Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim: To Be Holy


torahBy Rav Eliezer Chrysler, Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg (Adapted from the Or ha’Chayim)

Over and above the classical explanations of Rashi (to desist from all the eighteen Arayos listed in the previous Parshah) and the Ramban (to abstain from excessive self-indulgence even in matters that the Torah permits), the commentaries suggest various other interpretations of the Mitzvah of being holy. The Or ha’Chayim ha’Kodosh alone presents six unique explanations. Some of them border on the two classical explanations mentioned above, yet even they differ from those of the Rishonim, as we shall see.

The author is also bothered by the Torah’s conclusion “because I, Hashem your G-d, am Holy”, which in most cases, he explains to fit the commentary. One would have thought that the phrase, in light of the Mitzvah of emulating G-d’s Midos (which Chazal derive from the Pasuk in ki Savo ” … and you shall go in His ways”), is simply exhorting us to follow in G-d’s footsteps and to be holy like Him, but for some reason, he rejects that. Let us see what the Or ha’Chayim says … 1. In Parshas Acharei-Mos, the Torah issued eighteen La’avin, replete with a Chiyuv Kareis, with regard to adultery, incest and other forbidden sexual relationships. “Kedoshim tih’yu” adds a Mitzvas Asei to each one. Consequently, someone who transgresses any of them has transgressed an Asei and a La’av which carries with it the punishment of Kareis.

2. The Gemara in Kidushin (39b) states that whoever is confronted with the opportunity of sinning, and desists from doing so, receives a reward as if he has performed a Mitzvah. The Mitzvah of “Kedoshim tih’yu”, says the Or ha’Chayim, obligates us to distance ourselves from sin, and that by doing so, we earn the title ‘Kadosh’.

And the Torah adds “I am Hashem your G-d”, says the Toras Kohanim, to teach us that when we sanctify ourselves in this way, we also sanctify Hashem (Kevayachol), and that, when we don’t, we have failed to sanctify Him as well.

3. Already in the previous Parshah (in connection with the Pasuk not to emulate the codes of behaviour practiced by the Egyptians and by the Cana’anim [18:2]), the author explained that so powerful is the Yeitzer-ha’Ra for adultery, that the only way of overcoming it is by eliminating it from one’s thoughts in its totality.

On the other hand, as far as the sin under discussion is concerned, this is impossible, seeing as one needs to get married and have children, leaving open the door for thoughts to enter one’s mind! So what does one do? Eliminating every such thought from one’s mind entails abstaining from marriage altogether; whereas marriage leaves one with the inevitable outcome of unwanted thoughts flooding one’s mind?

The answer, says the Or ha’Chayim, lies in the Mitzvah of “Kedoshim tih’yu” – to train oneself to refrain from self-indulgence, and to perform the Mitzvos connected with marriage with sanctity and purity.

And it is in answer to the obvious question, that the inevitable pleasure is so acute, that when all’s said and done, it remains impossible to eliminate forbidden thoughts that are bound to enter, that the Torah adds “because I Hashem your G-d, am holy”. The Tikunei Zohar has already taught that every Mitzvah brings Hashem’s Name to rest on the limb that performs it (as is hinted in the word “Mitzvah”, which contains His Holy Name – ‘Mem’ ‘Tzadei’ spell ‘Yud’ ‘Hey’ [in the Gematriyah of ‘At Bash’], whereas the letters ‘Vav’ ‘Hey’ remain intact). Hence Chazal have said that someone who performs a Mitzvah cannot come to grief (because he enjoys Divine Protection). And that is the case here. If someone sanctifies his thoughts in the prescribed manner, then Hashem promises to be his G-d, and to prevent evil thoughts from entering his mind.

4. Still in connection with the Parshah of Arayos, he points out that, as things stand, the Torah only forbids the actual act of adultery. Perhaps, we may think, there is nothing wrong with indulging in adulterous thoughts or even with looking at adulterous scenes. Therefore the Torah writes “Kedoshim tih’yu”, prohibiting anything that might lead to the act itself; causing the Gemara in B’rachos (61a) to issue a statement that a man who counts money into the hands of a woman in order to gaze at her will not escape the Din of Gehinom. And commenting on the Pasuk in ki Seitzei (23:11), which warns against making oneself Tamei by night, they interpret this as a warning against indulging in lewd thoughts by day .

And because it is so difficult to achieve this level of purity, as we explained earlier, the Torah adds “because I, Hashem your G-d, am Holy” – to assure us that as long as we make the effort to refrain from such thoughts during the day, G-d will assist us to remain Tahor by night.

5. The author now explains how the Torah wants us to constantly strive towards higher levels of achievement, to rise from one level to another. Just like we find among the prophets, each of whom was on a different level, and that Moshe Rabeinu rose above them all. And perhaps there is a level above the level that Moshe attained in his lifetime, as the Pasuk writes in Yeshayah (11:2) in connection with Mashi’ach “And there will rest on him the Spirit of Hashem, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of G-d”. Indeed, the Medrash maintains that Moshe himself will be the ultimate redeemer, in which case we see that even he will attain even greater heights than those that he did earlier! So when the Torah writes “Kedoshim tih’yu”, says the author, the Torah is teaching us that irrespective of the heights of spirituality that one has attained, it is always possible to reach greater heights still.

And the Torah adds “because I, Hashem your G-d, am Holy, to teach us to emulate Hashem in this regard, to try to attain His level of Kedushah, which is infinite.

Alternatively, the Torah is reminding us here not to take the Mitzvah of Kedoshim Tih’yu lightly, because, as the author explains, one cannot compare someone who invites an ordinary guest into his home to one who invites the king. The preparations simply differ vastly. And so it is here. If we want the Shechinah to be in our midst, then in order to accommodate It, we ourselves need to attain the highest levels of Kedushah before It arrives, for “Hashem your G-d is Holy”, and His holiness is supreme.

6. Every day in Davening, in the third B’rachah of the Amidah, we refer to angels as ‘Kedoshim’, and it is with this in mind that the Torah commands us to be holy, to strive to reach the level of angels. That is why David Hamelech said in Tehilim (82:6) with reference to Yisrael after they received the Torah (but had not yet sinned by the Golden Calf) “I said you are angels and sons of the One on high … “. Indeed, we find that the angels were perturbed when G-d supplanted them, when He chose to rest His Shechinah among K’lal Yisrael, and appointed them members of His household rather than among the former, as the Zohar points out. And this is because Yisrael reach the level of Kedushah by choice, as opposed to the angels, who are created holy.

The Sa’ir la’Azazel: (Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

“And he (the Kohen Gadol) shall stand them before Hashem” (16:7).

The two goats were given as a gift to Hashem both before the lots were drawn and afterwards, R. Bachye points out. The former we learn from the current Pasuk, the latter, from Pasuk 10 – “And the goat, designated by for Azazel, shall be stood live before Hashem … “. This teaches us that even the goat that was sent to Azazel, the Kohen had to first give to Hashem, even though (unlike the goat for Hashem, which was Shechted in His Name) it was sent away into the desert. In fact, in this way, it resembled the bird of the Metzora, which was sent away into the fields, and the Eglah Arufah, which had its neck broken in a hard valley, which had not been worked on or seeded (see footnote).

The Torah’s intention is not to sacrifice the goat to Azazel (Chalilah), as there is no such thing as directing one’s Tefilos or one’s service to any power other than G-d, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim (22:19) “Whoever sacrifices to the gods shall be banned; only to Hashem alone”. Indeed, if someone has any such thoughts, his Korban is not accepted, and about him the Pasuk writes in Mishlei (21:27) “The sacrifice of a Rasha is an abomination”.

And it is to stress that the current Avodah was in the Name of Hashem that the Kohen Gadol placed the two goats before Him, both before and after the lots had been drawn.

The reason that he determined the status of the goats by means of lots, says R. Bachye citing the Ramban, is because anything that is determined by lots, is considered Divinely chosen. Had the Kohen picked them verbally, then it would have conveyed the impression that determining which goat is which was his decision. This in turn, would have been akin to equating the two goats, with the result that the goat for Azazel would have been close to worshipping Azazel. But now that he placed them both before Hashem, and drew lots, it was Hashem who was determining the respective statuses of His two goats.

That is why Unklus translates “one lot for Hashem” – ‘for the Name of Hashem’, since that particular goat was brought in the Name of Hashem and not for Azazel, whilst the second goat was brought to Azazel, but not in its name.

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