For the week ending 28 April 2007 / 10 Iyyar 5767

Parshat Achrei Mot - Kedoshim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Achrei Mot

G-d instructs the kohanim to exercise extreme care when they enter the Mishkan. On Yom Kippur, the kohen gadol is to approach the holiest part of the Mishkan after special preparations and wearing special clothing. He brings offerings unique to Yom Kippur, including two identical goats that are designated by lottery. One is "for G-d" and is offered in the Temple, while the other is "for Azazel" in the desert. The Torah states the individual's obligations on Yom Kippur: On the 10th day of the seventh month, one must afflict oneself. We abstain from eating and drinking, anointing, wearing leather footwear, washing, and marital relations.
Consumption of blood is prohibited. The blood of slaughtered birds and undomesticated beasts must be covered. The people are warned against engaging in the wicked practices that were common in Egypt. Incest is defined and prohibited. Marital relations are forbidden during a woman's monthly cycle. Homosexuality, bestiality and child sacrifice are prohibited.


The nation is enjoined to be holy. Many prohibitions and positive commandments are taught:

Prohibitions: Idolatry; eating offerings after their time-limit; theft and robbery; denial of theft; false oaths; retention of someone's property; delaying payment to an employee; hating or cursing a fellow Jew (especially one's parents); gossip; placing physical and spiritual stumbling blocks; perversion of justice; inaction when others are in danger; embarrassing; revenge; bearing a grudge; cross-breeding; wearing a garment of wool and linen; harvesting a tree during its first three years; gluttony and intoxication; witchcraft; shaving the beard and sideburns; tattooing.

Positive: Awe for parents and respect for the elderly; leaving part of the harvest for the poor; loving others (especially a convert); eating in Jerusalem the fruits from a tree's 4th year; awe for the Temple; respect for Torah scholars, the blind and the deaf.


Changing To Stay The Same

“…and do not follow their traditions” (18:3)

An immigrant Jew decided to change his name to something less obviously Semitic. He goes to the clerk in the relevant government bureau and changes his name to Riley. The following week he returns to the same clerk and asks to change his name again.

“But you already changed your name once,” says the clerk, “What was wrong with that one?”

“Nothing,” replies the Jew, “It’s just that when someone asks me what did I change my name from I can say “Riley.”

Czar Nikolai the First decreed the Jews of Russia were obliged to wear the same distinctive hats as his non-Jewish subjects. This decree was the subject of heated debate amongst the Jews, for Jewish law states that during a time of forced conversion any infringement of the Torah’s laws obliges one to forfeit one’s life rather than succumb. Did this mean that the Jews would have to give up their lives rather than wear this particular hat?

In the Beit Midrash (Study Hall) of the Kotzker Rebbe, the debate was raging as intensely as anywhere. Entering his Beit Midrash, the Rebbe enquired, “Why the noise? What happened?” The chassidim explained that the government had decreed that Jews must forsake their Jewish clothing and wear non-Jewish apparel. To which the Rebbe replied, “Jewish clothing means tallit and tefillin — and that’s it.” And with that he closed the door.

Certainly, a cursory view of current dress codes amongst the Jewish People shows that this debate is far from ended. Even though Chassidic dress owes much to the Polish nobility of the 17th Century, nowadays, a shtreimel is as Jewish as chicken soup and lockshen.

In the middle of the 20th century no self-respecting adult male would be seen in public without a hat. Nowadays, were it not for the Lithuanian style of Judaism, the fedora would be a footnote in the history of haberdashery, and the Borsolino family would be treading grapes for a living.

The Jewish People were deemed worthy of redemption from Egypt because they didn’t change their names, the language or their dress.

Today, Spivack has become Sinclair and mamaloshen is more likely to be the Queen’s English than the King’s Holy Tongue. The genius of Judaism, however, is that it has always changed enough to stay the same.

Walk into a Sephardic synagogue. The carpets may be from the shuk in Fez, the sound of the prayers reminiscent of the Sahara, and the smell of the coffee redolent of a Bedouin’s tent. The Judaism, however, will be as authentic as Sinai. Any Brooklyn boy can walk into a shul in the Bucharian quarter of Jerusalem and daven. The wrapping may be different, but the contents are still genuine.

The Jew has always lived in the world without being “of the world”. There’s a narrow line that divides the flavor from the essence, but however we dress, and whatever our surname is, what makes the difference is remembering from where we have come, and to where we are going.

  • Source: Kotzker Rebbe story from Iturei Torah

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