Acharei Mot - K’doshim
After the Death [of the Two Sons of Aaron] / [You Shall Be] Holy
The Eternal One spoke to Moses … when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal.
The Eternal One spoke to Moses saying: "Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy."
The Special Nature of the People and all that is Holy:
Marking Sacred Space, Sacred Time, Sacred Events, and Sacred People
In different parts of the Jewish world this week, we read either from the double portion of Acharei Mot – K’doshim or Emor.
In all of these narratives, we are told – or re-told – about certain Holy observances and are commanded in the ways of Shabbat – and a number of very important holidays, like the High Holy days, Sukkot, and Passover.
Even in the somewhat gory and questionable portion where G-d punishes the sons of Aaron for coming too close to the Holy flame – we are presented with the special nature of, well, things that are EXTREMELY special – the sacred and the Holy.
There is no more sacred physical place on earth for the Jewish people than the Holy of Holy’s. Not the Kotel. But the place behind the Kotel where it is believed the Israelites housed the tabernacle of Adonai. And the most Holy place Jews can pray – again is not the Kotel – but a dark window like part of the wall in the Kotel tunnels that we believe is the closest physical place to the Holy of Holy’s that is not on the Temple Mount – where Jews are not allowed to pray.
The reason I bring up this example of physical holiness is because the Holy and Sacred for the Jewish community - which is about space, time, and events – is wrapped up in political, religious and cultural conceptions of what is and is not important (or Holy). For some, the space I just described is literally meaningless. For some, it is everything. And in that difference lies many disagreements over the State of Israel, Jerusalem, pluralistic and egalitarian prayer space in Jerusalem – and really – conceptions of what Judaism itself is all about.
For our students, we need to present these differences – but gradually. For Shlenker, we want our students to understand Holiness – that a person, place, and time can be Holy. We are Holy because we are made in the image of G-d (B’Tselem Elohim).
A place can be Holy because of what happened there, who lived there, and whether it is a place we believe the Holy spirit resides. And of course, time can be Holy - the moments we set aside for celebration and commemoration. Shabbat is neither a place nor a physical thing. It is a time we mark as important, special, and different from other moments of the week. Passover is an event with physical happenings – but it is marked in the Jewish calendar as a time of Holiness and special designation – as are the times for Sukkot, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashannah and all of our festivals and days or remembrance.
The Jewish calendar and Jewish ritual provides a subtle lesson in space and time for our students that we should be thankful for. By seeing that all these different elements of our world can be Holy, we hope that we have students who see things from many different perspectives and appreciate the varying beliefs of others.
Additional Torah Study Resources:
ReformJudaism.org Torah Study / Leading a Family Torah Discussion