Parashat Ahare Mot

The Sanctity Of Elemental Relationships

The juxtaposition of laws about the high priest on Yom Kippur, forbidden sexual relationships and laws about blood teach the sanctity of basic parts of life.

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Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.

This week's parashah, called Ahare Mot--"After the Death of"--begins by telling us that "God spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they came near before God and died."

The parashah then goes on to describe the rather long and complicated ritual which is meant to take place in the Temple every Yom Kippur--the sacrifices, fasting, and prayers, the scapegoat, and, as a climax to the day, the offering, by the High Priest, of the incense in the Holy Of Holies, directly in front of the Holy Ark, in the intimate presence of God.

The reference to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, which we discussed a couple of portions ago, in parashat Shmini, seems to be introduced here in order to give added weight and authority to the extreme sensitivity concerning the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

Dangerous Interaction

This, the Torah tells us, is an extremely dangerous interaction--"Speak to Aaron your brother that he should not come at any time to the Holy [of Holies]…so that he does not die. Only in this way [by carefully following the ritual of Yom Kippur] may Aaron come into the Holy [of Holies]…" Only once that ritual has been done according to all its details, on this one day of the year, may the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies, and experience the intimate, immediate presence of God.

After the Yom Kippur ritual is detailed, the parashah goes on to prohibit the offering of sacrifices anywhere but in the Temple; this act is seen as one of disloyalty, and is termed an act of "whoring," terrible infidelity to God and His Temple. After this, the Torah moves along the following path:

- Do not offer sacrifices outside of the Temple.

- If you sacrifice or slaughter an animal, its blood must either be offered ritually on the altar, or, if it is not a sacrifice, the blood must be covered by dirt.

- In no circumstances is blood to be eaten.

- The parashah then concludes with a long list of prohibitions against certain sexual relations--incest, adultery, and others.

On Yom Kippur, in the morning, the custom is to read the first part of the parashah, that which describes the ritual of the day. Interestingly, the custom on Yom Kippur is to also read, at Mincha, the afternoon prayer, the end of the parashah, the part detailing forbidden sexual relations. Although the first custom makes obvious sense, what lies behind the practice of reading, on Yom Kippur, about the forbidden relationships? Moreover, how is the first part of the portion connected with the end of it?

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.