Parshas Achrei Mos - Kedoshim
After Death - Life!
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Parashas Acharei Mos
G-d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon when
they approached G-d and died. (Vayikra 15:1)
I am warning you from the start that this week's parshah sheet will
be more editorial than in the past. However, I feel the present
dilemma warrants it.
What is this intended to tell us? Rebi Elazar ben Azariah explained
this with a parable about a sick person whom the doctor visited. He
told him, "Do not eat cold things or sleep in a damp place so that
you do not die as so-and-so died!" This put him on guard more than
the former had been, and this is why the Torah states, "after the
death of the two sons of Aharon." (Rashi)
Thus begins the parshah that will discuss the laws of Yom Kippur.
The opening statement which is intended to provide context to what
follows is in itself a warning, Rashi reveals. In a sense, it also
sets the tone for what Yom Kippur is all about: learning from past
mistakes and committing to avoiding them in the future.
Apparently, we need to hear this. True, the statement is directed
towards the kohanim specifically, the only ones who can enter the
Kodashim (Sanctuary) and the Kodesh Kodashim (Holy of Holies), but it
is directed towards the entire Jewish people in general, who are also
called "kohanim" in the philosophical sense of the term (Shemos 19:6).
Even though at first glance the parshah's opening statement seems
like a further disgrace to Aharon's family, once again reminding us
of their terrible mistake on the happiest day of history, when in
reality it accomplishes just the opposite. The death of Nadav and
Avihu becomes more meaningful if it serves to save the Jewish people
from making similar mistakes in the future, and future carefulness
can also act as atonement for the mistake they themselves committed.
This is true not just of Nadav and Avihu, but of all those who have
'erred' throughout Jewish history and whose deaths have served as
reminders of what can go wrong when we turn the wrong philosophical
corners. History is full of 'fall guys,' people who are the first to
make costly mistakes from which they cannot save themselves, and only
by learning from their mistakes do we give meaning to their deaths.
The Jewish people today are in a terrible bind. Just one year ago,
as bad as the situation was then, it was far friendlier for the
Jewish nation than it is today. No sooner than France's President
Chirac claimed that anti-Semitism was non-existence in France, and
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres echoed his unbelievable claim,
that synagogues were burned and many French Jews have come to fear
their situation there.
In Scotland, where anti-Semitism never disappeared, it has certainly
become more visible and outspoken. A special mural painted for the
church in England portrays you-know-who dying in the arms of his
'mother,' flanked by Roman soldiers on one side and Israel Defense
Force soldiers on the other side. The priest who commissioned the
mural claimed that it was not to issue an anti-Semitic statement,
just to make his followers more aware of the issues of today. That
type of crooked thinking makes him a very dangerous man.
On April 4, Finnish police had to evacuate a synagogue and Jewish
home for the aged in Helsinki, after a telephone caller, a
"soft-spoken, non-Finnish male person" made a bomb threat. In the
meantime, also on April 4, neighboring Sweden announced that it is
looking to boycott Israel and drag the rest of the Netherlands into
their totally misguided action. The Belgian Foreign Minister has
expanded this request to include the entire European Community.
In Norway, some members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have
expressed regret that they awarded Shimon Peres his prize while
expressing absolutely nothing negative about Yasser Arafat's, whose
own organization, the Al Aqsa Brigade, carries out suicide attacks
against Israeli citizens. Does this make sense to you? This is who
"They [the Jews] try to kill the principle of religions with the same
mentality that they betrayed Jesus Christ, and the same way they
tried to betray and kill the Prophet Mohammed." (Syrian President
Bashar Assad at May 5 welcoming ceremony for the Pope, Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation, May 6, 2001.)
"Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country.
Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them.
Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like
them and those who stand by them. They are all in one trench,
against the Arabs and the Muslims because they established Israel
here, in the beating heart of the Arab world, in Palestine." (Dr.
Ahmad Abu Halabiya, Member of the PA appointed "Fatwa Council" and
former acting Rector of the Islamic University in Gaza, October 14,
"It is not a mistake that the Koran warns us of the hatred of the
Jews and put them at the top of the list of the enemies of Islam.
Today the Jews recruit the world against the Muslims and use all
kinds of weapons. They are plundering the dearest place to the
Muslims, after Mecca and Medina and threaten the place the Muslims
have faced at first when they prayed and the third holiest city after
Mecca and Medina. They want to erect their temple on that place... The Muslims are ready to sacrifice their lives and blood to
protect the Islamic nature of Jerusalem and El Aksa!" (Sheikh Hian
Al-Adrisi, Excerpt of address in the al-Aksa mosque, September 29,
"The Jews are Jews, whether Labor or Likud, the Jews are Jews. They
do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all
liars. They are the ones who must be butchered and killed. As Allah
the Almighty said: 'Fight them.' Allah will torture them by your
hands and will humiliate them and will help you to overcome them, and
will relieve the minds of the believers . . . (Dr Ahmad Abu-Halabia,
a member of the "Fatwa Council"
appointed by the Palestinian Authority and the former acting Rector
of the Islamic University in Gaza, delivered in the Zayd bin Sultan
Nahyan mosque in Gaza on October 13, 2000, the day after the lynching
of the Israeli reservists in Ramallah, and carried live on
"Thanks to Hitler, blessed memory, who on behalf of the Palestinians,
revenged in advance, against the most vile criminals on the face of
the earth. Although we do have a complaint against him for his
revenge on them was not enough." (Columnist Ahmad Ragab, Al-Akhbar
(Egypt), April 18, 2001.)
Minority opinions? Not a chance. And we're supposed to trust these
people to make peace? Who are we dealing with here? Who are the
leaders of the world today?
(Ironically, the original Zionists who tried to eradicate Torah from
the lives of the Israeli Jew, claiming that it was our religious
profile, intellectual and physical, that led to anti-Semitism in the
past would be hard-pressed to make that kind of connection today.
Current anti-Semitism, which has reared its ugly and fanatical head
at break-neck speed has everything to do with the secular
government's response to the Palestinian issue, and nothing at all to
do with Torah belief.)
The American's? It seems to depend upon which direction the
political wind is blowing, but the latest headlines have all the top
American brass speaking harshly to the Israelis demanding their
immediate removal from the very places that the Arabs use to arm
themselves against the Israelis.
A rare few intellectually mature minds see the dilemma for what it is:
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, NY Times
The outcome of the war now under way between the Israelis and
Palestinians is vital to the security of every American, and indeed,
I believe, to all of civilization. Why? Quite simply because
Palestinians are testing out a whole new form of warfare, using
suicide bombers - strapped with dynamite and dressed as Israelis - to
achieve their political aims. And it is working.
Israelis are terrified. And Palestinians, although this strategy has
wrecked their society, feel a rising sense of empowerment. They feel
they finally have a weapon that creates a balance of power with
Israel, and maybe, in their fantasies, can defeat Israel. As Ismail
Haniya, a Hamas leader, said in The Washington Post, Palestinians
have Israelis on the run now because they have found their weak spot.
Jews, he said, "love life more than any other people, and they prefer
not to die." So Palestinian suicide bombers are ideal for dealing
with them. That is really sick.
The world must understand that the Palestinians have not chosen
suicide bombing out of "desperation" stemming from the Israeli
occupation. That is a huge lie. Why? To begin with, a lot of other
people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around
strapping dynamite to themselves. More important, President Clinton
offered the Palestinians a peace plan that could have ended their
"desperate" occupation, and Yasir Arafat walked away. Still more
important, the Palestinians have long had a tactical alternative to
suicide: nonviolent resistance, a la Gandhi. A nonviolent
Palestinian movement appealing to the conscience of the Israeli
silent majority would have delivered a Palestinian state 30 years
ago, but they have rejected that strategy, too.
The reason the Palestinians have not adopted these alternatives is
because they actually want to win their independence in blood and
fire. All they can agree on as a community is what they want to
destroy, not what they want to build. Have you ever heard Mr. Arafat
talk about what sort of education system or economy he would prefer,
what sort of constitution he wants? No, because Mr. Arafat is not
interested in the content of a Palestinian state, only the contours.
Let's be very clear: Palestinians have adopted suicide bombing as a
strategic choice, not out of desperation. This threatens all
civilization because if suicide bombing is allowed to work in Israel,
then, like hijacking and airplane bombing, it will be copied and will
eventually lead to a bomber strapped with a nuclear device
threatening entire nations. That is why the whole world must see
this Palestinian suicide strategy defeated.
But how? This kind of terrorism can be curbed only by self-restraint
and repudiation by the community itself. No foreign army can stop
small groups ready to kill themselves. How do we produce that
deterrence among Palestinians? First, Israel needs to deliver a
military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay. Second,
America needs to make clear that suicide bombing is not Israel's
problem alone. To that end, the U.S. should declare that while it
respects the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism, it will have no
dealings with the Palestinian leadership as long as it tolerates
suicide bombings. Further, we should make clear that Arab leaders
whose media call suicide bombers "martyrs" aren't welcome in the U.S.
Third, Israel must tell the Palestinian people that it is ready to
resume talks where they left off with Mr. Clinton, before this
intifada. Those talks were 90 percent of the way toward ending the
occupation and creating a Palestinian state. Fourth, U.S. or NATO
troops must guarantee any Israeli-Palestinian border.
"The Spanish Civil War was the place where the major powers all
tested out their new weapons before World War II," said the Israeli
political theorist Yaron Ezrahi. "Well, the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict today is the Spanish Civil War for the 21st century. A big
test is taking place of whether suicide terrorism can succeed as a
strategy for liberation. It must be defeated, but that requires more
than a military strategy."
The Palestinians are so blinded by their narcissistic rage that they
have lost sight of the basic truth civilization is built on: the
sacredness of every human life, starting with your own. If America,
the only reality check left, doesn't use every ounce of energy to
halt this madness and call it by its real name, then it will spread.
The Devil is dancing in the Middle East, and he's dancing our way.
Copyright 2002, The New York Times Company | Privacy Information
However, regarding the rest of the world which is either Communist,
Islamic, or Persian...
Deja vu. As incredulous as we may be about the situation ("Yes, its
bad, but not THAT bad yet. Yes, it CAN get worse, but it hasn't YET!
Maybe it is leading to something awful for the Jewish people, but
maybe it isn't."), we have to realize that just because we ourselves
did not go through the Crusades, the Pogroms, or the Holocaust,
doesn't mean that we can't learn something from those who did.
If we want to make the deaths of those 'martyrs' more meaningful, we
should start by realizing that anti-Semitism does not have any
natural roots (Shabbos 89a), and therefore is not subject to the laws
of nature. If we try to predict the outcome of all that is happening
today based upon 'natural' human tendencies and the so-called natural
forces of history, then we will have learned nothing from the deaths
of our ancestors who often perished believing the same mistaken
Sit down and read Parashas Bechukosai and Ki Savo - with Rashi - and
learn how G-d works in Jewish history. Better yet, read the books of
the Prophets, as many of them as fast as possible, and then do it
again. Even the religious world has dropped this crucial part of
Torah and history from the curriculum, and it has cost us dearly.
The problem with Jews today is that they live their lives severed
from the past. We believe that, "what was was" when we may be
watching the beginning of "what was IS." Why do you think the Torah
went out of its way to emphasize a need to stay in touch with the
past in a dynamic way (Devarim 32:7)? The Torah knew that a Jew
devoid of his past is a Jew that is totally absorbed in his present,
and very possibly a Jew without a future, G-d forbid.
At the same time, pick up some good Jewish history books about the
last couple of thousands of years of Jewish history while living
amongst the gentiles. Look for the patterns and the inexplicable
history. It will change the way you look at life in this world, and
will probably make you verrrry uncomfortable. However, it may also
save your life and the life of your family as well, as it has done so
for others in the past.
G-d said to Moshe saying, "Speak to the Children of Israel and say to
them that they are to be holy because I, G-d your G-d, am holy."
There is no neutral ground either. If one is not being holy then one
is being unholy. To be holy is to sanctify the Name of G-d, and to
be unholy is to profane It. Thus, we make the blessing every morning
Blessed are you, G-d, Who sanctifies His Name in public.
As a reminder of our mandate in this world, it is our role in history
to be holy and in doing so, bring the world around us to a state of
holiness - kodesh L'Hashem.
Holy people value holy things and make it their goal to acquire as
much of a holy experience as they can. If a person's contentment
comes from profane matters, then it means such a person does not mind
living a profane existence. If a person is comfortable living in a
profane environment, then it means that such a person has little, if
any relationship to G-d, for He is holy.
That's the challenging thing about Torah and mitzvos: they don't
guarantee holiness. That is why this week's parshah comes after
them, in the middle of Sefer Vayikra, as the Ramban points out. They
certainly create an ideal environment from which to leap into the
world of holiness. However, choosing to live a holy existence
requires an additional, special, and separate free-will choice on
behalf of the individual.
This is why Eretz Yisroel, called 'Eretz HaKedoshah' - the 'Holy
Land' - can become quite secondary to many observant Jews.
The Jewish people today are a real 'tossed salad' in terms of Torah
belief and Jewish responsibility. Millions are the products of
either no Jewish education, an incomplete Jewish education, or a
mistaken Jewish education, and can barely be held responsible for
their lack of drive for holiness. Others know better, but seeing
that lightning has not come down from the Heaven's to prove them
wrong, delude themselves into thinking they're doing just fine in
G-d's books too.
For some, it is their overwhelming desire for materialism and status
that prevents them from even considering the centrality of
traditional Judaism in their lives. Others have just had such a
negative experience with it, that they just can't imagine what good
it can do anyone today. Amongst the faithful there is quite a
spectrum as well.
Yet, objectively speaking, we are all one people with a single Torah
and a common mitzvah to live holy lives and to sanctify the Name of
G-d. That is certainly the way the gentile nations perceive it and
thus, we have very little credibility in their eyes since they see a
confused and fractured people. That is certainly the way G-d
perceives it, and one way or another, He has always nudged us in that
Now, more than ever, we have to realize this and accept the
responsibility. Even if we take baby-steps, we must move in the
direction of increased holiness, the Torah's way. If that is the
ultimate direction in which G-d and history is leading us, the more
we do on our own, the less G-d and history will have to nudge us
along our way.
Trust and Faith in G-d
"The Jews of the desert (who left Egypt with Moshe) erred in two
matters. First, G-d does not play tricks on His creations (Avodah
Zarah 3a). Rather, a person has to strengthen himself constantly for
"someone who comes to purify himself, They help him" (Shabbos 104a).
It says that if a person sanctifies himself a little, then They
sanctify him a lot."
The Leshem is explaining that the Jews feared unnecessarily when G-d
took them out of Egypt into the desert, a place that is both
physically and spiritually dangerous. The first thing a person has
to know and believe is that if G-d puts a person into a situation
that tests his faith and trust in G-d, he can pass the test. For,
the principle is that G-d never gives a person a test that he cannot
On the other hand, if a person puts himself into a situation that is
spiritually dangerous, in other words, he had no Torah reason to be
there, then G-d may allow him to fail. Only G-d knows our strengths
and weaknesses and can custom-design a test for each and every Jew
that will never be more than his or her spiritual capabilities,
unless G-d has arranged the test as an 'excuse' to inject the person
with additional spiritual strength to accomplish even more than he
normally could accomplish.
If a person is on a track of spiritual growth, even if he is only
'inching' his way along, Heaven takes note and helps him out. Even
if he finds himself in a very difficult situation that is not a
result of being spiritually reckless, Heaven will help him out.
The Leshem continues:
"For this reason the entire world was made with evil and good in
order that it should be rectified by man, and no person is free to
remove himself from this work. As it says in Yechezkel, "As for what
enters your minds -- it shall not be! As for what you say, 'We will
be like the nations, like the families of the lands, to worship wood
and stone,' as I live -- the word of the L-rd -- [I swear that] I
will rule over you with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm
and with outpoured wrath" (Yechezkel 20:32-33). See Sanhedrin 105a,
where it says, "With respect to this the covenant was made," and as
it says in Tanchuma in Parashas Nitzavim, 3; and the Sifri at the end
of Parashas Shlach."
In other words, G-d purposely made a world that could support evil so
that we could use our free-will to eliminate it. In worst-case
scenarios, the evil is a way to force the issue and make us become
real with what we believe and are committed to. When Shakespeare
wrote, "All the world is a stage," he did not realize to the full
extent of his words, nor did he understand what they mean to a Jew.
Nor does George Bush, Yasser Arafat, Tony Blair, or the rest of the
billions of people who make up this world and who can potentially
turn on the Jewish people at a moment's notice. If we live in the
world with them, then we can survive them as well - IF, we trust in
G-d completely, and no one else.
"The second mistake they made was in their understanding of trust in
G-d, for it says in Midrash Tehillim (Mizmor 32): "One who trusts in
G-d, chesed will envelope him. Even if an evil person trusts in G-d,
kindness will encompass him." . . . The Ramban says in Sefer Emunah
v'HaBitachon, Chapter 1: This is what it means when it says, "Trust
in G-d and do good." However, it does not say, "Do good and trust in
G-d," for trust in G-d is not dependent upon good deeds at all.
Rather, trust in G-d whether you are righteous or evil. However, be
sure to do teshuvah after, otherwise if you don't, then The Holy One,
Blessed is He, will find another time to collect His 'debt'."
(Drushei Olam HaTohu, 2:5:4:3)
This is a crucial point. The Leshem is explaining that help from
Heaven, even salvation of the highest order, is not necessarily
dependent upon a prerequisite of righteousness. The very fact that a
person is prepared to trust in G-d the entire way is enough to invoke
phenomenal Divine assistance - and I mean PHENOMENAL - in any given
situation of difficulty.
Unfortunately, the Jews of Moshe's time who were dependent upon great
miracles to survive also knew that they lacked the merit to
constantly invoke such miracles. Therefore, they panicked when what
they were supposed to have done was abandon themselves to the will of
G-d, and work on doing teshuvah along the way.
Torah and mitzvos can lead to miracles. However, the biggest
miracles of all are a function of trust in G-d and can lead to an
envelopment of Heavenly kindness, even in times of judgment.
Have a great and peaceful Shabbos,