Torah Readings for Saturday, May 7, 2016
Acharay Mot (After the death)16:1-18:30 Vayikra (Leviticus)
The sedrah takes its name from a reference to the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu that we read about in chapter 10 of Vayikra (Leviticus). “The Lord spoke to Moshe after the death (“Acharay Mot”) of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord.” This explication will follow the scheme of Etz Hayim in which each of the three chapters that make up Acharay Mot is seen as dealing with a separate issue.
Chapter 16 - Yom KippurThe sedrah describes the elaborate rituals surrounding Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The rituals begin with the Kohein making atonement for his own sins and for those of his household. This is followed by the ceremony of the goats where one goat is selected for God and the other for Azazel or Scapegoat. The chapter ends with what the editors of the Stone Chumash call the “Eternal Commandment of Yom Kippur.”
Chapter 17 - Holiness CodeThis marks the start of what some call the Holiness Code. It will run through chapter 26 of Vayikra, which is the last chapter of the third book of the Torah. As can be seen from the wording of 17:2, the rules that follow apply to the whole House of Israel, not just to Aaron and the Priestly Class. This chapter contains a series of commandments (see Themes below) concerning proper ritual behavior outside of the Tabernacle. Once again, we see strong emphasis on the prohibition against consuming blood.
Chapter 18 - Definition and Protection of the FamilyThis chapter contains a rather lengthy list of prohibited sexual relations (see Themes below). Why does God prohibit these incestuous relationships? Why does God prohibit sodomy and bestiality? Why does He order us to avoid the practices related to Molech? This is part of God’s plan to make us separate from other nations. He tells us in 18:3 that we are not to be like the Egyptians among whom we have lived. Nor are we to be like the inhabitants of
184. The commandment that priests should enter the inner sanctuary only when it is necessary for them to do so (16:2-3).
185. The specification of the
186. The prohibition against offering a sacrifice outside the sanctuary (17:3-4).
187. The commandment to cover the blood of a permissible wild animal or fowl after it has been slaughtered ().
188. The general prohibition against incest (18:6).
189. The prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s father (18:7).
190. The prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s mother (18:7).
191. The prohibition against having sexual relations with your father’s wife, even if she is not your mother (18:8).
192. The prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s full or half-sister.
193. The prohibition against having sexual relations with granddaughters born of one’s son ().
194. The prohibition against having sexual relations with granddaughters born of one’s daughter ().
195. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a daughter (18:6).
196. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a half-sister ().
197. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a paternal aunt (-13).
198. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a maternal aunt (-13).
199. The prohibition against having sexual relations with an uncle ().
200. The prohibition against having sexual relations with an aunt through marriage.
201. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a daughter-in-law ().
202. The prohibition against having sexual relations with sister-in-law ().
203. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman and her daughter ().
204. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman and her paternal granddaughter ().
205. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman and her maternal granddaughter ().
206. The prohibition against having sexual relations with two sisters while both are alive and if the man is married to one of them ().
207. The prohibition against having sexual relations with a woman during her menstrual period ().
208. The prohibition against sacrificing one’s child to the idol known as Moloch ().
209. Prohibition of male homosexuality ().
210. Prohibition of male bestiality ().
211. Prohibition of female bestiality ().
From Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Yom KippurObviously, our concept of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement has grown and developed since the words of Vayikra 16:1-34 were written. We will discuss the holiday in greater detail again next fall when we celebrate it. However, the core of Yom Kippur is found in this sedrah. Yom Kippur is to be observed for all times on the tenth day of the seventh month. It is to be a day of complete rest and complete self-denial. It is an annual Day of Atonement for sins that have been committed. Aaron’s need to offer sacrifices of atonement for himself and his household probably provide the origin of the confessional apology offered by the Rabbi and Cantor before they begin the Kol Nidre Service on Yom Kippur.
Acharay MotWhy begin the sedrah with a reminder of the death of Aaron’s two sons? There can be several reasons. One is that God wants to impress upon Aaron the importance of following the rituals exactly as outlined. Failure to do so could lead Aaron to the same fate as his sons. Another may be that God wanted to remind Aaron to make sure that he had a way back from the spiritual ecstasy that he would experience during the Yom Kippur rituals. According to some commentators, the sons perished because they sought to reach God at a level of spiritual ecstasy without any thought of maintaining contact with the world of man - the world in which they had responsibilities as Kohanim. While the Jew may reach toward God, he is not to forget the work that he is to do in the world, which is to help make it a Godly or holy place.
Acharay Mot IIAccording to Rabbi Jonathan Blass, Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, were slain because they represented an old style of Israelite religious practice and they were incapable of adjusting to the new regime. Prior to the giving of the law, people were free to sacrifice in any place of their choosing; or in modern parlance wherever and whenever the spirit moved them. Under the law, the people were to bring sacrifices to the Mishkan. Sacrifices were now a part of a social and moral system that acknowledged the supremacy of the Lord and His ways. In other words, Nadab and Abihu were stressing the “spontaneous aspect of worship, preferring it to a fixed routing of Tabernacle service dictated from above.” The problem with sacrifices brought based on human impulse is that they are just that, the product of human impulse. In other words, they individual is the central figure, not God. In addition to which, religious observance based on human impulse relies on a level of emotionalism that is not sustainable.
Blood“And if anyone of the house of
Sexual Orientation“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” (). This prohibition concerning homosexual behavior was later enlarged to include lesbian relations. According to some this prohibition really was part of Torah’s anti-idolatry stance. Homosexual practices were tied to certain idolatrous cults and one of the themes of the Torah is that whatever idolaters do, we do the opposite or at least refrain from doing ourselves. Both Reform and Conservative Judaism welcome all Jews regardless of sexual orientation.
Assimilation“You shall not copy the practices of the
The Land of Israel“For all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before you, and they became defiled. So let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you” (18:27-28). This sedrah reminds of the uniqueness of the Promised Land. Nations outside of the
Quick Quiz1. What is the origin of the English Term “scapegoat?” In Leviticus 16:22, the Torah describes the goat on which all the sins of the Israelites were placed. The scapegoat is the innocent individual on whom unfair blame is placed for myriad of individual or social ills.
2. What two offenses carried the punishment of being “cut off from one’s people?” According to Leviticus 17:8-10, sacrificing at a place other than the Mishkan and the eating of blood would be punished in the manner. Note that being cut off from the house of
3. What reason does God give for driving out the current inhabitants of the Promised Land? According to Leviticus 18:24, the Canaanites would lose possession of their land because of their sexual excesses.
(Questions inspired by Nelson’s Amazing Bible Trivia)
20: 18-42 First Samuel
The Book: Samuel is the third book in Neviim (Prophets), following sequentially Joshua and Judges. The Book (or books, since there is a first and second Samuel) begins with Samuel’s birth and ends with the last days of King David. Samuel’s death is actually recorded in the first verse of Chapter 25 of First Samuel. But such was the influence of the last leader of the Israelites who was not a King that the entire work bears his name.
The Men: As you will see from the comments below, the reading involves three different men - Saul, Jonathan and David each of whom played a different role in the history of our people and each of whose lives teaches us different lessons.
Theme Link: Usually the haftarah, the reading from the Prophetic portion of the TaNaCh, is linked to the weekly Torah portion. However, there are some times during the year when the haftarah is tied to events on the calendar. This is one of those times. Whenever Rosh Chodesh falls on a Sunday, as it does this week, the preceding Shabbat is called Machar Chodesh. Machar is the Hebrew word for “tomorrow.” Chodesh is the Hebrew word for “month.” Figuratively speaking, one might translate it as “tomorrow is the new month.” The special haftarah for Machar Chodesh comes from the First Book of Samuel (20:18-42). The first sentence of the haftarah reads “Jonathan said to him (meaning David): “Tomorrow is the New Moon (Machar Chodesh) and you will be missed because your seat will be empty.” David, with good reason, is afraid that King Saul is trying to kill him. The haftarah tells of a plan that David works out with Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s brother-in-law and best friend, to find out what Saul’s intentions are. And, if he does in fact desire the death of David, how they can help him escape? Jonathan is one of the noblest characters in the entire pantheon of Jewish heroes. He is a brave warrior, a devoted son, and a loyal friend. He had to know that Saul was losing his grip. But he never pulled away from his father. He never turned his back on him. In fact, he died in a battle that could not be won rather than leave his father. At the same time, he maintained a friendship with David even though he probably knew that the son of Jesse and not the son of Saul was destined to be the next King of Israel. We spend a lot of time studying evil. Under the guise of modern scholarship, we spend a lot of time in finding flaws in biblical figures. It is too bad that we do not spend more time studying Jonathan and his virtue. After all, if you want to be good, wouldn’t it be more profitable to spend some time studying those who are good? Unfortunately, as far as I know, the definitive study of Jonathan still waits to be written.
Mother’s Day Shabbat: On the secular calendar, May 8, 2016 is Mother’s Day. Some Congregations choose to designate the Shabbat before Mother’s Day as “Mother’s Day Shabbat” - all women are considered to be mothers in the House of Israel. This Shabbat provides us with the opportunity of to honor the role of women going back to Biblical times. God tells Abraham “to listen to Sarah.” Leah and Jacob willingly leave their homeland when Jacob is fleeing from Laban. It is the mid-wives who show the greatest courage in standing up tow Pharaoh. Unlike Moses, they stand up to the Egyptian ruler on their own - without the cloak of God’s promise of protection. There is the brave Deborah and the loving Ruth who embodies the best in our tradition of showing her love for God by the care she shows for her mother-in-law. And the list goes on and on. It is particularly appropriate that we show special honor this year on the first Shabbat after the end of Pesach. As everybody knows, it is really women “who make the Seder” which is more than just a matter of cooking and cleaning. Women are the primary agents in ensuring that all of the special commandments concerning the holiday - including those about the removal of Chametz - are observed; an observance which they carry out without any Rav or other officials checking on their efforts. So to all of the women of the House of Israel - Todah Rabah. There are no words to express our appreciation for what you do.
Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) - Saturday, May 7, 2016
Pirke Avot is a collection of sayings, teachings, and ethical maxims. A popular and eminently quotable work, it is one of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah. The Mishnah, consisting of centuries of oral teachings passed down from one generation to the next, was finally codified by Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi in 200 C.E. Pirke Avot is unique among the tractates of the Mishnah in that it doesn't contain any halachah (law), only aggadah (stories or legends). Its popularity is reflected in the fact that it is included in most prayer books (including, in part, in Gates of Prayer). Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, one of the great teachers of the Reform Movement, suggests that Pirke Avot "teaches us the essentials of what life might be at its best." It deals with some of life's most basic and important questions: What is our purpose and destiny? What is sin, and how do we conquer it? What is wisdom? What is my relationship to God?
Pirke Avot is divided into chapters, and each chapter is further divided into individual statements, each called a Mishnah. It is customary to study a chapter of Pirke Avot starting with the first Shabbat after the end of Pesach (Passover). Since Pirke Avot consists of six chapters, the work may be completed by the start of Shavuot. However, other groups of Jews follow a cycle where they study and re-study each of the chapters until the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Regardless of the format you choose, each week the Torah page will include selections from the chapter of the week with a few comments from a variety of sources.)
Pirke Avot - Chapter 1
“Shimon Ha-Tzadik was among the last (members) of the Great Assembly. He would say: ‘On three things the world depends: on Torah study, on the service (of God) and on bestowing kindness.’” (1:2). Simon the Just was the High Priest who served in the Second Temple at the time of Alexander the Great. According to the Talmud, he is the one who convinced Alexander not to destroy the Temple as he had been requested to do by the Samaritans. Simon the Just sees the world as resting on a combination of study, ritual observance and positive human behavior. Like a three-legged stool, the world would collapse if any one of these elements were missing. All three are mutually inclusive and required if the world is to survive. The Hebrew term translated, as “on bestowing kindness” is “Gemilut Chasidim” which is also translated as “acts of loving-kindness.” Reform Jews should know this line well since it is sung to a perfectly marvelous tune during the Torah Service.
Torah Readings for Sunday, May 8, 2016
Rosh Chodesh Iyar28:9-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)
Rosh Chodesh Iyar is a Two Day Rosh Chodesh. When a month is 30 days in length, the following month’s Rosh Chodesh is celebrated for two days because the 30th day of the month past is counted as Rosh Chodesh and the first day of the subsequent month as the second day of Rosh Chodesh. Nissan, the month that comes before Iyar, has thirty days. Iyar has 29 days.
Rosh Chodesh is the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of each month. The term Rosh Chodesh is translated as New Moon. The first day of the month is referred to as Rosh Chodesh because the months are lunar and the first day of each month comes with the start of the new moon. In the days of the Temple special sacrifices were brought in honor of the new moon. With the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system ended. In place of the sacrifices, Jews read a description of the sacrificial offerings, which is set forth in the first fifteen verses of chapter 28 in the book of Numbers. The Torah reading takes place during the daily morning service. There are many Jews who have no desire to return to the sacrificial system. They use these readings as a way of providing a connection with the past which is one of the keys to our future preservation. Because of its connection with the moon, Rosh Chodesh is thought to have special meaning for women. There are some sages who suggest that wives and mothers should be presented with gifts on this, their holiday. In lieu of gifts, others suggest giving Tzdekah in their honor.
Iyar is the second month of the year counting from Pesach and the eighth month of the year counting from Rosh Chodesh. Iyar is a quiet month coming as it does between the tumult of the month of Nissan with Pesach and the climatic moments of the month of Sivan with Shavuot. According to tradition, Solomon began building the Temple on the second day of Iyar. Pesach Sheni, The Second Passover, established for those who could not observe Pesach for certain reasons, is celebrated on the 14th of Iyar. Lag B’Omer (literally the 33rd day of the Omer), a minor but joyful celebration, falls on the 18th of Iyar. The month of Iyar has taken on renewed importance in modern times. Israeli Independence Day falls on the fifth of Iyar. Jerusalem Day which celebrates the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 falls on the 28th Day of Iyar.
Torah Readings for Monday, May 9, 2016
Rosh Chodesh Iyar28:9-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)
Today is actually the first day of the month of Iyar. The Torah reading is the same on the second day of a two day Rosh Chodesh as it is on the first day.
Copyright; May, 2016; Mitchell A. Levin