’t understand! My Zeide is Rav Moshe Feinstein!”
ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ד' (19:18)
The Torah commands us to love other Jews as we love ourselves. In his commentary on this verse, Rashi quotes Rebbi Akiva, who states that this is the fundamental rule of the Torah, making it clear the tremendous value that Judaism places on this mitzvah. However, this commandment seems difficult to reconcile with another concept.
In seeking out a prospective spouse whom one will love more than any other person, American culture teaches us that it is easiest to love a person who is similar to us in our backgrounds, values, and interests. If so, how can the Torah command us to love every single Jew when so many of them are so different from us in so many ways?
In a yeshiva for boys who grew up non-religious, there was a student who before becoming observant had gotten a tattoo on his chest, something forbidden by the Torah (19:28). When he decided one Friday to immerse in a mikvah in honor of Shabbos, a custom observed by some men, he was mortified at the prospect that somebody might see his prominent tattoo.
He crossed his arms over his chest to cover his tattoo and approached the mikvah. Due to his anxiety, he didn’t watch where he was walking and slipped on a puddle. His instincts took over, and he threw out his arms to brace himself. Although he was uninjured by the fall, he suddenly recognized that all eyes had turned to him to see if he was okay.
Realizing that his tattoo was now bare for all to see, he was paralyzed by intense feelings of humiliation. Not knowing what to do next, he was startled by an elderly Jew who approached him and stuck out his hand. Thinking that the man was simply offering to help him get up, he was left speechless when the man showed him the numbers tattooed on his arm and remarked, “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ve got one too.”
The Apter Rav was once teaching a class about love of one’s fellow Jew. Extending Rebbi Akiva’s statement, the Rabbi provokingly stated that this is such an important mitzvah that it is alluded to in every word of the Torah. One of the listeners was skeptical and questioned this claim. That week was Parshas Balak. The cynic challenged the Rabbi to find an allusion to this commandment in the word Balak, who was hardly a lover of Jews. The Rabbi replied, “That’s simple. The letters in the word Balak (בלק) are the first letters in the words ואהבת לרעך כמוך.”
Suppressing laughter, the skeptic responded that although the letters may make the same sounds, the ב in Balak isn’t the same as the ו in ואהבת and the ק in Balak is different than the כ in כמוך. The Rav rejoined, “That’s precisely the point that is hinted to. If you’re always focusing on the small differences instead of the larger similarities, you’ll never be able to fulfill this mitzvah!”
Although the point was made by the Rav in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the underlying idea couldn’t be truer. Several commentators suggest that Hashem answered our original question by following this commandment with the words, “I am Hashem.” For all of the differences we may find in another Jew, none of them outweigh the overwhelming similarity that we are all members of Hashem’s people. Wise is the person who realizes that although our tattoos may look different, our souls are united as one, and every Jew is deserving of our love.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that whoever sheds tears when the death of Nadav and Avihu is mentioned in the morning Torah reading on Yom Kippur is guaranteed that his children won’t die during his lifetime. What is so unique about the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, and why should a person specifically shed tears over this tragedy more than over any other? (Ponovezher Rav quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Rav Saadyah Gaon quoted in Rabbeinu Bechaye)
2) The Torah forbids Jews from following the חוקים of their non-Jewish neighbors (18:3). As Rashi explains (Bamidbar 19:2) that חוקים are practices with no apparent reason which we perform for the sole reason that Hashem commanded us to do so, why would somebody willingly adopt the חוקים of his non-Jewish neighbors such that the Torah needed to explicitly prohibit doing so?
3) Why does the Torah interrupt the laws of forbidden relationships with the first half of Parshas Kedoshim, which separates the section which relates the prohibitions from the portion which details the punishments? (Darash Moshe)
4) A person who causes another Jew to violate any of the commandments, such as giving wine to a nazir to drink, transgresses the prohibition (19:14) against placing a stumbling block before the blind. Is it forbidden to give food or drink, including Mishloach Manos, to a non-religious Jew, as doing so will cause him to sin by eating or drinking without reciting the appropriate blessing? (Shu”t Minchas Shlomo)
5) The Torah prohibits a person from taking revenge or bearing a grudge against another Jew (19:18). Rashi gives an example of somebody who asked to borrow his neighbor’s axe, but his neighbor refused. When his neighbor asks the following day to borrow his axe, it is forbidden to refuse to do so in order to get revenge or to lend it to him but remind him or his previous lack of generosity, which is considered bearing a grudge. Why doesn’t the Torah also forbid the neighbor from refusing to lend the axe to begin with? (Paneiach Raza, Chizkuni)
6) The Torah forbids (19:26) a person to engage in sorcery or believe in superstitions, such as black cats. Is it permitted to do something for superstitious reasons if one only thinks of them without saying that this is his rationale? (Pischei Teshuvah Yoreh Deah 179:3, Matamei Yaakov)
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