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Afterthought?

Friday, 6 May, 2016 - 3:07 pm

Imagine that your house’s address was “the one after 1200.” Or that your parents referred to you as the child following Sarah. How would you feel?

This week’s Torah portion is called Acharei, which means “after.” It speaks of G-d’s instructions to the kohanim (priests) subsequent to the death of Aharon’s two sons. Certainly, the laws outlined in the parsha are important. In fact, much of it relates to the duties of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. So, why is it called Acharei (after), as if it’s a footnote? Couldn’t the Torah have given a more befitting title?

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Toward the end of the parsha G-d reminds us of the great virtue in following His commandments:

You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them.

By following the Torah’s ways we are promised life. Simultaneously, we are enjoined to preserve life, even at the expense of a mitzvah.

This verse can also be read, “in order to imbue life-force within them,” implying that not only do G-d’s commandments enhance our lives; by observing them we bring them to life. For example, even the most meticulously-crafted tefillin cannot accomplish their purpose—thereby effecting a positive change in reality—until a Jewish man wears them.  The most beautiful and fragrant candles only achieve their mission when a woman kindles them in honor of Shabbat.

A human being might be alive if they are simply breathing and their heart is beating. But – ask any mother – true life is when we provide life for others.  If we are only alive for ourselves, that vitality is a dead end. It’s not truly alive.  When we nurse and care for others, we impart the life within us to another. Beings that don’t grow are dead.  When we are the source of life, we can know that we are genuinely alive.

We are thus the catalyst that brings G-d’s plan for creation to fruition, through fulfilling His commandments. In order to “enliven” G-d’s commandments, we ourselves must be “alive,” i.e., healthy, strong, happy, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Then, our vitality can spread to other people and the world around us.

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This, perhaps, is the meaning of this parsha’s name.  The High Priest had many duties on Yom Kippur. Certainly, he was focused on those awesome responsibilities.  But, what about the day after? Would he succeed in integrating these lofty ideals into daily life? Would he share the sanctity with his fellow Jews, with all Jews? Would the inspiration extend to other parts of his own life?

True life doesn’t dwell in a moment of inspiration. The defining moment is the moment after.

The probing question this week’s parsha is asking of me is: Who will I be and what will I be in the time, place and objects beyond my uplifted and holy endeavors? How will I ensure to share that moment with others and with the inferior parts of my own life?

“After” isn’t such an afterthought, after all.

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