Acharei Mot 5770 – Gilayon #647

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Parshat Achary Mot – Kedoshim

And Aaron shall place lots upon the two he goats:

one lot "For the Lord," and the other lot,

"For Azazel."




…regarding this I think it more correct [to

say] that the two goats alluded to the entire Israelite community, but in

different senses. When they were good and upright, following their God and

cleaving to Him, then they will be for the Lord. Their sacrificed

portions and inner parts, which I have explained allude to their inner

thoughts, will be offered up on the Lord's altar. Their blood will be brought

into the innermost sanctuary, it will be sprinkled on the covering of the Ark

and before the covering; this alludes to cleaving to God. They will be granted

life in the World to Come and will dwell beneath the wings of the Divine

Presence. Referring to this it is said: one lot "For the Lord"

(verse 8). For there lot refers to the reward given to a

person in accordance with his righteousness or his wickedness. As it is said: and He hires a fool for wages, and He hires transients for

wages. And the wage [or reward] is called goral – "lot"

– as it is said in Daniel 12:13: And you, go to the end, and you will rest and rise to your

lot at the end of the days… if the Israelites were wicked and

sinned against God and did not keep His observances or protect the honor of His

Temple, their lot and portion would be Azazel, i.e., to be separated from the

exalted Lord and his holy things. They would become a brazen-faced people and

an enemy would send them of to exile. Azazel is a name composed from two

words: az and azel. That is to say, this people will go and be

sent off from its land when it is an am az panim – a brazen-faced

people. Its punishment in this world will be that they will leave the land and

become separated from the pleasures of the righteous and the light of the

Divine Presence. All of this is included in the name Azazel: the brazen-faced

will go to shame and eternal disgrace.


Vayikra 16:5-28)


…each of us is like a

"goat." Each has been granted to the power to resist, and each is

capable of strongly resisting any request made of him. The moral worth of our

lives depends on how we employ that power. We can decide to use the power of

resistance in accordance with God's permission and under His authority. We can

be like the goat for the Lord, and resist all of the inner and outer

stimuli that seduce us away from the Lord. Or, we can decide to be like the goat

for Azazel and exercise our power of resistance

by refusing to listen to the Lord's voice.

(Rabbi S. R. Hirsch on Vayikra




Desire and Holiness

Gabi Strenger

The connection of parashat Aharei Mot with

parashat Kedoshim points towards a connection between the command you shall

be holy and the list of prohibited sexual liaisons which concludes Aharei

Mot. Following Midrash Rabbah, Rashi concludes that holiness means avoidance of

illicit relations. RaMBaN, in contrast, finds holiness in a person's

willingness to sanctify himself in those things that are permitted him. Otherwise,

"the lustful person will find a way to be awash in salaciousness with his

one or several wives… and thus will be a scoundrel with the Torah's

permission." RaMBaN feels that observance of the Halakhah does not

guarantee a person's high spiritual level. In order to reach holiness – which

is beyond the minimum halakhic obligations – a person must limit his bodily


Throughout the years of my career as a

psychologist I have found myself wondering about the connection between desire

and holiness. To what extent do sensual pleasures keep us apart from God and

from the holy souls within us? Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis,

discovered a profound truth when he said that the human ego and spiritual world

can only develop when urges are restrained and society's moral restrictions

accepted. On the other hand, psychoanalysis recognizes the high price paid when

a person's real self – including his urges and desires – is constantly

repressed. So – to what extent are desire and holiness opposed to each other,

and to what extent do they enrich each other? One central discussion of these

questions may be found in the accounts offered by Hassidic literature of the

notion of bitul – "abnegation." The Baal Shem Tov's disciple

and successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch (1710-1772) demands abnegation of all the

self's needs and desires. Similarly to Buddhism, which holds that human

suffering results from people being too attached to their desires, the Maggid's

school calls for people to overcome their material needs which stand in the way

between them and their genuine purpose – clinging to the Holy One, blessed be

He. Since we are in the middle of season of counting the Omer, I might mention

the drasha for parashat Emor of the "Alter Rebbe," Rabbi Shneur

Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) that is found in his Likutei Torah. There he

states that the purpose of counting the Omer is to bring about "abnegation

of will from the animal soul," as is symbolized by the Omer offering

(which consists of barley, a grain used as animal feed). R. Yehudah Leib Alter

(1847-1905), author of Sefat Emet, often dealt with the various meaning

of bitul – abnegation. His writings present us with a complex

understanding of the term and a complex approach to bodily pleasure. On the one

hand, he often speaks of the need for separation from the things of this world,

while on the other hand, he takes many opportunities to say that each and every

thing in our world contains an inner divine spark, and that we must connect to

that bit of divinity through profound engagement with the world. In one of the

discourses in Sefat Emet on our parasha (Kedoshim,

5638, s.v. Bamidrash) we can easily notice the tension between

these two directions of thought: "For they can arouse holiness even in

this world, even though the principle of holiness is separation from this

world. In any event, every thing contains sparks of holiness, especially in the

acts of an Israelite. That is what is written in Psalms 92, the Lord is

exalted from the world, meaning that even in the world itself, which is the

material existence of nature, despite all this it has in it the exalted

existence of the blessed Creator." On the one hand, holiness is gained

through self-restraint, but on the other hand, recognition of divine immanence

allows us to find God's exaltedness within material life (exalted from the

world). This complexity finds expression in one of the Sefat Emet's

favorite and paradoxical phrases: in regards to the things of this world,

"their abnegation is their preservation." We must "tie the

soul's illumination to the body as well" (Parashat

Tavo, 6534, s.v. vehotirkha). In his comments to parashat Bo (5654, s.v. b'inyan), Sefat Emet

even claims that the human body is no less a part of tefillin then are

the parchment, the ink, and the housings [batim]. He even implies that

tefillin gain their holiness thanks to the body which wears them, and not

vice-versa, as we usually think. These ideas should be seen as continuing the

tradition of "worship through materiality" – avoda begashmiyut

– which began in teachings of Haddism's founder, the Baal Shem Tov, in the

spirit of the verse, In all your ways, know Him.

In Judaism, holiness is experienced via the

body. The Rebbi from Kotzk lent this idea wonderfully succinct expression in

his famous Yiddish translation of the expression anshei kodesh

[literally: "men of holiness"] (Shemot

22:30): menshlich heilig – "human holiness." The

concluding dictum of Kiddushin in the Jerusalem Talmud (4:12) is also well known: "In the future a person will

have to make an accounting for everything his eye saw that he did not

eat." The pleasures of life occupy a central place in the commandments of

Judaism, as we find, for example, in the holiday feasts and the commandment to

enjoy pleasures on the Sabbath – oneg Shabbat. God's voice echoes

through material existence; it is precisely the full and conscious experience

of the sensual which allows us to connect with the Creator's power. World

literature offers us a wonderful expression of the idea that engagement in the

world is the gate to divinity in Siddhartha, a book written by the Swiss

novelist Herman Hesse. In a move opposite to that of The Monk Who Sold His

Ferrari, the Hindu monk Siddhartha decides to return to full engagement

with the world and its pleasures. This is how he describes the realizations

which brought him to that decision: "I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing

from myself! I searched Atman [my soul], I searched Brahman [Divinity], I was

willing to dissect my self and peel off all of its layers, to find the core of all

peels in its unknown interior, the Atman, life, the divine part, the ultimate

part. But I have lost myself in the process… [but now] blue was blue, river

was river, and if also in the blue and the river, in Siddhartha, the singular

and divine lived hidden, so it was still that very divinity's way and purpose,

to be here yellow, here blue, there sky, there forest, and here Siddhartha. The

purpose and the essential properties were not somewhere behind the things, they

were in them, in everything (

This passage accurately expresses the painful disillusionment experienced by many

religious and Haredi people I have met in my clinic – men and women who feel

that their search for the transcendent God has led them to miss out on real

life. Some of them are angry, they feel that their religious education coerced

them into giving up too much of their desires for love, sex, and self-actualization.

Some leave religion, while others decide, like Siddhartha, to seek contact with

the Divine Presence that dwells in life’s small yet beautiful things – and

sometimes they seek it in passion's power.

Lately, several public figures in Israel – including,

sadly, rabbis – have been involved in embarrassing sex scandals. It should be

clear that these scandals are only the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, men

and women who feel unable to find passion and desire in the natural course of

life try to seek unhealthy compensation for their feelings of loss and missed

opportunities; sometimes this harms others. True, it is the Internet which

offers the most common means of compensation, via consumption of sick and

perverted sexuality. This is a genuine plague – the acts of the land of

Egypt anf the land of Canaan of our own day – and it will not be solved by

clever censorship programs or any other technological fix. Instead, we must

begin to reconsider the relationship between desire and holiness in religious

education. We must stop telling our children that sexuality belongs to the

animalistic part of us. The opposite is true: the erotic relationship is a

specifically human phenomenon! It includes, more than any other experience, all

the strata of human experience: body, soul, and spirit. Let us give our young

people genuine assistance in making their way through the perplexing tangle

encompassed by pathological pornography, healthy desire, and exalted holiness. Our

educators must get across the deep message contained in the phrase,

"sanctify yourself in that which is permitted to you" – that, at its

best, sensual experience serves as a vehicle both for the spiritual growth and

sanctity of the individual as well as for a profound encounter with another

person. We must educate towards a better balance between the expression of

drives and self-restraint. We must tell those who study the literature of mussar

and Hassidism that the path to holiness is like ascending a ladder, and that bitul

hatzmiyut – "self abnegation" – is a rung that only becomes

relevant after the self has become strong and healthy. We should recall in this

connection the words of Or HaHayim relating to our parasha: "You

shall be holy – this is in the future tense, meaning: There is no end to

this commandment, for whatever gate of holiness one enters, it always

constitutes an entrance towards a yet higher gate, for there is no measure to

the levels of holiness available to anyone who wishes to take on the

task." The way to holiness is a dynamic process and it is unhealthy to try

to make progress by skipping stages. Therefore, the path to holiness is also

necessarily personal and it cannot be dictated by set universal rules (see the

Emek Davar's commentary on the verse And you shall be holy). It indeed

seems that the challenge of creating a "human holiness" has never

been greater than in our own day.

Gabi Strenger is a clinical psychologist.

Twice a month he and Dr. Eli Holtzer deliver a class on Sefat Emet in




When a stranger

resides in your land, you shall not wrong him. (Vayikra 19:33)

The True Ethical

Test is In Your Land

We learned – Rabbi

Eliezer HaGadol says: Why does the Torah warn us thirty six times – some say:

forty-six times – regarding [mistreatment of] the stranger? Lest you drive him

back to evil ways. Why is it written, You shall not wrong a stranger or

oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Shemot 23:20)? They learned – Rabbi Natan

says: Do not point out your own shortcoming [i.e., having been a stranger

yourself] in others.

(Bava Metziya 59b)


A stranger

resides in your land: If he was a stranger in a foreign country where

you too are a stranger, it would only be natural to love him, for it is the

custom of strangers [i.e. aliens] to love each other (Pesahim 113), and you sympathize with his troubles in order to

avoid them yourself. But if he lives in your land, in any case do not

wrong him.

(Ha-Amek Davar Vayikra 19:33)


One is also prohibited to wrong a stranger in the Diaspora.

The expression in your land appears in order to explicate the nature of

this wrong: When you dwell in the land, which I have given to you as a

possession, you might say, "It was given to us as an inheritance,"

and you will not be considerate of the stranger who dwells among you, since he

has no part or portion in it. You will wrong him with words that humiliate and

degrade him. Similarly, the expression to wrong is always used by

Scripture to speak of the action of the powerful against the weak, those who

benefit from the disadvantage of the weak.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel

Reggio's commentary on Vayikra 19:33)


And love your

neighbor as yourself

And love your

neighbor as yourself – Rabbi Akiva says: This is the great principle of the


Ben Azzai says: This

is the record of Adam's line [When God created man, He made him in the likeness

of God] (Bereishit 5:1) is an even

greater principle.

(Sifra, Kedoshim 2)


It cannot be understood

literally, since it is well-known that "your life takes precedence over

that of your friend." Rather, the RaMBaM (Hilkhot

Avel 14) explains it as meaning "[doing for your friend] as you

would wish your friend would do for you." It is obvious that no one would

expect his friend to love him as much as he loves himself, but rather to the

proper extent taking into account good manners and how close the people are to

each other – to that same degree you must love other people. That is why it [love

your neighbor…] appears immediately after the preceding admonition [You

shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge]. Just as in the case when you

wrong someone, you would not want him to take vengeance, but you would rather

have him forgive your sin, so you should treat your neighbor as well. This is

how the juxtaposition of the passages is to be interpreted according to the


I learned another

explanation of their juxtaposition from the Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim 9:4), which states:

It is written; You shall not take

vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. How does this work? If

one cuts meat [with one hand] and accidentally cuts [the other] hand would he

then cut the ["offending"] hand? And love your neighbor as

yourself. Rabbi Akiva says: This is the great principle of the Torah.

This means that one who

takes vengeance against his fellow is like someone who cuts meat. The hand

holding the knife is negligent and cuts the other hand. Could someone imagine

striking the hand that cut to avenge it? Similarly, love your neighbor as

yourself follows you shall not take vengeance. Even though one's own

life and well-being take precedence over those of one's friend, in any case it

is as if the two were one in the same person – even though it be proper for one

limb to strike the other, in any case if the damage is already done there is no

point to taking vengeance against the offending limb. Similarly, one should not

take vengeance against one's fellow who has already harmed him, since he is

just like you, all of Israel being a single soul.

(NeTziV MiVolozhon's Ha-Amek Davar, Vayikra



And love your

neighbor as yourselfNot that one should love every person as he

actually loves himself, for that is impossible, and Rabbi Akiva already taught

that "Your life takes precedence over your friend's life." Rather as

yourself in the sense of [your neighbor] who is like you

– as in [the verse] for you are like unto Pharaoh. So here too as well Love

your neighbor who is as yourself; he is equal to you and similar to

you in that he was also created in the image of God, he is a human

being just as you are, and that includes all human beings, for they

were all created in the divine image. The Torah concluded [in the passage]

everything with this commandment, just as it began with each man shall fear

his mother and father, because one who honors the human image and considers

it excellences treats himself and all other people well.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio on Vayikra 18:19)


You Shall Rise Before the Aged And Show Deference To The Old –An

Expression Of Human Dignity

One must rise before one

who is very old, even if he is not a wise man; even a young man who is wise

must rise before a very old man, but he is not required to rise fully, but just

enough to show deference, and even if he be an old Cuthean, one

must honor him in speech and offer a hand to support him, as is written, You

shall rise before the aged –

this refers to every

old person.


Laws of Talmud Torah 6:9)


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