12 May 2016

Ahare Mot 5776 Holy Rubble

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The glory is not winning here or winning there. The glory is enjoying practicing, enjoying every day, enjoying working hard, trying to be a better player than before.

— Raphael Nadal

The opening of perashat Ahare Mot speaks of the service performed by the Kohen Gadol in the Mishkan/Bet haMikdash on Yom Kippur. The parasha is focused on the atonement of the entire nation.

For with this day atonement will be effected for you, to purify you from all your misdeeds; before the presence of G-d, you will become pure…This shall be for you a law for the ages, to effect-atonement for the Children of Israel from all their misdeeds, once a year. (16:30,34)

Keywords that recur in the parasha areטהרה – purity, כפרה – atonement, and קדושה – holiness. It is a parasha that aims towards wholesomeness and spiritual health. And yet, we read of the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, in which G-d’s presence ‘rests with them in the midst of their impurity’ (16:16). If the aim of the parasha is purity, why is G-d residing with the people in the midst of their impurity?

There is no specific impurity prohibition in Torah for the average person. There are prohibitions on what one may or may not do, how one may and may not behave and places one may or may not enter while in a state of impurity. But there are no laws against being impure for the regular civilian[1].

Impurity/Tum’ah is seen in Torah as one of the aspects of the human condition. It is a state of being that results, more or less, in the lack of equilibrium and integration of our spiritual/psychological/social selves.

One who aims his heart at purifying his soul from the spiritual impurities which are the thoughts that are immoral and attributes that are sinful, at the point that one decides in his heart to withdraw from those ‘suggestions’ and brings his soul into the waters of knowledge, he is purified. (Rambam[2])

Every human being experiences this to varying degrees. Perashat Ahare Mot teaches us that it is in this specific state of imperfection that G-d rests among us. He is with us in the aspects of our lives that are dark, damaged and less than perfect.

Why? Because we are meant to be the builders of our own lives and that building occurs from within imperfection and our disconnected states. The glory of a human being is not found in the state of perfection but in the determined struggle to achieve it. We are all on the task of putting our own lives together and of achieving wholeness and purity. We are all on the task of achieving atonement; that is at – one – ment. We strive to build an integrated identity where a harmony and interconnection is claimed out of the multiple facets of our personalities. The greater the degree of this integrity the more our souls can radiate within us in strength, purity and holiness and without impediment.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day in Torah that is set aside by G-d and Israel to address and acknowledge these imperfections and to strive towards building this purity.

With atonement we reconnect to the aspects of ourselves that comprise the core of our identity. When we commit to the struggle of striving for purity by dedicating our lives to living spiritually whole and healthy, we bring the quest towards purity to full actualisation with G-d by our side. He rests among us and His presence powers us even in the lowest states of our struggles. It is only when we succumb to the darkness and give in to living in the muck that G-d’s spirit moves to the periphery.

One who comes to achieve purity is assisted.[3]

Torah does not expect human beings to be perfect, it expects us to be as we are: messy, complex, imperfect and flawed. Hence, an annual Yom Kippur. Torah sees divinity in these pieces of potential with which a whole and integrated life can be created. Through every struggle, every growing pain, every flaw that is polished, the light of G-d shines through. He is our maker, Who dwells with us in the midst of our imperfections.


[1] There is an exception to this for kohanim and a nazir who may not become impure by being in contact with the dead bodies of certain individuals.

[2] Hilkhot Mikvot, 11:12

[3] Yoma, 39a

Parasha Perspectives

VI Acharei-Mot

33             The Yom Kippur service  (16:1-34)
Aharon must wear linen, not gold, garments and bring two goats (one as a Chatat and one for Azazel) as well as a ram for an Olah (16:1-10);
Full account of how this service, which brings atonement, is carried out by Aharon (16:11-28);
Institution for the future: Date, laws, purpose and Kohen of generation (16:29-34).
34             Ban on outside korbanot and blood  (17:1-16)
Any ox, lamb or goat killed for food must first be offered as a Shelamim (17:1-9);
Prohibition of consuming blood. Impurity through eating ‘treifa’ animals (17:10-16).
35a           Introduction to laws of wrongful unions  (18:1-5)
35b           Union is forbidden with relations (18:6). Specifically:
35c            You and either parent  (18:7)
35d           You and your stepmother  (18:8)
35e           You and your half-sister  (18:9)
35f            You and your grand-daughter  (18:10)
35g            You and your half-sister [different father] (18:11)
35h           You and your father’s sister  (18:12)
35i            You and your mother’s sister  (18:13)
35j            You and the wife of your father’s brother  (18:14)
35k            You and your daughter-in-law  (18:15)
35l            You and your brother’s wife  (18:16)
35m          Other forbidden unions (18:17-30):-
You with woman and her daughter or grand-daughter (18:17);
You with woman and her sister while former is still alive (18:18);
You with your wife when she is ‘nidda’’(18:19);
You with your neighbour’s wife (18:20);
Prohibition of Molech worship – child sacrifice (18:21);
You with another man (18:22);
Bestiality is forbidden for men and women (18:23);
Staying in Land means not doing above (18:24-30).
 Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS