Parashat Ahare Mot

Raising Up the Physical

How to develop a healthy relationship with the material world.

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The ingathering of all these components into one blended spice offering on the holiest day of the year carries an obvious message. While the High Priest, dressed all in white, performed a sacred service of atonement, he brought with him the essence of plants grown in the dirt of many different places on earth. He did not "leave the world behind" as he entered the Holy of Holies; rather, he took with him the most elevated and refined representation of the entire world.

Contrast: Nadav & Avihu

This entire portion of the service of Yom Kippur and the incense is introduced with a reference back to Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, the High Priest. The service is described as being taught to Moses "following the death of Aaron's son's…who died (Leviticus 16:1)."

Nadav and Avihu brought an incense offering at the inauguration of the holy sanctuary. However, their offering was "foreign" and they died in a supernatural event. The Torah's use of this introduction seems to contrast the description of the service of the High Priest. Indeed, the Torah makes note that the service of the High Priest is designed specifically, "…that he should not die," in contrast to the way of Aaron's sons (Leviticus 16:2).           

What exactly is the difference between these two offerings, that one would be considered appropriate and the other not? From a cursory reading of the text, they seem so similar. Many classic Torah commentaries offer explanations.

However, in our societal context, there is an extra lesson we can glean. From the understanding we have gained of how the ketoret represents resources from all over the world, we can allegorically infer a teaching about proper and improper use of the beauty and bounty of the earth's produce.

The service of the High Priest is in response to a Divine command and represents a use of the physical world that is sustainable, extending beyond selfish desire. In comparison, the offering of Aaron's sons seems selfishly motivated, personally oriented, and not in response to the Ultimate Will.

Their untimely death in the Torah can be understood as a homiletical warning of the inevitable result of the lifestyle based on individually-motivated, selfish desire. How can we measure whether our use of the environment is selfishly motivated or is a lifting up of the physical world as part of a greater plan and intention?

Messages from the Haftorah

This exact theme is accentuated in the Haftorah for Ahare Mot, a selection from the prophet Amos. The prophecy recorded suggests a misalignment with proper use of the world in several ways. Firstly, there is a description of excess personal consumption.

The prophet (Amos 6:4) speaks to, "those who lie on couches of ivory and stretch out on their beds, and eat lambs of the flock and calves out of the stall…" He warns them, "The Lord God of Hosts says: I abhor the pride of Jacob, and I hate his palaces, and I will deliver the city and the fullness thereof (Amos 6:8)."

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Baruch Rosh Tzvi Herschkopff is a student at Yeshivat Derech HaMelech in Jerusalem. He learned for several years at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva, and holds a Bachelor's Degree from Brown University. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.