Tag Archives: Acharei mot

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Why We Fail to Walk with God

WalkingMy ordinances you shall do, and My statutes you shall observe, to walk with them, I am the Lord, Your G-d.

Leviticus 18:4

What does the Torah mean “to walk with them?”

The Ksav Sofer, a famous Hungarian rabbi, commented that the words “to walk with them” mean that a person needs to walk from one level to the next level. That is, a person should constantly keep on growing and elevating himself.

It is not enough to keep on the same level that you were on the previous day. Rather, each day should be a climb higher than the day before. When difficult tests come your way, you might not always appreciate them. The only way to keep on elevating yourself is to keep passing more and more difficult life-tests. View every difficulty as a means of elevating yourself by applying the appropriate Torah principles. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “What did I do today to elevate myself a little higher?” If you cannot find an answer, ask yourself, “What can I plan to do tomorrow to elevate myself?”

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Acharei MotKedoshim
Aish.com

I’m getting a little tired of these “tests.” They don’t seem to be helping me. Worse, they don’t seem to be helping anyone else, either.

Let me explain.

In continuing to read Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, I arrived at “Chapter 6: Messianic Jewish Ethics,” written by Russ Resnik. It’s interesting that when we think of Jesus, we usually think of his mercy, his grace, or his compassion, but it’s a little unusual to consider his ethics. And yet, even Jews who are not believers, when they read the Gospels, find the ethics of Jesus are undeniably Jewish.

A generation later, the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide commented on the Sermon on the Mount, “In all this messianic urgency toward humanization God wills for all the children of Adam and toward the humanization of this earth, in the deathless power of hope that finds in reliance on ‘the above’ the courage to go ‘forward,’ Jesus of Nazareth was ‘the central Jew,’ as Martin Buber called him, the one who spurs us all to emulation.”

-Resnik, pg 82

Resnik states that “Yeshua fully embodies the image of God, which is placed upon humankind from the beginning: ‘God created mankind in his own image’ (Gen 1:27).” He also refers to the first man and woman as “divine image bearers” and further says:

…the divine image is obviously not a physical resemblance, but neither is it an abstract spiritual resemblance. Rather, it entails representing God through active engagement in creation. This understanding of the image of God gives rise to the Jewish idea that God does ethics before we do, that our ethical behavior is not just a matter of obedience, or even pleasing God, but of reflecting God and his nature, fulfilling the assignment to bear the divine image.

-Resnik, pg 84

In other words, even before the commandments to do good and to walk with God’s ordinances and statues were recorded in the Torah, they were humanity’s built-in imperative to do good because God does good and we are made in His image. When we do good, we are a reflection of the image of our Creator. Resnik provides a quote from the Talmud to cement his point.

What does it mean, “You shall walk after the Lord your God?” Is it possible for a person to walk and follow in God’s presence? Does not the Torah say “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire”? (Deut 4:24). But it means to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Just as He clothed the naked, so you too clothe the naked, as it says “And the Lord made the man and his wife leather coverings and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). The Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the ill, as it says, “And God visited him in Elonei Mamreh” (Gen 18:1), so you shall visit the ill. The Holy One, Blessed by He, comforts the bereaved, as it says, “And it was after Abraham died that God blessed his son Isaac…” (Gen 25:11), so too shall you comfort the bereaved. The Holy One, Blessed be He, buries the dead, as it says, “And He buried him in the valley” (Deut 34:6), so you too bury the dead.

-b. Sotah 14a
quoted by Resnik, ibid

Although Resnik didn’t cite this portion of the Gospels, the following seems to fit rather well as an illustration of “walking with God.”

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40

boston_marathon_terror_explosionAs I write this (most of it, anyway), it is early Tuesday morning, and yesterday, several explosions occurred at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring and maiming many others. To walk with God and reflect His image is to do good under all circumstances, to visit the sick and injured, and to bury the dead, but I despair for humanity. Although we certainly can find some helpers involved in response to this terrible expression of violence, how many more people exist who are capable of committing similar acts of hostility or worse? It always seems like we struggle and struggle in this unending battle of good vs. evil, and to what gain?

Batman (played by Christian Bale): Then why do you want to kill me?

The Joker (played by Heath Ledger): [giggling] I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.

Batman: You’re garbage who kills for money.

The Joker: Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.

The Joker: We really should stop this fighting, otherwise we’ll miss the fireworks!

Batman: There won’t *be* any fireworks!

The Joker: And here… we… go!

[Silence. Nothing happens. Confused, Joker turns to look at the clock, which shows that it’s past midnight and neither ferry has blown the other up]

Batman: [triumphantly] What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone!

The Joker: [sighs] Can’t rely on anyone these days, you have to do everything yourself, don’t we!

-from the film The Dark Knight (2008)

In this scene, Batman and the Joker are debating the nature of humanity. Batman believes that human beings are basically good, while the Joker believes that “these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” In the film, the situation that the Joker sets up to prove his point fails. The people involved don’t blow each other up, but risk their own lives in order to show compassion, even for people they don’t know, even for criminals.

But it’s just a movie, a work of fiction. People are good in the movie because they’re written that way.

What about people in reality?

According to Resnik, we are also “written” to do good because we are made in the image of God and should “naturally” reflect His goodness. However, the history of the human race seems to prove otherwise. We are not good, we have not been good, and in spite of what “progressives” may believe, we are not getting better. We simply shift around the types of “badness” we commit and just call it “good.”

aloneBut wait. I’ve already been down this path once before and I know where it leads. It leads to a dark, depressing dead end where no one will follow you and where no one wants to go. Do I really want to go there again? I probably will. Given the nature of my personality, I visit that place periodically. But do I want to stay this time?

When I complained previously that all the heroes were dead, I was reminded “All the more reason to be the “called out” ones and live counter to our culture.” It’s true. The fewer of us there are, the harder we’re supposed to work for what we know is good and right. It gets more lonely and more scary, but God didn’t ask us to serve Him in a world of truth and light. If everything were perfect, He wouldn’t need us to do Tikkun Olam. It’s in the face of terrorism, tragedy, and horror that we need to be especially faithful to the tasks that God has given us. No matter how discouraging things get sometimes, we still have to work and we still have to wait.

We’re all waiting for something to happen to save us. Christians and Jews are waiting for the Messiah. The inquisitions happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Pogroms beyond measure have happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Crusaders raped, pillaged, and murdered, with the blood of their victims running through the streets like water and the Messiah didn’t come. Wars have slaughtered millions and the Messiah didn’t come. The Nazis murdered six million Jews and countless other “undesirables” and the Messiah didn’t come. Someone blew up a bunch of people at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds and Messiah didn’t come.

What’s God waiting for? Is He waiting for us to “walk in His ordinances and His statutes?” Is He waiting for us to become the people He designed us to be? Is He waiting for us to follow Him in the footsteps of the Messiah? He’s been waiting a long time. He’s waiting for us to do what He sent us here to do. He’s waiting for us to live out His image. If the Messiah is the ultimate human image of God, we share that with him as his disciples. We must hold on. I must hold on. One little dip in the pool of despair, a couple of laps just for good measure, then out again, dry off, get dressed, and get going.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

How ironic that I should hear the voice of Messiah from the mouth of Gandhi, but then I think Gandhi understood Jesus better than many of his followers, including me. This is why God created the Shabbat…to give our injured spirits a rest in Him. Someday the rest will be perfect. Until then, we must continue to carry the image of God to a suffering and disbelieving world. Without that, there is no hope.

Good Shabbos.

159 days.

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The Torah’s Great Principle

love-one-anotherRabbi Akiva said, “Love your fellow as yourself” is a great principle of the Torah. A similar principle is gleaned from the famous story of a proselyte who wished to convert to Judaism on condition that someone would teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel the Elder accepted his conversion and told him, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend [the negative picture of “love your fellow as yourself”]―that is all the Torah and all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

Obviously, the entire Torah is a true, God-given Torah, but Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva teach us that there is room to meditate on the principle that is the Torah’s “great principle”; the signpost that puts us on the right track.

The need for such guiding lights is most necessary when an outsider wishes to approach the infinite sea of Torah and needs an anchor to show him where to begin.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“The Torah’s greatest principle”
Wonders From Your Torah

Our Master Yeshua (Jesus) taught something similar.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Referencing Rabbi Ginsburgh, I periodically write about non-Jewish people (including me) who are drawn to the larger body of Torah mitzvot and who find they have a desire to live a more “Jewish” lifestyle as a means of holiness. Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with this and indeed, the Torah was created not just for the Jewish people, but for humanity, as it is said:

For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2

I substituted the word “Torah” for “Law” in the ESV translation for effect, but both terms are correct (although I’d argue that “Torah” is the more correct word to use here).

Again, as we see from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s commentary, the “outsider” (non-Jew or secular Jew) who desires to learn Torah has to start somewhere. Although as Rabbi Ginsburgh states, the entire Torah is true, it’s easy for a beginner (Rabbi Ginsburgh is talking about potential converts to Judaism but I’m applying his statements to the rest of us) to become lost, confused, discouraged or even “seduced” by the complexities of Torah and the vast span of mitzvot. I’ve seen non-Jewish people introduced to the concept of “complete Torah observance” or “obligation” who throw themselves headlong into what they imagine it is to lead a “Torah-submissive life” only to become enamored by “the stuff.”

tzitzit1I call “stuff” all the outward devices, objects, or activities that are typically associated with observant Judaism, such as donning a tallit gadol and tefillin when davening, wearing a tallit katan under one’s shirt daily, wearing a kippah in public daily, lacing their sentences with Hebrew or even Yiddish words, growing a long, furry beard (because they believe God wants this), and so on.

But what does Rabbi Ginsburgh, citing both Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva suggest is the Torah’s “great principle?” What does the Master say is the greatest commandment?

None of those things I just mentioned. What is the anchor for “beginners” in the Torah? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This concept sheds light on the Jewish conception of holiness. The Hebrew word kedosh , meaning “holy,” implies separation; (See Tanya, ch. 46.) a distinction must be made between the Jewish approach and a secular approach to any particular matter, as is stated at the conclusion of our Torah reading: (Levitcus 20:26.) “You shall be holy unto Me, for I, G-d, am holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine.”

Such a distinction is unnecessary with regard to the ritual dimensions of the Torah and its mitzvos. These are clearly distinct; there is no need for man to do anything further. Instead, the focus of our Torah reading is on concerns shared by all mortals. Thus the reading relates laws involving agriculture, human relations, business, and sexual morality. For it is in these “mundane” areas that the holiness of the Jewish people is expressed.

Judaism does not understand holiness to be synonymous with ascetic abstention. Instead, it demands that a person interact with his environment, and permeate it with holiness. (See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De’os 3:1.)

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“What Does Being Holy Mean?”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 254ff; Vol. XII, p. 91ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5745
Chabad.org

That might be a little “intense” or at least unfamiliar to most Christians. Here’s another way of saying it.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-17

A life of faith and holiness cannot be lived apart from actually living life. Holiness is doing not just praying, meditating, studying, and contemplating. Holiness is an action. Go and do.

An emissary is one with his sender. This concept is similar to that of an angel acting as a Divine emissary, when he is actually called by G-d’s name. If this is so with an angel it is certainly true (See Iyar 6.) of the soul; in fact with the soul the quality of this oneness is of a higher order, as explained elsewhere. (See Tamuz 10.)

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Iyar 8, 23rd day of the omer, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe;
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Again, the Master taught something similar.

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

John 13:15-17

boston_marathon_terror_explosionWe are his servants and we are not greater than he is. He gave us an example of what to do by the living of his life and his teachings. He gave us an “anchor” in the Torah as to where we should begin and where we should stay centered: to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor (who is really everyone) as ourselves. And just recently, we’ve been reminded that there are opportunities to fulfill the Master’s mitzvot all around us.

The Mighty Rock, Whose deeds are perfect, because all His ways are good. He is a faithful God in Whom there is no iniquity.

Deuteronomy 32:4-5

These very sobering words are often invoked at moments of great personal distress to express our faith and trust in the Divine wisdom and justice.

People who have suffered deep personal losses, such as destruction of their home by fire or the premature death of a loved one, or who have observed the widespread suffering caused by a typhoon or an earthquake, may be shaken in their relationship with God. How could a loving, caring God mete out such enormous suffering?

It is futile to search for logical explanations, and even if there were any, they would accomplish little in relieving the suffering of the victims. This is the time when the true nature of faith emerges, a faith that is beyond logic, that is not subject to understanding.

The kaddish recited by mourners makes no reference to any memorial concept or prayer for the departed. The words of kaddish, “May the name of the Almighty be exalted and sanctified,” are simply a statement of reaffirmation, that in spite of the severe distress one has experienced, one does not deny the sovereignty and absolute justice of God.

Our language may be too poor in words and our thoughts lacking in concepts that can provide comfort when severe distress occurs, but the Jew accepts Divine justice even in the face of enormous pain.

Today I shall…

…reaffirm my trust and faith in the sovereignty and justice of God, even when I see inexplicable suffering.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Iyar 8”
Aish.com

Without trust and faith in God, it’s easy to lose faith in humanity and we are unable (or unwilling) to be the Master’s servant in this world and to do his will by loving and helping others in need.

In a commentary on this week’s Torah portion, we learn from the midrash that one of the reasons for the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu was that they loved God “too much.” They came too near the Holy One and were consumed. This was a warning to Aaron that no matter how great his love for God was and the desire to draw near the Divine Presence in the Holy of Holies, he must restrain himself.

G-d knew that Aharon’s love for Him was so great that he would always desire to enter the Holy of Holies. However, by doing so, it could cause his soul to leave his body, as happened with his sons. G-d therefore informed told him of the need to keep his soul within his body so that he could fulfill his mission in this world — transforming it into a dwelling place for G-d.

The lesson we can learn from the command to Aharon is that every Jew has the capacity to love G-d, and indeed is commanded to do so, as the verse states: “You shall love your G-d with all your heart, soul and might.” (Devarim 6:5)

peace-of-mind1While midrash may not appeal to you in a literal sense, when viewed metaphorically or as a moral lesson, it teaches that human beings, out of our love for God, can achieve greater heights of holiness, drawing nearer to God, though we can never be “greater than our Master.” Yet as servants, we must always strive to become better than we are.

It’s not easy. God never gets tired, He never gets scared, He never gets discouraged, He never wants to “throw in the towel,” but we poor, pathetic human beings experience all those things.

People think that if they are not well, they must sacrifice all meaning in their life in order to take care of their physical situation.

In fact, the opposite is true: You cannot separate the healing of the body from the healing of the soul. As you treat the body, you must also increase in nourishing the soul.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Soul Healing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Just as we cannot separate healing of the body from healing of the soul, we cannot separate our personal need for healing from the needs of those around us. In fact, by acting for the benefit of others and serving their needs, we may discover that our own wounds are also being healed.

I have been guilty on many occasions of wanting to withdraw from humanity and particularly from the community of faith when it has hurt too much. God has shown me (again and again and again) that I’ve been going in the wrong direction.

When in doubt, I must return to the portion of Torah that is for all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, the anchor, the center, the love of God and humanity. Without that, nothing else we do means anything.

160 days.