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Dan Has Questions About Atonement and Holiness: Parshiot Acharey Mot and Kedoshim

04/27/2023 08:38:00 AM

Apr27

Dan Leemon

Once again, we read two Parashiot this week, giving us a lot to think about.  The first Parshah is Acharey Mot, “after the death”, and refers to the death of Aaron’s sons after they brought “strange fire” into the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as we talked about a couple of weeks ago.  The Parshah begins with instructions to Aaron about when he can enter the holiest section of the Mishkan, providing details about what he should wear and what sacrifice he should bring.  When we come to CBJ:
 

-​It is important how we are dressed, and how we behave?  Why?
-​What can you do to make sure our facilities and spaces are ready for everyone who comes to them — how can you help keep them clean and in good shape?

Acharey Mot then discusses atonement — the process of apologizing and being forgiven for what we do.  In addition to commanding us to observe the Holy Day of Yom Kippur — in fact, we read some of this Parshah on Yom Kippur -- the Torah describes an atonement ceremony involving two goats.  The Torah commands Aaron to confess all of our sins, intentional and unintentional, symbolically placing them on the head of one of the goats.  This goat is sent to the wilderness, metaphorically carrying our sins away with it (the other goat is sacrificed).  One of our core beliefs as Jews is that we are responsible for our own behavior, and, if we do something wrong, we are responsible for apologizing, atoning, and making it right.  So:


-​What do you think about this ceremony of atonement?  Is it possible for this ceremony — or any ceremony — to make up for our sins?
-​Aaron asks for forgiveness on our behalf.  Would it make you feel better if someone else asked for forgiveness on your behalf?  Why or why not? If so, whom would you pick to do this?
-​What happens if you do something wrong unintentionally and you don’t know about it?  How do you make up for it?


The second Parsha is Kedoshim, which literally means “Holy”.  This section of the Torah is known as the “Holiness Code”, and it starts with God telling Moses to tell us that “You shall be holy, for I am holy”.  Look up “holy” in your thesaurus and you will find a long, long list of synonyms, from “righteous” and “spiritual” to “God-like” and “pure”.

-​What is the Torah trying to tell us here?  Why not just say “be good people”?  
-​Can we really be like God?  What does that even mean?


The Parshah continues with a long list of mitzvot, those good deed/commandment combinations that tell us how to live our lives.  A few are repeats of the Ten Commandments:  Obey and respect your parents, observe Shabbat, do not worship idols, do not steal, do not lie.  But the Torah goes a lot farther here.  Among the additional mitzvot here are:  Leave some of your harvest in the field for poor people to take.  Pay someone who works for you at the end of the day, not the next day.  Do not curse a deaf person.  Do not trip a blind person.  Judge people without regard to whether they are rich or poor.  Do not gossip.  Don’t stand by while someone else gets hurt.  When others wrong you in some way, tell them so, but do not hate them.  Respect old people.  Treat people from other places like they belong here.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Love the stranger as you love yourself.  And there’s more, as in prior chapters, about what behavior is allowed and what is not allowed, what we can eat and not eat, again using the theme of what is pure and what is impure.  As the ancient Rabbis said, there’s a lot to unpack here!

-​Which of these commandments is most important to you, and why?
-​Why do you think the Torah defines special rules for specific categories of people: Poor people, strangers, old people, people with disabilities?
-​What might you add to your own “Holiness Code”?
-​What’s the one mitzvah you wish other people would follow?  Why?
-​Is there one of these mitzvot that is harder than the others for you to follow?  What could help you follow it?

Just as the Ten Commandments lay out the basic rules to live by, and the Holiness Code expands to rules about fairness, kindness, and respect to apply to our everyday lives.  Over the past year, our everyday lives have been unusual due to the pandemic.


- Can you think of any rules or commandments that have been more important during the pandemic?
- How can we show kindness, fairness, and respect during the pandemic?
- Are there special categories of people we should be especially aware of or respectful of during the pandemic?

The idea here is that “holiness” is an ideal state where we are kind, compassionate, helpful, respectful, clean and pure, and well-intentioned all of the time.  So “holiness” isn’t anything we achieve, but something we aspire to, something that guides us toward doing the right thing.  So, as you look forward to the coming week:

-​Do you have an aspiration for the coming week?

Shabbat shalom,
Dan

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784