In Acharei Mot (After the death) we read about the death of Aaron’s two sons immediately followed by the rules for the rituals at Yom Kippur so that no one else would have to meet the same fate as these two young men. Yom Kippur יוֹם כִּפֻּרִhas been translated as “Day of Atonement or Day of Expiation” changing the idea that it is the Creator who “covers” and protects us. We derive the words kippah, chuppah from this root. This covering doesn’t mean that we can get away with anything, but that He oversees all things and has provided the means for us to get closer to Him. The teaching of Nadav and Abihu is a strong one because Israel was just being formed as a new nation and had to learn that there are protocols to be followed in order to approach the living God.
These two portions Acharei Mot- Kedoshim cover the rules and regulations for both rituals and morality. Sadly, today people place far more emphasis upon the rituals than the moral aspect of Torah which need to be applied to our lives. In Kedoshim (holy) we see that the Creator says, “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם כִּי קָדוֹשׁ קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ:. The word Kadosh – קָדוֹשׁ has been translated as holy, but it does not mean that a holy person is someone with a halo. Rather they have been separated to something. In 1 Kings 14:24 we read “And there were also cult prostitutes (קדש) (kadesh) in the land; and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.” And in 1 Kings 22:47 “And the remnant of the cult prostitutes (hakadesh הקדש, which remained from the days of his father Asa, he took from the land.” We can be set apart for good or for evil. The Creator wanted us to be separate ourselves to Him because He has separated Himself for us. I recommend that you read these two parashiot as one, in which we are to be presentable to the Creator; to “be holy as He is holy”. He tells us clearly what it means to be “part of Him.”
Leviticus 19 begins with the two middle of the Ten Commandments, both are Chukkim – חוּקִּים – keep the Shabbat and honor father and mother. They represent the hinge between the first three and the last five. The first three are Mitzvot – מִצְוֺת and concern our relationship with the Creator; His identity as the God who brought us out from Egypt, to not worship idols and to not take His name in vain. The last five are Mishpatim – מִשְׁפָּטִים and concern the relationship that we are to have with our neighbor, our fellowman, Lev. 19:18…” love your neighbor as yourself, I am the LORD. וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה.” Yeshua was referring to this when he said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. If we want to be holy, we need to follow His Ten Commandments; that is what sets us apart from the rest of humanity. Everything else in Scripture is an application of these Ten. His moral injunctions are far more important than the rituals which is why humanity is failing today. These Ten Commandments may seem simple to you, but they are not easy to do. Every decision we make should be viewed through their lens.
In Genesis 15:12-16, Abram had made a prophecy concerning Israel in which the Creator said that the Israelites would be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years “until the iniquity of the Amorites had reached its full extent”. They would be removed from the land and Israel would replace them. In Leviticus 18:26-30, the Creator said, I am the LORD your God and was warning Israel that He would remove the people of Israel from the land like He did to the Amorites because of their behavior. At the end of Kedoshim, in Leviticus 20:22-26, it repeats our need to obey His Chukkim and Mishpatim so that the land would not vomit us out as those who had lived in the land before we took it over. In all three instances, including the Haftarah portion, Ezekiel 20:17, He was speaking to Israel: “I refrain from destroying them. I did not make an end of them in the desert”; because He had given His word to our forefathers. This is as true today as it was then.
Today we have made God in our own image, thus turning ourselves into gods. Humanism removes the Creator from our lives. Our own rules have redefined morality, but here the Creator is clearly telling us to follow Him and not men otherwise we will suffer the consequences. We may be able to fool others, but we cannot fool the Creator. Religious rituals are like spiritual cosmetics that teach us how to “appear” holy to others but mean little to the Creator who sees our hearts, our intentions. Does the Creator care whether we wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur? By asking us to afflict our souls, He wants us to humble ourselves before Him; instead, we concern ourselves with how good we look to others.
True morality comes from above not from us because we can be too easily influenced by others. We have accepted the lies of the world today instead of the Truth which can only come from the Creator, as Yeshua said; “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” The word truth in Hebrew is a euphemism referring to the Creator Himself without having to pronounce His name. Yeshua was speaking to our people at a time of great oppression when the traditions of man had replaced the Torah of God. He wanted us to know that when we have an intimate relationship with the Bore Olam, we are freed from superstition and the oppressive regulations of men for power and control. The message of the Creator is not about doctrine; it is about action. The love of God is a word of action. When we love someone, we want to do things for them; it is about loyalty and action, not some Hollywood gushy feeling which quickly vanishes.
The Creator set Israel apart and warned the people against imitating the ways of the world, as we read in Leviticus. However, Israel today has forgotten who they are and rather than follow the Creator, they prefer to be accepted by the world. As His chosen remnant, let us not follow in their footsteps. Holiness lies in what we are inside, so let us not be like Nadab and Abihu who chose to do things their own way and suffered the consequences; rather let us daily examine our hearts, make things right to those we have hurt or offended and return to the Creator – that is true teshuva. That is how to have a true relationship with the Bore Olam.
Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan – Ranebi