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In The Garden Of The Torah
Insights of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
on the weekly Torah Readings


Achrei - Kedoshim 5754

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Publisher's Foreword

One of the lessons which the Rebbe Shlita, Melech HaMashiach, has always emphasized in connection with Parshas Acharei, is the need to ask: What will be acharei? What are the consequences that will follow after the present set of circumstances have become history?

The present situation demands that a chassid proceed forward with determination and commitment that is not fettered by the limits of intellect.

Nevertheless, Chabad Chassidus has always taught that the commitment above intellect should filter through our logic and reason, for there need not be a contradiction between these two potentials.

And thus even in the present situation, there is place for the above questions.

We have to look beyond our immediate circumstances and try to see the end of the tunnel.

And then, we must structure our conduct with this long-term perspective in mind.

What is waiting at the end of the tunnel?

Mashiach.

When the Rebbe Shlita, Melech HaMashiach, said to "open your eyes" and see that the world is ready for Mashiach, he was speaking very literally.

The advances in science and communication have already erected the backdrop for the Redemption.

As reflected in the worldwide interest in the condition of the Rebbe Shlita, Melech HaMashiach, people are anxiously waiting for Mashiach.

The concept that Mashiach represents the future is not a point of belief or faith; it is an accurate perception of what is happening in the world at large, and within the individual world of people throughout the world.

And so when a chassid asks himself: "What will be acharei?", he should have a ready answer.

May the study of the teachings of the Rebbe Shlita, Melech HaMashiach, generate blessings of healing and renewal for all Jews, and in particular for the Rebbe Shlita, Melech HaMashiach, himself. And may he lead us to the actual Redemption in the immediate future.

8 Iyar, 5754


Souls Afire

Adapted from:
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXII, p. 98ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 428ff

A Moment of Drama

The seven days of the dedication of the Sanctuary had passed, and despite the expectations of the Jewish people, the Divine Presence had not become manifest.

Even after the sacrifices offered on the eighth day, the hopes of the people had not been fulfilled. [1]

Aware of the people's disappointment, Moshe and Aharon entered the Sanctuary and prayed, and then "G-d's glory was revealed to all the people. Fire came forth from before G-d and consumed the burnt offering." [2]

In grateful acknowledgment, "the people saw this and raised their voices in praise." [3]

Two individuals sought a deeper bond with G-d.

"Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, and placed fire and then incense upon it, and offered it before G-d. It was strange fire which [G-d] had not commanded [them to offer]. Fire came forth from before G-d and consumed them, and they died before G-d." [4]

Moshe praised them in their death, telling Aharon: "This is [the meaning of] what G-d said: 'I will be sanctified by those close to Me and I will glorified before the entire nation.' " [5]

Rashi [6] explains that Moshe told Aharon: "I knew that the Sanctuary would be consecrated by those in communion with G-d. I surmised that this would be either me or you. Now I see that they are greater than we are."

Insatiable Yearning

The passage is paradoxical.

On one hand, the conduct of Aharon's sons appears undesirable, as obvious from the punishment they received and as reflected in our Sages' [7] discussion of "the sin of Aharon's sons."

Conversely, however, it also appears that there was a positive dimension to their efforts.

For Nadav and Avihu had been designated for unique Divine service and Moshe himself stated [8] that they were greater than he and Aharon and that through their sacrifice, the Sanctuary was consecrated.

This difficulty can be resolved based on the commentary of the Or HaChayim, who explains the death of Nadav and Avihu as follows: [9]

They came close to a sublime light with holy love and died because of it. This is the mystic secret of [G-d's] kiss through which the righteous die. Their death was equivalent to the death of the righteous, [except] there was one distinction:

It is the kiss which approaches the righteous, while in their instance, it was they who approached it....

Although they appreciated that they would die, they did not hold back from coming close to clinging [to G-d] in a sweet [bond] of love... to the extent that their souls departed.

Chassidic thought [10] develops this concept, stating that our love for G-d must involve two phases: ratzu, a powerful yearning for connection with G-d, and shuv, a commitment to return and express G-d's will by making this world a dwelling for Him. [11]

As the Or HaChayim describes, Aharon's sons had reached an all- encompassing level of ratzu, a longing to cleave to G-d.

This should have been followed by a phase of shuv to express this bond with G-d in their lives. [12]

Their sin [13] was not the closeness they established with G-d, but the fact that the connection was self-contained, causing them to die, without extending this bond into the realm of ordinary experience. [14]

For G-d's intent is that the deepest levels of love for Him be channeled to wards appreciating the G-dliness that exists within every element of creation, and undertaking earnest endeavors to enable that G-dliness to become manifest.

The positive dimension of Nadav's and Avihu's striving is alluded to in the phrase "a strange fire which [G-d] had not commanded [them to offer]."

Their Divine service was "strange" - of a level beyond ordinary mortal experience, and on such a high peak that G-d could not command the Jewish people to seek such a rung.

The closeness to G-d which resulted from this Divine service "dedicated the sanctuary," [15] endowing it with the potential to inspire others to similar heights. For this reason, our Torah reading begins by mentioning "the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they drew close to G-d."

The Torah reading focuses on the Divine service of Yom Kippur, the day on which every Jew "draws close to G-d."

As an introduction, the Torah cites the closeness achieved by Aharon's son's, for their endeavors opened a channel enabling all Jews to connect to G-d with such intensity.

Two Lessons, Two Names

In retrospect, the Divine service of Aharon's sons provides us with two lessons:

  1. a positive one, the potential a Jew has to draw close to G-d; and,

  2. a negative one, that their service lacked the thrust toward shuv, life within the context of our world.

According to popular custom, there are some who refer to this Torah reading as Acharei and others who call it Acharei Mos.

It is possible to say that the difference between the two names depends on which of the dimensions is chosen for emphasis.

Acharei means "after."

The height of connection reached by Aharon's sons generated the potential for similar closeness to be achieved by the Jewish people "afterwards."

Acharei Mos, ("After the death of"), by contrast, places the accent on the negative outcome that resulted from their inability to complement the closeness to G-d with the commitment to develop an awareness of G-d within this material world. [16]

A Single-Minded Bond

Lubavitch custom is to call the Torah reading Acharei, highlighting the closeness every Jew shares with G-d.

For the inner dimension of the soul of every Jew is at one with G-d, bound together in an inseparable connection.

This bond surpasses that established through the observance of mitzvos.

For although mitzvos create a bond between the commanded and the Commander, the two remain separate entities.

In essence, however, the Jews and G-d are one. And this is the level of consciousness which surfaces on Yom Kippur. [17]

On this level, a Jew's obedience to G-d is not a matter of choice, for which there is reward or punishment, but a natural response, an expression of his inner self.

As R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would say, it is not a commitment to observance which prevents a Jew from eating on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, who wants to eat!

And from Yom Kippur, this connection can be continued Acharei, "afterwards," lifting the entire scope of our Jewish observance to a higher level.

The inner point of connection between a Jew and G-d can suffuse every aspect of our lives.

As such, living within the material world will not represent a challenge to dedication to G-d. At this level, one's life is one of simple connection which does not allow for any possibility of separation.

Mankind as a whole will experience this level of connection in the Era of the Redemption, when the G-dliness which permeates the world will be revealed: "The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like the waters that cover the ocean bed." [18]

In this setting of manifest G-dliness, man's natural, spontaneous desire will be to obey G-d's will.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) See Rashi, commenting on Leviticus 9:23.

  2. (Back to text) Leviticus 9:23-24.

  3. (Back to text) Ibid.

  4. (Back to text) Ibid. 10:1-2.

  5. (Back to text) Ibid.:3.

  6. (Back to text) In his commentary to this verse, based on Toras Kohanim, commenting on Leviticus 9:24; Midrash Tanchuma, Shemini, sec. 1, et al.

  7. (Back to text) Toras Kohanim, commenting on Leviticus 10:1; Vayikra Rabbah 12:1, 20:6,8,9, et al.

  8. (Back to text) Moshe represented the embodiment of the attribute of truth (Midrash Tanchuma, Shmos, sec. 28). As such, he did not make this statement as an expression of humility, but rather, as an honest appreciation of the spiritual level of Aharon's sons.

  9. (Back to text) One of the interpretations he offers to Leviticus 16:1.

  10. (Back to text) See the maamar entitled Acharei, Sefer HaMaamarim 5649, p. 237ff and Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 987ff. See also the essay entitled "After Yom Kippur," in Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. I, p. 52.

  11. (Back to text) Cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.

  12. (Back to text) On this basis, we can understand our Sages' statement (Avos 4:22): "Against your will, you live." The natural desire of a Jew's soul is to abandon material existence and to cling to G-d. Living within our world is "against your will," contrary to this desire. It remains within the body only out of a commitment to fulfill G-d's will.

    See the commentary to this mishnah in In the Paths of Our Fathers p. 141 (Kehot, N.Y., 1994).

  13. (Back to text) The Hebrew word for sin - chet - can also be rendered as "lack." (See I Kings 1:21.)

  14. (Back to text) The Or HaChayim explains that this concept is underscored by the opening verse of our Torah reading (Leviticus 16:1): "And G-d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they drew close to G-d and died."

    Why does the verse say "and died"? To emphasize that this was the negative dimension of their service. The closeness they achieved was desirable. But "they died," and this closeness did not serve to advance G-d's purpose in creation.

  15. (Back to text) In this context, the death of Aharon's sons can be compared to a sacrifice, for they gave up their lives to cling to G-d.

  16. (Back to text) Within this context, the connection on the mention of Aharon's sons to the remainder of the Torah reading is that, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies, drawing close to the manifestation of the Divine Presence. He must remember the importance, not only of entering the Holy of Holies, but of departing, and drawing the spiritual closeness into everyday life.

  17. (Back to text) This level of connection transcends the thrusts of ratzu and shuv, uniting one with G-d in a simple and constant bond. See the essay entitled "A Time to Take Stock," Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. II, p. 147ff.

  18. (Back to text) Isaiah 11:9, cited by the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5, at the conclusion of his discussion of the Era of the Redemption.


What Does Being Holy Mean?

Adapted from:
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 254ff;
Vol. XII, p. 91ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5745

Is There Any Gray?

When people begin thinking of a religious code, they almost automatically bring to mind a list of "Do's" and "Don'ts."

For defining things in black and white makes Divine service an easier challenge.

When a person knows what he is commanded to do and what is forbidden, his task is straightforward.

True, he may face hurdles, but the knowledge of what is right and wrong facilitates overcoming them. For the determination to do what is right arouses powerful inner potentials.

Moreover, even if one fails, knowing what is right is important.

There is always the potential to correct one's conduct through teshuvah, sincere repentance.

When a person has an absolute code of right and wrong, he will be conscious of any transgressions he has committed. This will prompt him to sincerely regret his conduct, and endeavor to rectify it in the future.

But life is not all black and white, and neither is the Jewish conception of Divine service.

To take a simple example, choosing kosher food constitutes merely the beginning, and not the end of our Divine service with regard to eating.

Even when food is kosher, a person must eat with refinement, with the intent of using the Divine life-energy contained in the food to serve G-d.

Similarly, with regard to life experience in its totality, even a person who is involved only with matters which are permitted and who takes caution not to violate any prohibitions, may be overindulgent and self-oriented.

To warn against this, the Torah commands us, "Be holy," [1] i.e., conduct ourselves with thoughtful reservation, making certain that "All [our] deeds are for the sake of Heaven," [2] and on an even higher level, endeavoring to "Know G-d in all [our] ways." [3]

This approach is very fundamental to Chassidic thought.

In Tanya, [4] the Alter Rebbe identifies "the vitality of every act... that contains no forbidden aspect... but is not performed for the sake of Heaven... even when it is a need of the body, [necessary] for its very preservation and life" with kelipah.

This term literally means "shell" or "husk" and is employed by the Kabbalah as the term for evil.

For just as a person may involve himself with the shell or husk of a fruit, instead of the fruit itself, so too, a person may be concerned with the superficial, material aspects of the world, and ignore its inner G-dly core.

And since he is not serving G-d, he is - at that moment - separate from Him. [5]

Involvement, Not Ascetism

This concept sheds light on the Jewish conception of holiness.

The Hebrew word kedosh meaning "holy," implies separation, that a distinction be made between the Jewish approach to a particular matter and a secular approach, as it is stated at the conclusion of our Torah reading: [6] "You shall be holy unto Me, for I, G-d am holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine."

When is such a distinction necessary?

Not with regard to the ritual dimensions of the Torah and its mitzvos. These are clearly distinct; there is no need for further effort on man's part.

Instead, the focus of our Torah reading is on the concerns which all mortals, Jews and gentiles alike, share. Thus it relates laws involving agriculture, human relations, business, and sexual morality. For it is in these mundane concerns that the holiness of the Jewish people is expressed. [7]

Judaism does not understand holiness as synonymous with ascetic abstention. Instead, it demands that a person relate to his surrounding environment, and permeate it with holiness. [8]

"You Can Be Like Me"

On the other hand, kedushah, "holiness," also refers to a level

above all material existence - G-dly light which is by nature separate and distinct from our frame of reference.

Nevertheless, this holiness also relates to the Jewish people.

Although it cannot be appreciated by our mortal powers, it is not beyond our grasp entirely.

This concept is reflected in an extended interpretation offered by Chassidic thought of the following Midrashic passage: [9]

It is written: [10] "Be holy." Does that mean that you can be like Me [G-d]? The verse continues: "since I, G-d, your L-rd, am holy"; My holiness is greater than your holiness.
Chassidic thought, [11] however, interprets the Hebrew wording "yachol k'moni" - translated as "Does that mean that you can be like Me" - as "This means that you can be like Me"; i.e., a person has the potential of achieving a level of holiness equivalent to that of G-d Himself. [12]

Since every one of us possesses a soul which is "an actual part of G-d," [13] and "I, G-d, your L-rd, am holy," every one us can attain the highest peaks of holiness.

Indeed, mankind even has the power of enhancing G-d's holiness as it were, as our Sages state: [14] "If you make yourselves holy, I will consider it as if you have sanctified Me."

As the Inner Core Comes Out

The two above concepts are interrelated.

Because a person possesses an inner core of holiness which stems from the "actual part of G-d" within his being, it is possible for him to appreciate - and express - holiness on all levels, even within the confines of material existence.

Moreover, this inner potential continually pushes a person to seek higher rungs of holiness.

Just as G-d is unbounded, transcending all levels, so too, every one has the potential to perpetually ascend to more refined and elevated levels.

Holiness Afterwards

Parshas Kedoshim is often read together with Parshas Acharei.

As explained, [15] Acharei underscores the development of an inner bond of closeness with G-d.

But Acharei also emphasizes what happens afterwards, that the closeness with G-d should not be an insular experience, but should continue.

This is complemented by the lesson of Kedoshim which highlights the possibility of living within a life of connection with G-d amidst the day-to-day realities of ordinary existence.

A person focuses on the G-dly life force which maintains the world as it is manifest within its physical component. This enables him to infuse holiness into all the different aspects of his life experience.

The above concepts are particularly relevant in the present age, brief moments before Mashiach's coming.

In the Era of the Redemption, the G-dly core within every individual will be revealed, as our Sages commented: [16] "In the future age, all of the righteous [17] will be proclaimed as holy as G-d is proclaimed holy."

The attainment of this degree of holiness depends on our efforts to show refinement and holiness within our lives at present.

By spreading holiness throughout the world, we can precipitate the coming of this era. May it be in the immediate future.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) See the commentary of the Ramban on Leviticus 19:2, the beginning of our Torah reading. See also Sefer Charedim which interprets the charge "Be holy" in the above verse as one of the Torah's positive commandments. Note also the Rambam's introduction to his Sefer HaMitzvos, shoresh 4, where he explains that "Be holy" is an all-encompassing command, referring to our Divine service in its entirety.

  2. (Back to text) Avos 2:12.

  3. (Back to text) Proverbs 3:6. See In the Paths of Our Fathers p. 61 (Kehot, N.Y., 1994) which discusses the distinctions in the paths of Divine service implied by this verse and the teaching from Pirkei Avos mentioned previously.

  4. (Back to text) Ch. 7.

  5. (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 6.

  6. (Back to text) Levitcus 20:26.

  7. (Back to text) See the Rambam's Introduction to the Mishneh Torah which explains that the name Sefer Kedushah ("The Book of Holiness") was given to the text which concerns itself with forbidden sexual relations and forbidden foods "for it is with regard to these matters that G-d has endowed us with holiness and separated us from gentile nations."

  8. (Back to text) See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De'os 3:1.

  9. (Back to text) Vayikra Rabbah 24:9.

  10. (Back to text) Leviticus 19:2.

  11. (Back to text) Meor Aynaim and Or HaTorah (Kedoshim 105ff), commenting on the above verse.

  12. (Back to text) This interpretation is also reflected in the commentary of Rashi to Leviticus 11:44: "Just as I am holy... so you shall be holy."

  13. (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 2.

  14. (Back to text) Toras Kohanim, commenting on Leviticus 19:2.

  15. (Back to text) See the previous essay entitled "Souls Afire."

  16. (Back to text) Bava Basra 75b.

  17. (Back to text) And this refers to all members of our people as Sanhedrin 10:1 states: "Your people are all righteous."


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