Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim


Vay’dabeir Hashem el Moshe acharei mos shnei b’nei Aharon b’kirvasam lifnei Hashem vayamusu (16:1)

In commanding Aharon not to enter the Kodesh Kodashim without permission, the Torah invokes the death of Aharon’s sons who approached Hashem improperly. Rashi compares this to the case of a sick person who needed to be warned not to eat cold food or sleep in a damp place. One doctor simply gave him the instructions, while a second doctor added, “Unless you do so, you will die like so-and-so died.” Because the warning of the second doctor is much more effective, Hashem similarly told Moshe to convey the mitzvah to Aharon in this manner.

The Darkei Mussar points out that it is astonishing to realize that we are discussing somebody as righteous as Aharon, who certainly would have followed Hashem’s instructions even without the implied threat of punishment. From the fact that even somebody on the level of Aharon, who was considered equal to Moshe in his spiritual accomplishments (Rashi Shemos 6:26), still needed additional warnings to reinforce his adherence to the mitzvos, we can appreciate how much we on our levels need to study mussar to strengthen and fortify our commitment to the Torah.

Unfortunately, intellectual knowledge of what a person is supposed to do is insufficient, as we see from Hashem’s interaction with Aharon. Until that cerebral awareness is able to be impressed upon the heart, it won’t be strong enough to guide and direct a person’s actions and decisions. The Alter of Kelm commented that just as Reuven’s knowledge has no impact on the actions of Shimon, so too the information that somebody possesses in his mind is unable to influence the choices of his heart, as the distance between the mind and the heart is effectively the same as the distance separating two different people.

The only proven and effective means to transfer intellectual knowledge to the heart is through the passionate study of mussar, just as Hashem used to help Aharon internalize this mitzvah. For this reason, the Torah requires us to recite Shema twice daily, as our mental awareness of the mitzvah to love Hashem is insufficient unless we repeatedly transfer this knowledge to our hearts.

Rav Yisroel Salanter’s three most well-known students were the Alter of Kelm, Rav Itzele Blazer, and Rav Naftoli Amsterdam. The Alter of Kelm was renowned for his mussar study. Rav Itzele Blazer was famous for his brilliant Torah insights. Rav Naftoli Amsterdam was known for his diligent Torah study, to the point that he had a fixed subject to study whenever he was going to get a drink of water.

Once, on a long and cold Friday night in the winter, they sat and studied together until their candle went out. At that point, Rav Naftoli Amsterdam announced that he was tired and went to sleep. Rav Itzele Blazer continued his in-depth study of a complicated section of the Gemora in Bava Basra (26b). The Alter of Kelm rested himself on a lectern and proceeded to spend the entire night repeating to himself the verses (Tehillim 118:19-21) “Pischu li sha’arei tzedek avo vam odeh K-ah zeh ha’shaar l’Hashem tzaddikim yavo’u vo od’cha ki anisani, explaining that when a person asks Hashem to open for him the gates of righteousness so that he can ascend and come close to Hashem and thank Him, Hashem replies that the key to reaching these heights is the ability to thank Hashem for causing him to suffer in order to atone for his sins. The Alter understood that the key to internalizing lessons so that they guide our decisions is the repeated and intense study of mussar until they enter the heart, and he therefore remained awake in the dark for the entire night repeating and internalizing this lesson.

Ki bayom hazeh y’chaper aleichem l’taheir eschem (16:30)

The Mishnah in Keilim (17:14) discusses the Creation of the universe and whether the items created on each day are susceptible to becoming impure. The 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 7th days of Creation are considered “pure,” in that everything which was formed on those days cannot become impure. The Shailos U’Teshuvos Mayim Chaim points out that because Yom Kippur is such a Holy and pure day, it may fall on any of these four days, but not on the other “impure” days.

The Yid HaKadosh of Peshischa adds that Purim is precisely the opposite. It may only fall on the 1st, 3rd, or 6th days of the week, which are the days that connote impurity. This is because the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:1) explains that Purim represents the concept of elevating the impure and making it pure. In order to do so, it specifically falls on the “impure” days.

However, Purim can also fall on the 5th day of the week, which are “pure” days on which Yom Kippur may fall. This is because the aforementioned Mishnah lists two items that were created on these two days which are considered Biblically pure but which may become impure Rabbinically. Therefore, both holidays may occur on these two days. Yom Kippur is a Biblical holiday, and from a Torah perspective these two days are completely “pure.” Purim is Rabbinical in origin, and from a Rabbinical standpoint these days are indeed susceptible to impurity.

Rav Menachem Ziemba suggests that the intent of this explanation is to address the difficulty in understanding the practical relevance of the Mishnah, which generally refrains from relating mere historical facts. The Gemora (Pesachim 58b) relates that even when the Sanhedrin sanctified the new moon based on the testimony of witnesses, they refrained from allowing Yom Kippur to fall on Friday or Sunday, which would cause the performance of creative labor to be forbidden for two consecutive days. In light of the above, we may now suggest that they were also careful to arrange the calendar so that Yom Kippur would only fall on the aforementioned “pure” days.

Hocheiach tochiach es amisecha v’lo sisa alav cheit (19:17)

The Torah commands somebody who witnesses another Jew violating one of the mitzvos to rebuke him. However, in doing so, the Torah uncharacteristically repeats the verb instructing us to reprimand the sinner for his actions, implying that multiple reproofs are to be given. This supports the ruling of the Gemora in Bava Metzia (31a) that a person is required to give rebuke as many as 100 times until it is finally accepted.

However, the B’nei Yissachar suggests an alternative reading of the verse in light of the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that when a righteous person is exposed to somebody committing a transgression, it isn’t arbitrary and coincidental, but rather a Heavenly message indicating that he too has sinned in that area in some way and should examine his actions to determine in what way he acted incorrectly so that he can repent his misdeed.

Living by his own teachings, the Baal Shem Tov once observed another Jew publicly and blatantly desecrating Shabbos. He understood that if Hashem caused him to witness this episode, he too must have erred in this area in some way. He began to search his deeds until he remembered that he had recently overheard a Torah scholar being insulted and disgraced, but instead of standing up for his honor, the Baal Shem Tov had remained silent. Because the Zohar HaKadosh teaches that Torah scholars are compared to Shabbos, he understood that Shabbos desecration he had just witnessed was a Heavenly indication that he needed to do teshuvah for his own actions.

For this reason, the Torah indicates that when somebody witnesses another Jew violating one of the commandments, he is required to deliver two rebukes, one to the person who is clearly and openly sinning, but also one to himself for having acted inappropriately in this area. This is also alluded to by the end of the verse, which literally means “you shall not bear a sin because of him,” which Rashi explains as a guideline that when rebuking another person, one must be careful not to do so in a way which embarrasses him. However, in line with the explanation of the Baal Shem Tov, the B’nei Yissochar suggests that it can also be interpreted as commanding the observer not to place the sole blame for the sin on the head of the transgressor, as the fact that he happened to be there at that particular moment reveals that he too has a share in the sin being committed.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Torah concludes the portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service by stating (16:30) that on this day Hashem will forgive the Jewish people “mi’kol chatosam” – from all of their sins. However, the term “cheit” is used to connote a sin which is done accidentally (Yoma 36b), which seems to imply that one is unable to receive forgiveness on Yom Kippur for sins committed intentionally. Is this indeed the case, and if not, why does the Torah use such seemingly misleading wording? (Ibn Ezra, Kovetz Maamorim Biurei Aggados 8:2, Derech Sicha)

2) A person who causes another Jew to violate any of the commandments, such as giving wine to a nazir to drink, transgresses the prohibition (19:14) against placing a stumbling block before the blind. When the nazir drinks the wine, besides transgressing the prohibition against consuming wine, does he additionally violate the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind, as his choice to consume the wine causes the person who gave it to him to have sinned by placing a stumbling block before the blind? (Har Tzvi)

3) Rashi writes (19:16) that if somebody sees another person whose life is in danger, he must save him. If the rescuer incurs costs, is the person that he saved legally obligated to reimburse him, and if so, is the rescuer required to save him if he knows that the person whose life is in danger is poor and will be unable to pay him back? (Rosh, Yad Ramah, and Meiri Sanhedrin 73a; Shu”t Maharam MiRottenburg 38, Rema Yoreh Deah 252:12, Kli Chemdah Parshas Ki Seitzei)

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