Parshios Acharei Mos & Pesach
The Passover Order
Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall
not do . . . (Vayikra 18:3)
It is a very sensitive topic to be sure, and therefore one that I have
avoided over the years. There are a couple of issues of which to be careful,
such as writing within the boundaries of what the Torah calls modest, and
being careful of people’s sensitivities.
In this week’s parshah the Torah addresses the issue of forbidden
relationships, which is the section we read on Yom Kippur at Minchah. Of all
the prohibitions to have to deal with, forbidden relationships have to be
one the most difficult, evident by how rampant they are in society, and have
been throughout history. Even the Talmud states:
Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: The Jewish people knew that the idols were
nonentities, but they engaged in idolatry only that they might openly permit
forbidden relationships. (Sanhedrin 63b)
To appreciate just how common such an approach to life is, just ask
yourself, “What would society be like if the Torah hadn’t provided us with a
list of forbidden relationships and the punishments for committing them?” It
is very doubtful that man, on his own, would know which relationships to
pursue and which ones to shun. He’s already acting as if he doesn’t know in
spite of the Torah’s listing.
In fact, as society pushes the envelope of what constitutes a “good and
healthy” relationship, the question has arisen: How much about what we think
about forbidden relationships is “nature” and how much is “nurture,” that
is, Torah-induced? If it is the former, then there is what to guard against
even if one does not hold of Torah from God. But if the latter, the argument
goes, and forbidden relationships exist because of Torah, well, then, if one
does not want to hold of Torah from Sinai, then it becomes “open season” for
any relationship one fancies.
Hence, as the world has become more agnostic and atheistic it also becomes
more permissive in the area of relationships to the point that what was once
“wrong” is now “right.” And if the forbidden relationship is not outright
“okay,” then it is at least something for which one need not feel any shame
for having. While some (many do not) may still feel a need to be discreet
when engaging in such relationships, they feel no reason to be ashamed as well.
It’s a problem, just it was it was for the people of the Flood in Noach’s
time. They had a blast engaging in the same kind of forbidden relationships
people have today and got blasted for it. Ask the people of Sdom who were so
certain about their position on forbidden relationships that they actually
legalized them. They and their land were obliterated in a horrible way.
What is it about the arayos (forbidden relationships) that makes God so
angry, angry enough to destroy His creation? Since God is not human He is
unaffected by human relationships. Whatever He says and does is for our own
good, for the Creation He built for us, to allow us to maintain it and use
it to fulfill our own potential to be Godly.
It’s like building a house and letting termites infest it. On one hand they
are so small and quiet that you may not even know they are there. On the
other hand, they are eating up the very structure that is holding up the
house, and therefore, endangering its long term existence. Left alone long
enough to do their own thing the house will eventually collapse and take
down all of its contents with it.
The same is true of the world. It was built according to certain principles,
and those principles act like the internal structure for the building. If
they go, so does the world they support, and this is what the Torah conveys
to us when listing the forbidden relationships and their punishments. It is
telling us that when we tamper with the order of relationships, we tamper
with the very structure of all of existence.
“So says a Torah-believing Jew,” the argument goes. “For the rest of us,”
they say, “who do not believe in God, or at least Torah from Sinai, the
Torah approach is politically incorrect.” These people honestly see no risk
in deviating from the Torah’s approach to relationships and are energized to
do engage in them, and, apparently, even punish those who get in their way.
Of course they make no connection between the events of history, potential
disasters, and their opinions and actions. They never do. They never can.
How can they if they don’t believe that history is a function of Hashgochah
Pratis—Divine Providence? As one website published regarding the many
disasters that have occurred to America over a decade after making decisions
to give Jewish land to the Arabs:
The historical accounts in this eRumor are, for the most part, accurate.
What is left is the question of what do they mean? Believers in the email’s
message say it means that if the U.S. wants to avoid natural disasters . . .
be nice to Israel. Skeptics say that going through all the events in a
particular span of years and finding apparent correlations doesn't mean they
were connected. (Ten Major Events, TruthOrFiction.com)
Then what is the point of the Hashgochah Pratis? Or, perhaps, more
accurately, for whom is the Hashgochah Pratis? Clearly it is not for
atheists or agnostics, and certainly not for the advocacy groups that push
agendas that run contrary to Torah laws and philosophy.
This coming week, b”H, Jews all around the world will sit down for another
Pesach Seder, most of whom will probably not even wonder why it is called
that. Even people who do not speak Hebrew call it a “Seder,” so it has
become one of those important and instructive ideas that has been
unimportant and non-instructive.
Imagine, though, if someone asked you, “Where are you spending your Passover
Order this year?”
The question would probably catch you off guard a bit and cause you to think
for a moment before answering, “You mean with whom am I placing my Pesach
More than likely at that point your friend will chuckle and say, “No, no. I
mean where are you having your Passover Order this year?”
It will probably take a moment before it dawns on you that “order” in Hebrew
is “seder,” at which point you will may chuckle as well as you finally
respond correctly to the question.
As you later walk away and think to yourself, “It’s true, “seder” means
“order,” it might occur to you that not only do we make an “order,” we even
sing about it as well. Around the world families begin their Sedarim by
singing its table of contents, “Kadesh, urchatz, karpas, yachatz, etc.” You
have to admit that it is a relatively odd way to begin the celebration of
our redemption from slavery.
Unless that is, you come to realize that the entire reason why we were
redeemed from slavery was for the sake of order, that is, for the sake of
maintaining the Divine order for Creation. Mitzrayim represented tohu, the
primordial chaos mentioned in the second version of the Creation Story. The
Jewish People were extracted from there to be a “light unto nations,” to
restore Divine order to Creation and to maintain it.
Apparently though we had a tough time making the adjustment in the beginning:
“And Moshe heard the people weeping for their families . . .” (Bamidbar
11:10) i.e., because of the families [members] with whom they were forbidden
to have relations. (Yoma 75a)
It was a vulnerability that the Erev Rav, the Mixed Multitude, made a point
of exploiting, and continues to exploit. To the naive it seems like a simple
and primordial desire to emotionally and physically connect with whomever
one feels comfortable. In truth it is nothing short of attack on the Divine
order of Creation, a disintegration of the very spiritual “columns”and
“beams” that hold up Creation, endangering all of us.
It is ironic that, at this stage of history, Hollywood should produce a
modern-day movie version of the Biblical story of Noach (ironically, in
gematria kollel, “Hollywood” in Hebrew equals “Noach”). I understand that
the current film is historically inaccurate, but the overall message is the
same, and many people know the Biblical version of the story.
When I saw that the movie was made, I wondered to myself, “Why make such a
movie in this day and age? Is anyone really interested in such a story of
Divine destruction for immoral and amoral behavior?”
It really made me wonder, which is why I applied the principle, “This is
from God, that which is wondrous in our eyes” (Tehillim 118:23).
Basically it means that if something is quite out of the ordinary you have
to realize that it is not regular, covert Divine Providence but unusual and
overt Divine Providence, perhaps a message from God Himself: “I did it
before, I’ll do it again, water or no water.”
But again, for whom is the message? Good question, but one the Haggadah was
designed to answer by its authors who understood history and man better than
most of us ever will. It says that such messages are for us, the Jewish
people, the “light unto nations,” the ones entrusted with the mission to
maintain the Godly order of Creation, and when necessary to repair it.
Pesach is generally a festive time of year, at least once you get past all
of the cleaning. However, there have been many times in Jewish history when
it has not been, especially when the arrival of the holiday itself was the
reason for increased anti-Semitism and terrible brutality directed against
the Jewish population. It certainly had to have been a bitter experience for
those celebrating freedom from Egyptian slavery while “living” through
Thank God today most Jews aren’t in such circumstances. Nevertheless, the
world is in terrible moral shape and getting worse by the day, which does
not bode well for the future of mankind. The people of Noach’s time were
also fooled by the pleasantness of daily life. Even Noach had doubts about
God making good on His threat of colossal destruction until the Flood
The laws of Yom Tov require us to celebrate the holiday in a festive manner.
The Haggadah Shel Pesach requires that we recall the reason why God
miraculously destroyed Egypt, to free a people unworthy of being freed. A
good home owner inspects his house and looks for small problems before they
become bigger and destructive. When it comes to Creation, WE are the
“Ba’alei Battim,” as the Talmud says:
No punishment comes to the world except because of the Jewish people.
As we sit down to our “Passover Order,” we should consider how disorderly
the world has become on our watch. Then, we should resolve to do what we can
to restore as much of God’s seder to our world as we possibly can. And
finally, as we praise God for our past victories we should pray to Him for
future ones, if not with actual words, at least with the intention of our
hearts to assume the role for which we were formed into nation.
Chag Pesach Kosher v’Samayach,
Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.