Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
Vayikra (Leviticus)
I publish a weekly D'var Torah on the Parsha of the week.  They are archived here.  If you would like to get these by email as they are published, please email me and I will add you to the list.

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Akharey Mot/Kedoshim (After the Death/Holy)

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1. Parsha details 
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some other Observations
4. Persevering Intimacy
5. Exercises
And another Double Parsha as the omer counting continues. And thanks to everyone who emailed and mentioned that you didn't find this in your inbox before Shabbat.  I finally did it -- too much into one week to get everything done and this is the piece that needed to be done right and not fast, so it didn't go out.  I hope it will have been worth the wait.

This past week was a hectic one.  And in it's own way, that is fitting to this Parsha.  This is a very busy Parsha, the center of the Torah.  As I study it, I am preparing to spend a weekend in Ann Arbor with Pardes Hanna, who is hosting a Shabbaton with Rabbi Shefa Gold.  I expect wonderful davvening and the healing workshop on Sunday is likely to be very powerful.  (It WAS -- more in this week's d'var) To those who have never experienced Reb Shefa in person, you owe it to yourself to feel the power and Presence she brings.  Tapes are not anything like chanting back to her as she faces you with both your eyes closed and sings into you her chants.

Last Shabbat, my Chavura and I explored the concept of spring and flowers and the all too common argument of whether or not the world happened 'by accident' or by Divine Intention.  Those who know me, know that I have no question in this area.  But I also remember when I wasn't so sure.  For many years, I called myself an agnostic -- because I wasn't sure.  I was never an atheist -- that involves believing that there is no God -- and that position is as much a belief system as any theistic position.  But I freely acknowledged that I did not know. -- Or at least, I wasn't sure.

Perhaps part of me (my Neshama?) was always pretty sure, because I have always 'talked' with God -- yeah, in a Tevye kind of way -- hands or eyes upwards (why upwards, I have always asked), saying a quiet thank you or even saying 'enough' when the rain was getting on my nerves or spoiling some plan I had made. I can remember standing in the median strip of a highway, looking at the upside down van and destroyed cargo trailer and clutching the uninjured dogs who had been with me in my arms and saying a brakha for being alive and unharmed -- all of us.

That turned out to be an interesting trip, and not just because of the accident, although that certainly played into things.  My husband and I were heading to Indiana for four days to attend one of the shows where we sold our jewelry that we manufactured.  It had started out as so many of these trips did -- Bill was in the motorhome (our home for trips) and I was following him with the van which carried 'the booth' and pulling a trailer that carried a little golf cart we used to go between wherever the motorhome would end up parked and the booth location.  Bill had been meticulous in the trip preparation, as he always was (and is) -- tire pressures checked, fluids checked, etc -- even down to water in the batteries of both vehicles.  And we had even set out on time, looking forward to meeting up with our friends who also 'did the circuit'.

We went about 40 minutes from home and things were typical -- and then one of my Goodyear test tires threw its tread against the trailer and started an oscillation.  I almost got the van and trailer under control -- almost.  I managed to slow down considerably, but we headed off the road and toward the ditch to the inside.  Thankfully, I was able to miss any other cars as we dropped into the ditch and rolled unto our back -- the trailer 'threw' us over, which probably was actually a blessing, since the then leaking gas was going into the ground instead of dribbling toward a hot engine.  I let myself drop unto the roof, turned off the now-blaring radio and switched off the key to a now-dead engine.  I went fishing for the cel phone to call my husband back to the scene -- he was unaware of what had happened -- I was in trail position.  Some woman was screaming in the window that the van would explode because gas was leaking and I tried to tell her that the engine was above us, it was okay. (The ever analytical engineer in me)

Thanks to our slow speed by the time we rolled, the roof had not collapsed and I was actually able to roll down the windows and hand people the dogs -- also stunned from the events.  I then climbed out, called Bill on the phone and recollected the dogs into my own arms, as I assessed the situation.  The van was totaled, the trailer and golf cart in pieces, but that was okay -- neither I nor the dogs had a mark on us. I remember distinctly saying "Thank You".  According to the ambulance, my blood pressure was something like 190/85 (wonder why....), but that was the only indication that things had been anything outside of usual.  There was not a mark on me or the dogs anywhere.   I called my mother to tell her I was okay and what had happened.  I remember telling her, "I guess He still has things planned for me."  I don't remember my mother's answer.

We managed to find a truck to rent that would take all of our stuff from the van and the now disheveled golf cart and we transferred everything over.  We arrived in Indiana after the show hall had closed (it was midnight), but they let us come in and even provided a helper to unload everything quickly into our space (against all of their rules).  We managed to get everything set up the next morning, but had a lousy show -- perhaps I was not my usual self, perhaps it was a bad crowd, who knows.  The trip home was different in this strange truck (no a/c, 3-spd auto, stripped), but we made it okay.  One of these days I'll fill in some more details on this trip -- it was an interesting trip.  Back then I considered myself a practicing private Jew (no synagogue affiliate) and an agnostic -- I couldn't tell you why I davvened and talked to a God I wasn't intellectually sure existed.  I guess I had not yet learned to listen to the answers.  Nor did I recognize that there are no accidents.....

Candy Lobb
1. Parsha details: Lev 16:1-20:27 ( tri 19:15-20:27 ) [ Haftorah Amos 9:7-15 (Alter: Ezekiel 22:1-15 -- Seph 2-20) ] 
2. Questions and a few observations

Summary: Procedures for Yom Kippur, required sacrificial activity for any animal killed for food, prohibited relations, injunction to be holy, eating times for sacrifices, gleaning laws, treatment of others, prohibitions of Canaanite/Egyptian practices, ethics in business, penalties for forbidden practices, prohibition of Molech worship and superstition, penalties for immoral acts, an exhortation.

Busy Parsha!  And an interesting insight into some of the surrounding practices and how and why the Children of Yisra'el separated themselves from those activities.  Also an interesting point in the beginning -- the Parsha starts out by saying "after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they came near the Lord, and died;".  It then goes on to tell Aharon how and when to approach into the Holy of Holies.  Two weeks ago, their death was explained as resulting from strange fire....

Do we have two stories here?  I don't think so.  They give different aspects and clues about the events that lead to their deaths.  The problem with the strange fire is caught up in the fact that they were approaching the Divine casually and with the wrong intention.  We get a clue from the earlier Parsha where Aharon is warned about the effects of intoxicants and now here, we see Aharon getting very specific details on how to become fully present when he makes his closest approach. The problem wasn't just that the brothers were 'playing with fire' as it were, it was their entire intent and demeanor.  

Aharon, as he goes through the various steps, is reminded that he must approach for himself, his family, and all of Yisra'el -- and with the purest of intentions, being fully present.  It is easy when looking back with our modern paradigms to think of all this as mumbo-jumbo and ancient ritual with Aharon praying for the people -- this is not the case.

Aharon is a lens, if you will, to help the people focus and become fully present themselves as they approach God on this holiest day.  Sacrifices were not considered magical cleansers -- they did not make up for one's sins.  The sacrifice is the sign, the symbol, that repentance and cleansing has, in fact, already taken place -- only with a pure heart would a sacrifice be accepted.  This was the ritual meal that indicated you had 'made peace' with the Divine and could now approach.

And isn't that what Yom Kippur is still all about?  Yom Kippur does not 'cleanse' us of our sins -- our acts do.  We confess our sins, own up to them and seek forgiveness for them from the people (and God) who have been wronged by them.  We are about to approach the Cleanest of the Clean, and not matter how much we scrub, we will still look dingy as we approach.  But if we do not scrub and become fully present, we will look even dirtier and dingier -- and our own guilt will prevent us from approaching very near, lest we die.  So the purpose of the t'shuva (repentance, returning) is to cleanse ourselves so that we can make an offering and approach without fear.

The engineer in me understands this concept very well, because engineers practice a 'close enough' concept.  We are not scientists and so we understand that if we move half-way toward God on every step, we will never quite get there, but we will get 'close enough for all practical purposes'.  And this is the understanding in this Parsha.

Aharon's instructions (and the incredible self-work necessary to perform each of these steps) will aid him in getting 'close enough for all practical purposes' to be the lens the people need to make their own approaches to the Divine.  Thankfully, She blesses us with forgiveness we do not deserve, and so, facilitates our own approaches and lessens the gap between us.

And after we have made our approach through the lens of Aharon, we are instructed to be holy.  The word holy is plural -- so it means each of us as a collection of individuals -- we must each find our own way to 'BE' holy.  This means not just doing holy things, feeling holy and knowing what being holy is about, it means BEING holy.  This is the ultimate level of holiness, because the Holy One is, in fact, Holy.  And by BEING holy, we can keep some of that nurturing Presence within ourselves.

Our teachers have taught that by 'imitating' God, we approach Him spiritually.  Proximity in the spiritual realm is accomplished by closeness in acts and feelings and by being.  So God is calling to us to approach by being holy, just as the One is.  Then we are given instructions on how to be holy -- and that is mainly in how we treat others, ourselves and God.  If you read through this list, most of it will simply sound like being a 'good' person -- be fair, kind, ethical.  And isn't that what Holy is really all about?

Most of the rules are expressed in the negative and for a long time that bothered me -- until I realized that Torah is a guide for a very long time and the specific of a 'to do' list might easily become outdated -- but the negatives are phrased in such a way that they do not become dated.  If our minds remember the 'do nots' and does them, then we are free to listen to our hearts and them we will know what TO DO.  So the negative rules are not really negative, they are in fact positive injunctions to do what is right.

3. Some Observations

WOW -- one of the Parshayot that I could talk about for months and still not touch the surface.  And the look of the columns of test are interesting.  The details about Yom Kippur are pretty solid -- not surprising.  These words were probably read often as a unit -- in fact, we read them on Yom Kippur, not surprisingly.

The portion from 18:5-18 has unusual spacing, however.  This type of spacing usually implies very ancient text incorporated into the text as a unit and preserved.  And the notes on this section support that it was recited as a unit. They probably form a set of rules taught early and often.

Much of this Parsha is concerned with weaning Yisra'el from the idolatrous or superstitious practices of her neighbors -- and isn't that still a concern?  Neighboring people are practicing Molech worship (child sacrifice and the like -- did they then eat these sacrifices?)  Also 'ritual harlotry' was a common practice.  Yisra'el is prohibited from these practices (not a surprise).  The rabbis taught that ritual sacrifice as described in Torah was God's concession to Yisra'el to wean them off of these other practices.  And that is understandable.  If your neighbor is doing something, you naturally become curious about what they are doing.  And if it appears to 'work' for them or looks like fun (not my idea of fun, but I don't live there now),  you might be tempted to leave God for these 'easier', 'better' practices.

And aren't we still tempted by unethical practices, usually excused as 'well, everybody's doing it'.  Things prohibited by Torah, like "You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie one to another.", "You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of he who is hired shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind,", "You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people;", "You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reason with your neighbor,", "You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge", or even "You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or quantity. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin,".

The words "am I acting for a blessing?" simply ring through these words -- that is what being Holy is about.  

A key theme through much of this Parsha is intention and what is in our hearts.  The sacrifices are to be brought of our own will, not because we 'should' or are required to.  To be accepted, they are to be real offerings.  And the injunction against hatred is "in your heart" -- because what is in your heart rules your outlook and your actions -- more directly than anything else.  It will tell you what words to hear and how to interpret them.  It will tell you what to think about somebody's actions.  Now, we are taught that they "lev tahor bara li Elohim" -- God creates for us a tahor or pure heart.  So how does hatred and fear get in there?  We let it in or life knocks it into there.  We have to work to cleanse ourselves of these things, lest they cause us to behave in less than a holy way.  And this work is WORK.  And we are charged with doing that work all the way into our hearts.

It has sometimes appeared to me that people think being Jewish is about sacrifices and empty ritual -- what a profound impact we could make if people would just read Torah and really listen.  These are words that are just as appropriate to today, lest we worship one of today's idols or become held in the grip of a modern superstition and fail to practice being Holy.

4. Persevering Intimacy

This week's Parsha is about Persevering Intimacy -- and I have no trouble seeing that -- it is about being intimate with the Divine, and who wouldn't want to persevere that?  That's what BEING holy is about.  Yom Kippur's activities cleanse us enough to approach (and once a year is about all of that heavy amount of work our community can sustain), and then we are in a position to go about persevering that Intimacy through being Holy.

The similarity between kesher (connected) and kasher (ritually correct) is rolling around inside me (and I know one is with a kuf and one with a kaf), enhanced by the recognition that the punishment for offenses is often a severing of the connection with the community.  So being Holy and 'kasher' perseveres the connection, the kesher, the intimacy.  Failing to do so, severs the kesher and distances us from that which nurtures and sustains us, both as individuals and as a people.

5. Exercises

1. Lev Tahor: What does it feel like when the heart is Tahor?  What activities make it pure?  Who can forgive you for the things you do to yourself that take away from being Tahor?  Look inside your heart and find the things that make it become impure.  Own these things and forgive yourself and others for these things.  Offer up your sacrifice and purify your heart.  Think of one thing to do better today to become Holy.

2.  Being Holy: What does it feel like to be Holy?  What does it feel like to be in the presence of someone who is Holy?  How do you know if you are being Holy?  How do you know if someone else is Holy?  How can you become Holy?  How can you help someone else become Holy?

3. I AM: Why does God repeat His Name after certain injunctions?  Why is it sometimes just "I am YHVH" and other times it is "I am YHVH, your God".  What is God signifying by these words and when they are used and when they are not used?  What does God mean when She says. "your God"?  It is always plural in this Parsha as Holy is.  Why is that?
ADS:Kallah in Chicago: http://www.aleph.org/kallah%20html/kalindex.html July 2001

There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available. 

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.



(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved 

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