Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim
In Pursuit Of Holiness
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
(Parashas Acharei Mos)
He must take two goats for a Sin-Offering from the Children of
Israel, and one ram for a Burnt-Offering. (Vayikra 16:5)
And thus begins the section dealing with the holiest day of the year,
The first Yom Kippur, historically, was the day that Moshe Rabbeinu
finally achieved atonement for the survivors of the golden calf
incident, on the tenth day of Tishrei, 2449, or, 1313 BCE. It
happened to arrive on exactly the 120th day since Moshe first
ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the first set of Tablets: the first
forty days Moshe received Torah and the First Tablets; the second
forty days he begged G-d to forgive those who had not died through
the incident of the calf, and, the last set of forty days Moshe
worked on securing atonement.
It might seem that the tenth of Tishrei just happened to follow three
complete sets of forty days, each being forty days long because that
is the number that represents integration of Torah. However, that
would be mistaken thinking, for, like all Jewish holidays -- even the
rabbinical ones -- Yom Kippur -- has primordial roots. And thus, the
reason why Moshe Rabbeinu finally achieved atonement for the Jewish
people on THAT day was because it was imbued with a special spiritual
potential for atonement, going back to the beginning of creation. The
connection to the 120th day of that time is just another example of
wonderful Divine timing.
In fact, according to Kabbalah, Yom Kippur is not only rooted in the
origins of creations, but, it is also rooted in the future as well,
as in, "Olam HaBah," or, the World-to-Come. Long after history as we
are used to it has come to a close, and, all the other holidays are
but distant memories, the light of Yom Kippur will shine in its full
glory during the eighth millennium, one of the earlier stages of the
World-to-Come, for, that is the period of time that the sefirah of
Binah governs, which is the same light that shines, at least
partially, on Yom Kippur.
"Binah" means "understanding," the level on which abstract knowledge
becomes relateable to the mind. It is the stage of understanding at
which a person can begin to look at a concept somewhat objectively in
terms of its importance to him or life in general. It is the crucial
point at which a person can be convinced that his life should be
changed (or not changed) because of a certain concept in question.
And thus, Binah is the source of teshuvah -- repentance, or, more
Returning to what? So, the Talmud states:
... These are the days of birth when they teach him the entire Torah
... However, when he reaches the air, an angel touches him on his
mouth and he forgets the entire Torah ... And, they don't let him
leave there until he swears ... that he will be righteous and not
evil. (Niddah 30b)
Forgets, but never loses, for, Torah and the Jewish soul are but one
and the same thing: expressions of the will of G-d. And, whether an
angel is inside the womb teaching the infant Torah -- souls have no
specific age -- or not, it matters not. What matters is that every
Jewish baby is born with an innate knowledge of Torah, and that the
rest of life is a process of "returning" to a conscious realization
of that precious and holy knowledge.
What the womb and Yom Kippur have in common is that, in both
instances, the body is more-or-less neutralized. For, Yom Kippur is
the one day of the year, according to the Zohar, that the yetzer hara
-- the evil inclination -- is given the day off. You could say that
Yom Kippur is kind of spiritual womb we enter once a year in order to
return to being in touch with our innate knowledge of Torah, and, for
that matter, our soul itself.
This is why Yom Kippur is not only a "journey" into the past, it is a
journey into the far future of the unimaginable World-to-Come. For,
it is then that whatever element of "physicality" -- and I use that
term VERY loosely here -- we will still possess at that time will be
completely subservient to our souls. This is the true source of
teshuvah: neutralization of the body long enough to feel the Torah in
one's soul, after which unity with G-d and atonement is the most
A man should fear his mother and father and My Shabbos should be
kept; I am G-d your G-d. (Vayikra 19:3)
The juxtaposition of these two very central mitzvos, which show up on
the Ten Commandments as well (but in reverse order), leads the Talmud
to teach that fearing one's father and mother has a limitation --
that is, up until their command contradicts that of G-d (Yevamos 6a).
After all, says the Talmud, EVERYONE, including one's parents, is
obligated to honor G-d.
There are probably many other interpretations of this juxtaposition
of mitzvos, but one very interesting one comes in the name of the
... This is explained based upon what we have said earlier, on the
posuk, "Remember the day of Shabbos ..." One who originates Torah
ideas on Shabbos brings great honor to his parents in the
World-to-Come, as it says in the Zohar in Parashas Shlach. This is
why the possukim are juxtaposed: "A man should fear his mother and
father," to honor them on Shabbos through original words of Torah,
and thus, "and My Shabbos should be kept." (Sha'ar HaPossukim)
Actually, this true of every day of the week, not just Shabbos. Any
time a person performs a mitzvah, especially learning Torah and
creating Torah novella, he brings merit to his deceased AND living
parents. If so, then what is special about Shabbos in this matter
that the possukim needed to be put together to teach this lesson, and
why Torah novella, and not just Torah in general?
To begin with, from the following, it seems that Shabbos is a special
time for souls. This shows up even in halachah:
It is forbidden to drink water between Minchah (Afternoon Service)
and Ma'ariv (Evening Service) because that is when the souls return
to Gehinnom. (Rama, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 291:2)
What he means is that it is close to the time when they return to
Gehinnom ... (Mishnah Brura, 291:2:8)
In fact, we even say a short little prayer for those who have to
return to Gehinnom on Motzei Shabbos towards the end of Minchah
called, "Tzidkasechah Tzedek," "Your Judgment in Righteous" (O.C.
292:2:6). Thus, Shabbos is a time when Divine judgment is suspended
somewhat, and a soul is in a better position to enjoy the fruits of
its labor, that is, the children left behind learning Torah.
What is unique about "chidushei Torah" (Torah novella) is that it
represents a person's "place" within the world Torah. When a person
originates a true Torah concept, it is his unique expression of Torah
based upon all that he has become until that point. This is a far
different concept than repeating an idea that has previously existed,
either directly from Torah, or, a novel idea from someone else.
Thus, chidushei Torah are really a reflection of one's personal
relationship to the world of Torah, and, quite indicative of one's
personal spiritual and intellectual development. This brings great
merit to the person, and to his parents who brought him into this
And, since Shabbos is a time when the World-to-Come interfaces with
This World, there can be a certain level of neutralization of the
body, like on Yom Kippur, that allows one to get in touch with the
Torah that is also his or her soul. According to tradition, the word
"Shabbos" itself, spelled: shin-bais-tav, is also an acronym for:
"Shabbos Bo Teshuvah" -- "In Shabbos There is Teshuvah."
So, what better time is there in the week to get in touch with one's
soul, and tap into one's own unique place in the world of Torah, and,
at the same time, bring spiritual delight to oneself, one's family
and friends, and, one's relatives living on another spiritual plane.
Do not hate your brother in your heart; you must criticize your
fellow so that a sin should not occur to him. (Vayikra 19:17)
This is another interesting juxtaposition of mitzvos, and this time,
the pshat is:
When you do not hate your brother in your heart, then you will be
able to properly criticize your fellow so that a sin should not occur
to him. For, all your intentions will be that your friend should no
longer sin and that a sin should not occur for you when he does sin,
for, every Jew is a guarantor for the other. In this way, the Jewish
people can perfect the trait mentioned when at Mt. Sinai, "Israel
(He) camped by the mountain" (Shemos 19:2), after which the Torah was
given to them. As well, at Purim-time, they rectified this sin by
acting in a brotherly manner towards one other, as it says, "Go and
gather all the Jews" (Esther 4:16), after which they received the
Torah anew (Shabbos 88a)... (Leket Peirushei Rebi Yitzchak Itzik
Chaver, Parashas Kedoshim)
Never mind the fact that the Talmud says that no one knows how to
give criticism today, and certainly even fewer know how to receive it
(Sotah 49b). Following this line of thinking, this reality is
symptomatic of a lack of care for one another, a lack of unification
amongst the Jewish people.
Nothing novel about this idea; we are a very fractured people today.
Self-interest of individuals and groups has taken priority, and money
is a VERY big determining factor on so many levels in so many groups.
In our old age, we have become a reverse image of our youth when we
had camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, which is why the end of the
above quote makes perfect sense:
It is known and I am certain that in advance of the arrival of
Moshiach, this sin will be rectified in the Jewish people, and
through this, Moshiach will come, as it says, "Behold, I will send
you Eliyahu ... and the hearts of the fathers will return..."
(Malachi 3:23). This is the explanation of the verse, "Behold, the
number of the Children of Israel is like the sand of the sea that
cannot be counted ..." (Hoshea 2:1). In other words, Israel is
compared to the dust of the earth from the standpoint that it sticks
together and unifies ...
So, it seems, Jewish unity is THE threshold to be crossed over by
Moshiach. No wonder why so many people give up hope. "If you only had
told me to circle the entire universe," a person said, "I might have
kept up hope in Moshiach's arrival. But, not that you have raised the
issue of Jewish unity once again ... Woe are we ..."
Perhaps. It reminds me of adding fractions with different
denominators. As long as even one of the denominators is different
from the rest of those in the equation, even if only one out of
thirty-six is unlike the rest, still, you cannot add up the other
thirty-five and arrive at the correct answer. So, you have to keep on
searching for that one common denominator that is the same for all
the fractions, which will unify them all.
So, too, it is with the Jewish people. Each one of us from this tiny
but spunky nation is like a fraction that must be added to the
others. But, all of us also have our own interests, which may even
differ from those among the group to which we belong. We have yet to
find our common denominator, which is an understatement.
At Mt. Sinai, when we camped as a single individual, we had our
common denominator for a while: G-d and Torah. The awe of G-d
revealing Himself from atop the smoking mountain guaranteed that this
would be the case. We could do it again, if we really wanted to.
There are few other things in life that can have the same effect,
except, perhaps, for a lethal attack against the ENTIRE Jewish
people, G-d forbid. We're a stubborn people, but, a
nation-threatening war brings out the brotherhood in most of us by
pushing our everyday self-interests down the chain of priorities.
It's a terrible thought, and from G-d's point of view as well as our
own, it is a very LAST resort. But the goal is real and must come to
be sooner than later, and, if that's what it takes ...
From the second night of Pesach, we count the omer. The omer is a
Biblical dry measure equal to about two quarts. That is how much
barley was brought to the Temple from the new crop to permit it to be
used (it is in Nissan that the wheat crops of Eretz Yisroel become
ready for harvesting):
"You are to count from the next day of the rest day, from the day you
brought the Omer-Offering that is waved; they are to be seven
complete weeks ... (Vayikra 23:15)
The counting of the omer is an easy mitzvah to perform. At night
time, after three medium stars have appeared in the sky, one needs to
merely make the proper blessing, and then to count the day according
to the traditional text found in siddurim. The total amount of time
to perform the mitzvah is seconds, the amount of energy expended,
minimal. It makes one wonder what the mitzvah is even meant to
However, we know that the period of time between Pesach and Shavuos
is a special time. Over 3,000 years ago, it was the period of time
between the exodus from Egypt to the reception of Torah at Mt. Sinai
-- a great spiritual distance to traverse in so such a short time. No
human being could have grown so much so quickly without Divine
assistance. This interim period remains to be one imbued with special
Heavenly help to accomplish great spiritual strides for all
generations -- if one knows, that is, how to access the opportunity
of the day.
That is why, in many siddurim, the following paragraph is found:
Master of the Universe, You commanded us through Moshe, Your servant
to count the Omer-Count in order to cleanse us from our
encrustrations of evil and from our contaminations, as You have
written in Your Torah, "You are to count from the day after the rest
day, from the day you brought the Omer-Offering that is waved; they
are to be seven complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh week
you are to count fifty days ..." (Vayikra 23:15), so that the souls
of Your people Israel be cleansed of their contamination. Therefore,
may it be Your will, G-d, our G-d and the G-d of our Forefathers,
that in the merit of the Omer-Count that I have counted today, that
there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefirah
(here we insert the sefirah that corresponds to the day itself). May
I be cleansed and sanctified with the holiness of Above, and through
this may abundant bounty flow in all the worlds. And may it correct
our lives, spirits, and souls from all sediment and blemish; may it
cleanse us and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness. Amen, Selah!
This is followed by a list of forty-nine middos, or traits. The first
is "Chesed sh'b'Chesed" and the last is "Malchus sh'b'Malchus."
Sefiros are very Kabbalistic concepts. It is simpler to refer to them
here by the name "middos," which are traits. We know that G-d
manifests Himself in different ways to man, depending upon the needs
of the situation, and the spiritual level of mankind. There are times
He deals with us mercifully, and their are times that He plays the
role of a strict judge. There are times He acts towards us with
chesed -- kindness -- and there are times that He acts towards us
with strength -- gevurah.
There are really ten such middos. However, during our time of history
and "hester panim" (hiddenness of G-d), only the lower seven directly
affect us (Chesed through Malchus). Each of these seven traits have
their own set of ten, but, again, the top three (Keser, Chochmah,
Binah -- Crown, Wisdom, and Understanding) are "hidden" from us.
Therefore, we deal with the subset of seven, which makes a total of
forty-nine middos altogether -- one for each day of the period
between the second night of Pesach and the holiday of Shavuos --
Kabbalos HaTorah -- fifty days later.
Therefore, the middah of each day is really an insight into what
level of spiritual growth is most easily attained on that day. It is
a kind of "portal" to a spiritual reality that bears the name of the
middah, and if one knows how to translate that middah into a
practical application, then one can draw on its unique spiritual
energy. The following will try to provide some direction in this
area, first by explaining each of the seven middos, and then how they
interact with each other.
INSIGHTS INTO THE MIDDOS:
The Seven Middos are: Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes, Netzach, Hod, Yesod,
and Malchus -- Kindness, Strength, Beauty, Dominance, Glory,
Foundation, and Kingship. We will now briefly explain each one, and
its role within bringing creation to fulfillment:
CHESED (Kindness): In Kabbalah, Chesed is compared to water, because
it is like unbridled potential. Water has the capacity to accomplish
tremendous things, even to sustain life. However, without something
to channel the water, it is potential that can remain untapped --
like water without a glass from which to drink.
Chesed is the most primary force within creation. It represents the
original light that emanated out from G-d to make creation:
A world of chesed You created ... (Tehillim 89:3)
This idea is echoed by the fact that Avraham, the forefather of the
Jewish people, is identified with this trait, for it was from him
that all generations of the Jewish people originated.
The main point of Avraham's chesed, the Talmud teaches, was to reveal
G-d to the people of the world:
... Avraham had all who passed by and stayed [with him] call out in
G-d's name. How did he do it? After they ate and drank and stood up
to bless him [before taking their leave], he would say, "Was it of
mine you ate? It was of the G-d of the world that you ate! Thank,
praise, and bless the One who spoke and created the world ..." (Sotah
Hence, Chesed is associated with light, which is often called, "Ohr
HaChesed" -- the Light of Chesed. This is why it is the first day of
creation, on which the Primordial Light was first revealed, that
corresponds to the sefirah of Chesed.
Therefore, because of this, and because it is a unifying trait, it is
associated with stillness, quiet, and simplicity. Greatness, in a
chesed-oriented person tends to be sensed, but not revealed, being
kept to the person himself. Chesed-oriented people tend to be humble,
and require others to cause their greatness to be revealed on the
"outside," the same way that the sefirah of Chesed requires the lower
six sefiros to give revelation to its light.
Hence, the process of going from Chesed sh'b'Chesed to Malchus
sh'b'Malchus -- forty-nine days later -- is the process of going from
hiddenness to a complete revelation of light, which was, by
definition, what happened at the giving of Torah.
GEVURAH (Strength): What the glass is to water, the light of Gevurah
is to the light of Chesed. Just as the glass constricts the water's
flow, giving form to a formless entity, thereby releasing its
potential within creation, so too does the light of Gevurah constrict
the light of Chesed, making possible physical existence.
No one can see My face because no man can see Me and live! (Shemos 33:20)
These words were told to Moshe Rabbeinu by G-d after the sin of the
golden calf. Moshe, capitalizing on a moment of Divine forbearance,
requested a higher revelation of G-d Himself. However, G-d told
Moshe, the level of revelation that he requested was beyond physical
capability. The physical brain and body can not handle such a high
level of spiritual exposure -- at least at this point in history --
and it would have necessitated Moshe's own premature death.
The concept of holding back light is called "tzimtzum," which means
"constriction." With an extreme amount of tzimtzum, too much light is
held back and darkness results -- spiritual and physical. Too little
tzimtzum, and there is only light, the light of Ain Sof -- G-d
Himself -- and nothing physical can exist.
Because Gevurah is associated with the holding back of Divine light,
it is representative of G-d's harsh judgment lacking in mercy, with
hester panim (the "hiding" of G-d's "face"), chaos, darkness, and
with fire. It is the trait that symbolizes Yitzchak, who unlike his
father, was entrenched and not involved with revealing G-d's Name to
the world. The Kabbalists make it clear that Gevurah is not merely
the absence of light, but a light that has the ability to restrain.
For this reason, Gevurah is considered the opposite of simplicity, a
symbol, instead, of complexity and multiplicity. It was the force
that allowed for the division of waters on the second day of
creation, and is a trait that results in relentless movement and
stimulation. Because of Gevurah, the potential to produce countless
species and types in creation was realized over the following five
days of creation.
Just like unbridled Chesed results in nothing concrete, unbridled
Gevurah results in nothing stable. This is why, in the Torah,
Avraham's test were all in the area of Gevurah, forcing him to
withhold chesed, and Yitzchak's tests were in the area of Chesed,
forcing him to be less judgment-oriented.
This is also Avraham married Sarah, who was from the side of Gevurah,
and Yitzchak married Rivkah, whose trait was Chesed. It is the
partnership of Chesed and Gevurah that results in true "beauty," and
the trait of Tifferes. It also results in a son named Ya'akov, from
whom twelve tribes could emanate to build a Jewish nation.
TIFFERES (Beauty): Tifferes corresponds to Ya'akov Avinu, and the
third day of creation. It is the "machria," a Hebrew term that means
to bring about resolution between two opposing opinions or sides.
However, it is not a solution that overrides one side for the other;
it is a solution that brings an acceptable compromise and balance to
both. Therein lies its harmony and beauty.
Chesed usually translates into mercy; Gevurah usually results in
strict judgment. Tifferes brings a wonderful balance based upon the
two of them called Chesed shel Emes, "Truthful Chesed." It is the
best of both worlds, because as we have seen, both Chesed and Gevurah
in extreme measure are destructive. Too much Chesed can deny the
recipient a sense of self and independence, and too much Gevurah can
deny a person the assistance he needs. Too much "right hand" means
the child will never learn discipline; too much "left hand" will mean
the child will never learn love.
Hence, Tifferes is the ultimate state that the Jew strives to reach
in This World. A well-balanced person is a truthful person,
consistent on the inside and the outside. This is why Ya'akov was
called "Ish-Emes," the "Man of Truth," and why it was Ya'akov who
struggled with the angel, and, as a result, received the name
"Yisroel." It is this name that symbolizes the ultimate level of
spiritual greatness for the Jew. In the sefiros, this is symbolized
by the fact Tifferes is the "body," and Chesed and Gevurah are the
"right" and "left arm" respectively.
Hence, it was on day three of creation that G-d made the Garden of Eden.
NETZACH (Dominance): After Tifferes, the sefiros become more
"external." Whereas Chesed, Gevurah, and Tifferes make up the "body"
of creation, so-to-speak, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchus represent
parts external to the main part of that body, such as the "legs," for
example. This triad is a duplication of the upper triad on a lower
Nevertheless, Netzach corresponds to Moshe Rabbeinu, and the day on
which the moon was placed in the sky; the moon symbolizes the Jewish
people. Moshe's personality was extremely well-balanced, but it was
the "Netzach" aspect of his being that gave him the strength of
character to stand up to the likes of Korach and other would-be
rebellers. Moshe was the "humblest man on earth," but he also could
rise to the occasion and was not intimidated, and even argued with
G-d over the future of the Jewish people (Shemos 32:1).
Taken to its unbridled extreme, Netzach is the trait that makes one
over-bearing and causes one to impose upon another. This is why
prophecy was considered a "Netzach-experience," since G-d "imposed"
His message on the prophet's psyche. Furthermore, as the Rambam
writes, the body of the prophet usually had to be "paralyzed"
somewhat to be able to handle the prophecy from G-d, so awesome an
experience it is.
In a sense, G-d's "master plan" for creation emanates out from
Netzach, because it is the "bottom line" in all that happens in
history. Yes -- man has free will. However, as we have seen countless
times throughout history, and as the Torah itself warns us, the
moment man's abuse of free-will undermines G-d's intended purpose for
creation, He steps in, so-to-speak, with His counter-measure,
imposing His will on ours.
Thus, in the end, it will be our quality of Netzach that will allow
us to overcome the forces of evil within creation, and reveal G-d's
light to all of mankind.