Parshiyot Acharei Mos/Kedoshim 5773: The Kohen: Paradigm of B’nai Yisrael as a Light for all Mankind

by Moshe Burt

Parshiyot Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are normally what baseball fans refer to as another of the “doubleheader” parshiyot. And just as Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora are extensions of each other, visa vi Tumah and Ta’Hara regarding post-birth, regarding skin, hair, clothing or regarding one’s home or building; Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are extensions of each other regarding Kohanim, Yom Kippur, the Kohen’s Yom Kippur avodah in the Kodosh Kedoshim and the Kohanic model of Darchim, which ideally the entire B’nai Yisrael would embrace and exhibit as a paradigm, as model, as a light for all mankind.

Parsha Acharei Mos opens with Hashem speaking with Moshe Rabbeinu explaining that he (Moshe) must inform Aaron HaKohen, in the context of the deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu, that he can not enter Kadosh Kedoshim at all times.

And so, Rabbi Artscroll explains that our Parsha connects Yom Kippur with the service of the Kohanim in that it is the one and only time of the year when only the Kohen Godol, adorned in his white garments, is permitted, required to enter the Kadosh Kedoshim to atone for himself, his household and for the nation. At all other times of the year, the Kodosh Kedoshim is off-limits to all.

The Sefer “L’lmod U’lamed”, by Rabbi Mordechai Katz, notes in its summary of Parshat Acharei Mos (pages 112-113):

The Kohen Godol, himself… offered all of the sacrifices [korbonot]. These consisted of his personal sin and burnt offerings, which he paid for himself, and similar communal offerings brought on behalf of the populace.

The Artscroll Chumash (Parsha Acharei Mos, on the deaths of Aharon’s sons and the Yom Kippur Service on page 636), provides commentary by way of a citing from the Yerushalmi Yoma 1.1, which connects Yom Kippur’s atonement with atonement inherent in the death of the righteous, i.e. Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu. An explanation is brought in the commentary from the Meshech Chochmah which says that:

Yom Kippur is… a time of favor, and thus an opportune time for atonement.

However, …this is crucial, both Yom Kippur and the deaths of the righteous bring atonement ONLY on one condition. Yom Kippur atones only for people who recognize it as a holy day and treat it as such; those to whom it is merely a day of refraining from food and work, but with out a spiritual dimension, do not find atonement on Yom Kippur. Similarly, those who do not honor the righteous in life, do not benefit from their ascent to Shemayim in death.

In Tazria and Metzora, we learn that it is the Kohen who is the only one Divinely invested with ruling as to Tumah or Ta’Hara regarding ones’ skin, hair, clothing or homes. So too, it is the Kohen who atones for the nation and is the conduit to bring about unity among, and Divine Brachot for B’nai Yisrael. He is the paradigm of both; kindness and loving care for his brethren and the conduit for unity.

Shem Mishmuel (on Parshat Acharei Mos, English translation of parsha selections by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, pages 254-256) speaks at length about reasons for the distinction between the Kohen Godol’s white linen tunic and white linen tunic trousers worn when entering the Kodosh Kedoshim on Yom Kippur and his normal gold attire worn during his service at all other times of the year.

He first cites gemora Rosh HaShannah 26a:

Why does the Kohen Godol not enter the Holy of Holies wearing his gold vestments to perform the Divine service? Because an accuser cannot become an advocate.

Shem Mishmuel then indicates that this concept relates to the Eigel Zahav and writes:

The sin of the eigel has been with the Klal Yisrael throughout their history and is still with us today. The sin is so deeply etched into our national consciousness that we will not be entirely free of it until Messianic times.

Aharon’s… intentions in involving himself with the calf…. were considered good, for he wished to reunite the people and refocus them toward their correct goal…. Given that Aharon lost his two sons, at least partially in response to his involvement in the eigel episode, no trace of the sin remained within him. This means… that the principle “an accuser cannot become an advocate” should not have applied to him… for there was no remnant of the sin [in him] which could be recalled at this crucial time.

But this applied only to Aharon acting in a personal capacity; what about his role as emissary for atonement of the whole nation? In that capacity, the rule would pertain, for the people still had (and have) a remnant of the sin of the eigel in their national character which needed to be expunged. Thus Aharon experienced a dichotomy: as himself he could wear his usual gold garments, but as representative of the nation, he could only wear white.

Thus, we learn the Halacha that Aharon HaKohen Godol, and every subsequent Kohen Godol wore white vestments when serving in the Kodosh Kedoshim and atoning for the nation on Yom Kippur. And we learn that Aharon HaKohen Godol was THE paradigm, the role model for every subsequent Kohen Godol to emulate in order that the masses of Am Yisrael throughout the generations would follow suit.

One of the main themes underlying Parsha Kedoshim is the loving care with which each Jew is to treat his Jewish brother. Indeed, we see that the first posuk of our Parsha conveys that spirit, “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to the entire assembly of B’nai Yisrael and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G’d.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 19, posuk 1) Our Parsha then goes on to enumerate the Asseret HaDivrot, the Ten Commandments in depth.

But the spirit of our Parsha is best expressed by the principle taught by Rabbi Hillel to the convert, on one foot, that the entire Torah can be summed up with this one key concept whch says “V’ohavtoh L’rei’achoh Komochoh” — “… you shall love your fellow as yourself…” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 19, posuk 18); to want for your fellow Jew what you would want for yourself, to not do to your fellow Jew what you would not want to happen to youself.

Sadly, in our times we’ve lacked the Beit HaMikdash, the Kohen Godol, the Kodosh Kedoshim for generations, and V’ohavta L’rei’acha Komochah, more often than not, seems lacking amongst B’nai Yisrael, supplanted by “Me”, “Mine”,“my convenience”, “Me first” both on a national level — how the political/governmental leadership rules the governed, as well on an individual level — about what is often the way one Jew might treat his Jewish brother.

On a national level, long gone is the founding precept of modern-day Israel; what happens at your doorstep is like it happened at mine — whether we live as neighbors next door, or down the block, or in different cities or towns, whether on the northern-most and southern-most towns near the borders of Eretz Yisrael. Today’s governance in the Jewish state seems directed toward detention and persecution of Jews for the crime of being connected to The Land of Israel as it pits sector vs sector, dividing and conquering the Jewish masses through agitating sectors against each other, thus endangering our very existence on our land and through offering a give-away our Divine legacy and birthright — the Land of Israel.

On a closer-to-home Bein Adam L’Chaveiro level, This author made some points at Shabbos tables and at a Shalom Zachor during the Shabbos of Parsha Sh’mini regarding Kohanim, types of unauthorized, unprescribed service such as which cost Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu their lives and the impacts of such unauthorized, unprescribed service throughout history.

One of these impacts has been reflected thoughout our history in Galut, to this very day, by efforts by some of our brethren to fudge Halacha, Jewish law and traditions so as to conform to the ways of the nations. Many of our brethren and ancesters had the faulty perception that assimilation of the Jews would lead to acceptance by the nations. The perceptions grew in the minds of many to override accepting Hashem’s reishut (command) over the world. They perceive[d] that if only they didn’t look and act sooo Jewish, that then they’ll be loved by the gentiles. And, if they are loved and held of by the gentiles, they reason that then they would be able to live forever in peace, never to be harrassed, belittled or persecuted for their Jewishness — what little, if any, Yiddishkiet would be left. But, counter-intuitively to these Jews throughout the generations and today, as well, the gentiles, the nations view[ed] us with contempt, as hypocrites and hate and disdain us even more. In retrospect, history records what the Nurenberg Laws were all about: separating Jews from the rest, i.e. because we assimilated into German society; the Nazis Yemakhshamam, sought to in essense impose Torah, the separation of the Jews from the nations, which the Jews rejected, upon us. If their eyes would only be wide open so as to see how abysmally wrong assimilation and emulating the ways of the nations has been; again, again and in the US again — such as when Jews most recently twice voted in droves for a President with an Islamic-sounding name who, it becomes more and more increasingly clear and obvious, is intent on Israel’s demise.

There are other dimensions to “unique service” and “cutting corners.” This author spoke about characteristic of the chazeir — the split hooves, but without chewing it’s cud as equating with the Jew who outwardly appears pious both in dress and in prayer but is lacking inside, i.e. dishonesty toward his fellow in business, speaking or acting falsely against their fellow, seeking one’s own self-interests at the expense of his fellow, etc.. This author has made a point repeatedly on this blog, which could be referred to as “cutting corners,” on Hashem’s time, i.e. a mumble-jumbled repetition of Shemonah Esrei by a Sh’liach Tzibbur. This author noted in previous posts on this blog;

No less than Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Reichman of Yeshiva University discussed the need for Teshuvah regarding tefillot in a video shiur just before Yom Kippur.

In that video, R’ Reichman spoke about his feelings regarding his own personal tefillot as well as indicating a necessity for Sh’lichim Tzibburim to do teshuva in perfecting their davening in Chazarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemonah Essrei). To this author’s recollection, R’ Reichman is THE FIRST prominent Rabbi to have addressed issues relating to the Shaliach Tzibbur “System.”

Presumably the same holds true for the shot-gunned less-than-1 minute Aleinu.

And we give our brother a blank countenance, or a state of indifference and/or blunt insensitivity for we are only self-concerned. We are not totally forthcoming and truthful with our brother concerning the facts of a business or banking transaction often putting “obstacles in the way of the blind” as we grub for that last shekel at the other guy’s expense.

In Mitzrayim even then, a Jew reached out to help another Jew. But in modern-day Israel, Israeli merchant after Israeli merchant flatly refuse to reach into one’s cash register, or pocket, to make change for a Jewish pedestrian’s 10 shekel piece. We seem, often at the hghest communal levels, to turn a blind-eye and deaf ear to domestic or child abuse, criminality in the neighborhood, etc. And we invoke protexia to advance ourselves even though, in fairness — in a just society , our brother may actually be more needy, more worthy, more qualified.

And so this author, set against a backdrop of a drash on Shabbos Parsha Sh’mini by Rav Chaim Zev Malinowitz where he spoke of the relationship of midot, derech eretz and Torah — that midot and derech eretz are prerequisite to sincere Torah learning, equates one’s shot-gunned tefillot, aliyot, Aleinu, or acting dishonestly, speaking or acting falsely against their fellow, seeking one’s own self-interests at the expense of his fellow, etc. — the lack of midot tovot with the Chazeir — hooves out, but devoid of the internal characteristic of Kashrut.

There is a connection between the mido of loving kindness to our brethren and the role of the Kohen Godol as a unifier and as a national emissary. The Kohen’s very essence is the paradigm of unity and of the concept of “V’ohavta L’rei’acha Komochah” in which we all unify as one. There is a citing to illustrate this. R’ Hirsch, z’l in the new Hirsch Chumash (on Sefer Vayikra, published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Rabbi Daniel Haberman) comments on the opening of Parsha Sh’mini that for seven days, Aaron and his sons were instructed regarding the service in the Mishkan, and on the eighth day the Kohanim were consecrated to Hashem. But just as the Kohen is Hashem’s emissary to the B’nai Yisrael, so too, as Rav Malinowitz said in the above drash, that there must be both a Shabbos and a full week of life for a newly-born male before Bris Milah is performed on him on the eighth day. The newly born male is thus consecrated to Hashem upon his Bris, just as Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim were consecrated to Hashem upon completion of their seven days of training. And so, the Jews are the “light unto the nations”, Hashem’s emissary to the world, just as the Kohanim are Hashem’s emissaries to all of Klal Yisrael.

If the B’nai Yisrael were to only glean from the Kohen, and apply the unity of loving kindness to our brethren, as to ourselves, corrupt figures like Olmert, Barak, Bibi, Livni, Mofaz, Shelly Yechamovich, and now Ya’ir Lapid and their like would cease to exist, and Israel’s system of governance would be turned upside down. And then, B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll zocha to fulfill our assigned mission, to serve as a light, a model to the nations of Hashem’s blueprint for creation and how a G’dly Nation acts on Its Land.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.