For the week ending 2 May 2015 / 13 Iyyar 5775

Parshat Achrei Mot - Kedoshim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Acharei 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.



“ shall afflict yourselves…” (16-29)

On a recent visit to the Western Wall — Judaism’s most sacred site — I noticed two people brandishing a small stick in front of them. Attached to the end of the stick was some small rectangular box. At the distance I was from them I couldn’t quite make out what they were doing, but one of them was waving the stick around like some form of divining wand.

Now, apart from the many holy people who visit the Western Wall, it also attracts the weird and wonderful of this world, and I was concerned that maybe they were involved in some pagan ritual or other. So, full of righteous indignation I rushed over to them to find that one of them was pronouncing the magic incantation, “Say Cheese!”

A small iPhone was attached to the end of the stick, and the only divining that was going on was to record the fact that this couple had visited the most Divine place in the world.

With the advent of Bluetooth and built-in cameras that can photograph what’s behind as well as what’s in front of the camera, the ubiquitous volunteer passing stranger has become redundant. Now all you need is a ‘selfie-stick’.

The “Me Generation” has found its cultural talisman — the “selfie”.

Now the world and its holiest places have become a mere stage set in front of which I can act out the movie of my life.

The selfie is just another symptom of the narcissism and the self-absorption of our age.

“ shall afflict yourselves…”

In the laws of Yom Kippur — the holiest day in the Jewish calendar — the Rambam (Maimonides) mentions neither fasting nor affliction; rather one ‘rests’ from the physical activities of eating, drinking and other physical pleasures.

On Yom Kippur we transcend our physicality, our egos and the attachment to the “Me” world. We become like the angels, who understand with an overwhelming clarity who the real “Me” of the world is.

  • Sources: Rambam in Hilchot Shevitat Asar 1:4,5

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