Acharei-Mot, Or Is It Kedoshim?

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

For those who write divrei Torah, the next few months will be a bit challenging and will demonstrate our geographical frame of reference. That is because for the next three months, until parshiot Mattot and Massei are read in the Diaspora on the 9th of Av, 5779—or, if you prefer, August 10, 2019—we Jews who live outside of Israel will be one parsha behind our Israeli brethren. 

This is due to the fact that the eighth day of Pesach—or, if you prefer, Issru Chag—fell on Shabbat. So while those in Israel read parshat Acharei Mot, we who live elsewhere were busy reading about the shalosh regalim and the mitzvah of aliyah leregel (how ironic and appropriate!). While we could easily read Acharei Mot-Kedoshim this week—as we do in all non-leap years—for reasons that escape me, we do not catch up until Mattot-Massei. 

In addition to Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, we bypass Behar-Bechukotai and Chukat-Balak, parshiot that in many other years are doubled up. (I have no idea why we do so, and would love to be enlightened on this matter.) Whether Diaspora Jews caught up the week after Pesach or the year after Pesach mattered little in the 12th century, when our annual Torah cycle was universally adopted. It likely took many years until someone needed a second hand to count the number of people affected by the different readings. 

With some four million tourists visiting Israel last year, and with some 20.8 million people travelling through Ben Gurion airport (and 10% of travel to and from the county are from alternate entry and exit points), the number of people who are affected could easily approach 1,000,000[1].  

Whether the halacha would demand that those affected actually try to arrange “private” minyanim to catch up on the missed parsha is likely dependent on the debate as to whether there is a personal obligation to hear kriat haTorah, as there is regarding Megillat Esther, or if Torah reading is a communal obligation. If the latter, then our duty is to be part of the community; but whether they read this parsha or that parsha matters little.

Regardless of the technical details, the fact remains that for this year at least, and for the next three months, those living in Israel and those living elsewhere will have a different Parshat Hashavua. And perhaps there is something we can learn from this division beyond a quirk of the calendar. 

Yesterday, at a minyan at Tanenbaum CHAT where I have the pleasure of teaching, Rabbi Eli Mandel, our Vice-Principal, spoke briefly about Yom Hashoah. He related a conversation between Chazzan Moshe Krauss[2] (may he live and be well) and the Munkatcher Rebbe when the Nazis y”ms occupied Hungary. Chazzan Krauss asked the rebbe why G-d requires so much Kiddush Hashem. Enough with the Kiddush Hashem already! The Rebbe, of course had no answer (there is no answer), but said that those who survive can choose to abandon Judaism or to live a life of kedusha. That is the true definition of Kiddush Hashem.

Perhaps the juxtaposition of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim and the distinction between the Jew in exile and the Jew in Israel reflects this notion. Parshat Acharei Mot opens by recording the deaths of Aharon’s two sons—information that seems superfluous. We do not understand why these two righteous young men had to die[3]. Why did G-d need to be “sanctified by those closest to Me”? The only appropriate response in trying to explain such a tragedy is silence. Vayidom Aharon

But Acharei Mot is followed by Kedoshim, the parsha where “the majority of the essence of the Torah is contained” (Rashi 19:2). The parsha of loving our neighbour, of not gossiping, of not taking revenge or bearing a grudge, of not hating our brother, of not giving misguided advice, of respecting our elders, of loving the stranger, of paying our workers on time, of having honest weights, of honouring our parents—in short, all the mitzvot required to build a cohesive society. 

For 2,000 years, the Jewish people wandered from place to place. Too often we have had to deal with Acharei Mot, the aftermath of persecution, pogroms and death. We went elsewhere, but the cycle of death continued. 

But after 2,000 years, we have returned to our land. We can live a life of kedushah, of creating a “goy am kadosh.” There is so much to be thankful for. Yet peace is still far away, and while we can now defend ourselves, there are still too many korbanotkorbanot who will be especially remembered next week on Yom Hazikaron. At the same time that we read Kedoshim, we must still, sadly, read Acharei Mot. 

Let us pray for the day when all of Israel will be able to read parshatKedoshim in peace, with Acharei Mot being yesterday’s news. 
 

[1] I might be missing something, but I would think it would be a good idea to bring the Torah readings of the Diaspora and Israel in line in the first possible week. Needless to say, traditional societies do not consciously just change long-time practices, regardless of the reason.  

 

[2] Perhaps this story has extra resonance for me, as Chazzan Krauss—who was saved because of his magnificent voice—was my in-laws’ chazzan in Johannesburg and sang at our wedding.  

 

[3] The fact that our commentaries struggle to find an explanation and offer so many different ones highlights the fact that there is no good explanation for their deaths.