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ב"ה

After-Death

Friday, 29 April, 2022 - 7:15 am

 

This week’s Torah portion is called Acharei Mot, or “after the death,” based on the opening verse, “And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the L-rd, and they died.”

Why do we name a Torah portion in such a fashion? What message is there in this name that the Torah wishes to convey?

Much ink has been spilled on the meaning of death, the effects of tragedy and the Jewish approach to mourning. Certainly there are lessons to be learned from the death of Aaron’s two sons. But the Torah’s emphasis on after death, versus death itself must mean more.

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A deeper look into the parsha demonstrates another perplexing concept of “after.”

Two excerpts from this week’s parsha serve as the Torah readings for Yom Kippur.

The first is taken from the beginning of the parsha. In the aftermath of the death of Aaron’s two sons, the Torah teaches about the special rituals of the kohanim (priests) on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.  This serves as the Torah reading for the Yom Kippur morning service.

The second excerpt, from the latter part of the parsha, warns against illicit relationships. It serves as the Torah reading for the Yom Kippur afternoon service.

Yom Kippur is a day steeped in prayer, reflection and fasting. Why do we read about sexual morality on the most sacred day of the year? It should be the furthest thing from our minds on a day that we have spent in contrite communion with G-d in the hallowed space of the synagogue!

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The true barometer of a life’s value is not simply in the moment. Nor is it defined solely by the soul’s eternal existence in what’s called the Afterlife. The real litmus test and “Afterlife” is the impact and legacy the person has in this world after they are no longer physically present.

Aaron’s two sons died a unique death, based on a misguided spiritual agenda. They were earnest spiritual-seekers, passionate about connecting with G-d. But, they failed to grasp the proper path.

In the aftermath of their deaths, a protocol for holiness was established – the rituals for the pinnacle of holiness on the most holy day of the year in the most holy space on the planet.

The failure of Aaron’s sons was that they entered the most holy space to offer an unauthorized offering. They felt as if they were in the zone. But, they weren’t thinking about afterwards. What impact will my actions have? Will I carry this momentum forward outside of this sacred space?

Similarly, on Yom Kippur, the average Jew feels a heightened sense of commitment and connection. It’s Yom Kippur, after all.

But, what will be the day after?

That’s why on Yom Kippur afternoon we pivot. We are warned not to replicate the depraved behaviors of ancient Egypt and Canaan. We are reminded that the spiritual high of today is virtually meaningless if it has no influence on our daily behavior tomorrow.

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As we shift from the intense holiness and focus of Passover, and as we pivot toward the fun-filled summer months – we read about “After.”

It’s a gentle reminder that true holiness is judged by the lasting effect we have on ourselves and others.

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