Acharei Mot: What Comes Next? 

Posted on April 30, 2019

Acharei Mot: What Comes Next? 

This week in the Torah we continue reading Acharei Mot, which is the partner parasha with Kedoshim. On its own, the title means “After the Death” and its partner “Holies” or perhaps “Holy Things/People”.  But when combined we may consider translating the combined parshiyot as “After the Death of the Holy People.”

The parasha begins with the events following the death of the sons of Aaron, the Kohen Gadol. Aaron is instructed with the rites and rituals necessary to maintain a pure sanctuary for God, which becomes particularly important after his sons, Nadav and Avihu, die by fire after offering a “strange fire”, or an unauthorized sacrifice, before God. These rituals provide opportunity for the High Priest to make expiation – first on behalf of himself and his family, then on behalf of the Kohanim (Priests), and ultimately on behalf of the whole House of Israel. 

The Torah then continues to teach about the rules of appropriate sexual relations and the definition of family, and ultimately we land at chapter 19 of Leviticus – the Holiness Code, which is the beginning of parashat Kedoshim. In this section we are instructed to be holy, for God is holy, and are given the ways in which we are to fulfill this great task. Pieces of the Code refer back to the 10 commandments, and others include new important dimensions to living a sanctified life: not placing a stumbling block before the blind; judging fairly without deference to the rich or poor; and perhaps most importantly, not standing idly by the blood of our neighbors. 

This past weekend we saw yet another example of the lowest levels we as humans can reach when a gunman entered a Synagogue outside of San Diego, opening fire in a packed sanctuary as a community gathered to celebrate the Festival of Freedom. This is not the first, second, or even third time such a tragedy has occurred in a house of worship in the last six months. You have received the messages from our synagogue community and, I am sure, many local and national Jewish organizations, that we stand by Chabad of Poway, and that we are offering assistance to them even as we work diligently to maintain our own level of security. 

So the question becomes what are we to do now? What do we do Acharei Mot Kedoshim, after the death of sacred souls? What do we do after someone brought “strange fire” into a sanctuary? It seems to me that this is one of those times when the Torah becomes so relevant to our lives…so let me suggest that we look to it for the answer. 

In the immediate, we must first support a community struck by shock and fear. After all, kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. But what do we do beyond the letters of support and the financial assistance to the community, the victims and their families? We must speak up. We must not stand idly by. We must write our politicians and representatives, giving the strong message that guns in the wrong hands are deadly and that this must stop. We must demand that perpetrators of such heinous crimes are held responsible to the full extent of the law. We must demand that our elected leaders act and legislate to the highest moral standard. And, perhaps we should refer them to Leviticus 16 where they will learn about how to make good and maintain a safe, sacred space where we can thrive and where God’s rule may exist, as well as Leviticus 19 where they may be reminded of the human obligation to act in a Godly manner, without exception. 

Aleinul’takein olam b’malchut Shadai – “It’s up to us…to repair the world in the Kingdom of God.” Let us resolve to do our part to ensure that the day will soon come when our children and our grandchildren can go to shul and not worry…when they can go to school and know that they will come home to their parents at the end of the day…and when we can turn on the morning news and not hear about such tragedies. Let us not stand idly by, and lead the world by example. 

Oseh shalom bim’romav, Hu ya’aseh shalom, aleinu v’al kol Yisrael v’al kol yosh’vei teivel…May the One who creates peace in the heavens bring peace to us, to all of Israel, and to all of humanity. Amen.