Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim
The Vilna Gaon quotes a fascinating Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 21:7) which teaches that although all future Kohanim Gedolim were only permitted to enter the Kodesh Kodashim on Yom Kippur, Aharon was allowed to enter whenever he wanted throughout the year as long as he performed the service of Yom Kippur. This amazing fact provides the key to resolve many difficulties regarding the section in the Torah that describes the Yom Kippur service.
The Vilna Gaon points out that the entire portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service repeatedly refers to Aharon and not more generally to “the Kohen Gadol” as one might have expected. Also, it concludes (16:34) by teaching that this service shall be a decree for the rest of the Jews once annually. In light of the Medrash, we now understand that Aharon’s performance of this service was unrestricted, whereas for future generations it was indeed limited to once per year.
This Medrash also explains why the Gemora in Yoma (71a) teaches that the entire service should be performed in the order that it is written in the Torah except for one verse (Rashi 16:23) which isn’t written in its proper place. The Gemora’s proof is that if the service was done in the order that it is written, the Kohen Gadol would only have to immerse himself in a mikvah three times, which contradicts the Gemora in Yoma (30a) which teaches that he must do so five times. However, if we recognize that this section is addressing Aharon’s service on any day of the year that he chooses – when there is no obligation to immerse five times – we can understand that for Aharon, this verse is indeed written in its appropriate place.
In light of this Medrash, the Chai Adam adds that we may also understand why with respect to all other sacrifices, the Torah writes first the date and then details the appropriate sacrifice. In our parsha, the date of Yom Kippur isn’t mentioned until the end (16:29) because for Aharon these sacrifices weren’t limited to Yom Kippur.
We may similarly explain another difficulty. At the end of this section, the Torah concludes (16:34) that Aharon did just as Hashem commanded him. Rashi, troubled by the fact that he was unable to do so since it wasn’t yet Yom Kippur, explains that Aharon performed the service when Yom Kippur arrived. However, according the Medrash, we may suggest 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) teaches that there are eight portions of the Torah that were taught on the day that the Mishkan was erected, one of which is Acharei Mos. Rashi 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 Yom Kippur service seemingly weren’t applicable for six more months. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky notes that according to the Medrash, we understand that it was relevant at that time, as Aharon was able to immediately enter the Kodesh Kodashim to 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 create 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 the even more severe penalty of kares (spiritual excision). Citing the Medrash, the Steipler answers that this derivation is necessary with respect to Aharon, who was 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.
ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ד' (19:18)
אמר רבי עקיבא זה כלל גדול בתורה (רש"י)
The Torah commands us to love other Jews as we love ourselves. In his commentary on this verse, Rashi quotes Rebbi Akiva, who teaches 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, Western culture teaches us that it is easiest to love a person with a similar background, values, and interests. If so, how can the Torah command us to love every Jew when so many of them are so different from us in so many ways?
In a yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva, there was a student who in his youth had gotten a tattoo on his chest, something forbidden by the Torah in this week’s parsha (19:28). When he decided one Friday to immerse in a mikvah in honor of Shabbos, he was mortified by 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 Rebbe provokingly proclaimed 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 Rebbe to find an allusion to this commandment in the word Balak, who was hardly a lover of Jews. The Rebbe 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 sagacious Rebbe rejoined, “That’s precisely the point. If you’re always focusing on the small differences between you and other Jews instead of the larger similarities, you’ll never be able to fulfill this mitzvah!”
Although the point was made by the Apter Rav in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the underlying idea couldn’t be truer. Several commentators suggest that Hashem answered our original question by immediately 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 external tattoos may look different, our internal souls are united as one, and every Jew is deserving of our love.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Was the Kohen Gadol required to recite Birkas HaGomel (the Thanksgiving Blessing) after successfully completing the Yom Kippur service and emerging alive from the Kodesh Kodashim, a place which was fraught with danger and from which many a Kohen Gadol had to be dragged out with a rope after he died there? (Machazik Beracha Orach Chaim 219)
2) How was Yaakov permitted to marry Rochel and Leah, two sisters, which is forbidden (18:18) by the Torah? (Ramban Bereishis 26:5, Moshav Z’keinim; Shu”t Rema 10, Nefesh HaChaim 1:21)
3) The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 24:5) explains that Parshas Kedoshim was said to the entire nation because it contains verses corresponding to all of the Aseres HaDibros. How many can you find?
4) A person who causes another Jew to violate any of the commandments transgresses the prohibition (19:14) against placing a stumbling block before the blind. Is it forbidden to invite a non-religious Jew to come for a Shabbos meal, as doing so will cause him to sin by driving back and forth? (Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 1:98-99, Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:358)
Answers to Points to Ponder:
1) The Chida writes that Birkas HaGomel is said only by someone who was placed in a perilous situation against his will, but not by somebody – such as the Kohen Gadol – who was commanded to endanger himself to perform a mitzvah. Additionally, he argues that the Kodesh Kodashim cannot be labeled an inherently dangerous place, as it is in the direct presence of the Shechinah, which is not considered dangerous as long as the person entering is righteous and on the proper spiritual level.
2) The Ramban maintains that the Avos only kept the mitzvos in Eretz Yisroel, whereas Yaakov married them outside of the
3) The Medrash gives the following verses as corresponding to each of the Aseres HaDibros, respectively: “I am Hashem your G-d” (19:2), “Molten gods you shall not make for yourselves” (19:4), “You shall not swear falsely by My Name” (19:12), “You shall observe My Shabbos” (19:3), “You shall revere your father and mother” (19:3), “You shall not stand aside while your brother’s blood is shed” (19:16), “The adulterer and adulteress shall be killed” (20:10), “You shall not steal” (19:11), “You shall not be a gossipmonger” (19:16) corresponds to the prohibition against bearing false witness, and “You shall love your brother as yourself” (19:18) corresponds to the prohibition against coveting.
4) Rav Moshe Shternbuch rules that if the host’s intention is solely for the benefit of his guest, in the hopes of inspiring him to become more interested in Judaism, it is permissible to invite him even if he will drive to the meal. He explains that the prohibition against doing an action which will cause somebody to sin is only if one’s intention is to cause him harm, similar to placing a stumbling block in front of a blind person. However, just as nobody would view a surgeon who operates on a person to save his life as wounding or damaging him, so too if the host’s intention is to help his guest spiritually, it would be permissible with two caveats. First, one may not command the guest to drive and should in fact make it clear that his driving causes the host pain. Second, there is a separate concern of publicly desecrating Hashem’s name if a guest drives up to his house on Shabbos, so he should insist that the guest park at a distance so that it won’t be clear that he is specifically coming to visit the host. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein strongly disagrees and argues that if the guest lives at a distance which will cause him to drive, the invitation of the host is tantamount to commanding him to drive, and instead of educating him to observe Shabbos, he is teaching him to desecrate Shabbos. He further adds that if the guest lives so far away that it would be impossible for him to walk to the host’s house, inviting him for a Shabbos meal would transgress not only the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind, but would be considered in the even more severe category of an inciter to sin (see Devorim 13:7-12). For all questions of practical halacha, a Rav familiar with the situation should be consulted.
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