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.
“Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your G-d: Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan where I will be bringing you’” (Vayikra 18:1-2). With this verse, the Torah introduces what we might call Jewish sexual ethics. The parameters of incest, the laws of family purity, the prohibitions of adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality are all mentioned here. What does all this have to do with Egypt and Canaan?
It is quite rare to read parshat Acharei Mot on Shabbat Hagadol. In non-leap years, it is generally parshat Tzav that is read on Shabbat Hagadol. And when we do have a leap year, it is usually parshat Metzora that is read as we get set to usher in Pesach. While this or any other connection between the parsha and Pesach is “coincidental”, there is much that unites Acharei Mot with Pesach.
“Do not follow the ways of Egypt, where you once lived” (18:2). The Jewish people's formative years were those we spent in the land of Egypt, something for which we are to be eternally grateful. “Do not despise the Egyptian, since you were an immigrant in his land” (Devarim 23:8). Unlike the nations of Amon and Moav, whose [male] progeny are forever barred from joining the Jewish faith, the “children of the third generation [of Egyptians] may enter G-d's congregation” (v.9). While there was suffering and bitterness in Egypt, there was much to be thankful for.
“And G-d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two children of Aharon when they came close before G-d and they died” (16:1). The Torah then proceeds with the elaborate details of the special Yom Kippur service.