In Parashat Shemini, the Tabernacle was inaugurated and began to fulfill its function—to bring the Divine Presence into the daily lives and consciousness of the people. But the excitement and rapture of this special day—the first day of Nisan, 2449—was marred by the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu, the two eldest sons of Aaron. As we have explained,1 Nadav and Avihu died prematurely because, in a sense, this is what they aspired to: to leave the shackles of physicality and expire in the ecstasy of Divine revelation.

God’s response to this error of judgment was to teach His people the lesson that, yes, it is commendable and even crucial to want to divest oneself from the constricted consciousness of this world in order to cling to God, but this must at all times remain only one side of the coin, and the subordinate side of the coin, at that. The main emphasis in our lives should be on fulfilling our mission, the purpose for which we (and the world) were created: to elevate and refine reality such that God’s presence can be manifest here, as well.

There are two possible reasons to seek to escape from this world. Aware of how sublimely sweet it is to bask in the Divine Presence, we can desire to reach this state of bliss. Or, aware of how degraded and degenerate our involvement with life has made us, we can want to renounce this involvement and escape into the sheltered sanctuaries of holiness.

Therefore, God divided His lesson on the importance of the Divine imperative to fulfill our mission in the world into two parts. The first was “not to drink to intoxication”2—not to drink so much of the wine of holiness that it makes us oblivious to the world around us. In their attempt to reach Divine ecstasy, Nadav and Avihu drank too much wine—both literally and metaphorically (as we will see); God therefore immediately instructed us not to do this, as is recorded immediately after the account of Nadav and Avihu’s death, in parashat Shemini.

The second part of the lesson was “not to enter the sanctuary at all times,”3 for in their Divine zeal, Nadav and Avihu had entered the sanctuary on their own initiative rather than in response to God’s call or command. Although God told us this part of the lesson, too, on the first of Nisan, His words are not recorded in the Torah until the present parashah, parashat Acharei, i.e., two-and-a-half parashiot later, following the laws of kashrut given in the second half of Shemini and the laws of purity and impurity given in Tazria and Metzora. This raises the obvious question: Why should the account of the events of the first day of Nisan be interrupted by such a lengthy digression concerning the laws of spiritual and ritual purity?

The reason is because, as we have noted previously,4 the essence of the laws of kashrut, as well as those of purity and impurity is to educate us how to sustain Divine consciousness while engaged in our physical lives. In this context, the second half of parashat Shemini and parashiot Tazria and Metzora follow naturally after all the preceding parashiot in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus: after we have been given the laws pertaining to human conduct (parashiot Yitro, Mishpatim) and the sanctification of our lives through the Temple and its rites (parashiot Terumah, Tetzaveh, Tisa, Vayakheil, Pekudei, Vayikra, Tzav, and the first half of Shemini), the Torah’s next order of business is to discuss how to sanctify the physical world and maintain our sanctity while involved with it.

Essential to this process is knowing how to distinguish between what is kosher or “pure” and what is not—in other words, what is conducive to and enhances Divine consciousness and what is detrimental to it and undermines it. In order to foster a relationship with God, we have to be aware of the pitfalls in life that threaten this relationship and how to avoid them.

We also have to be aware that, being human, the chance exists that we may become “defiled” by these pitfalls. And, if this happens, we must also be aware that a mechanism exists to counteract this fall in consciousness—teshuvah. The process of teshuvah—the reorientation of the individual toward Godliness—climaxes with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

The commandment “not to enter the sanctuary at all times” is part of the laws of Yom Kippur. The second half of Shemini together with Tazria and Metzora constitute a guide how to identify and overcome the impurities of this world. Acharei—the laws of Yom Kippur—teaches us how to then go on to achieve total purification and release from the defilement of consciousness that involvement in this world often entails.

But an integral part of this instruction is “not to enter the sanctuary at all times”—not to abandon involvement in this world. This is the answer to the second side of Nadav and Avihu’s Divine escapism: that when overcome with remorse over having been defiled by the exigencies of life and possessed of the desire to flee into the safety and security of holiness, we should still not lose sight of our purpose and mission in life.5


The fact that the Torah deems it necessary to link two events temporarily, by stating that one occurred “after” (acharei) the other, implies that the second is in some way dependent upon the first having happened before it. Thus, the second event can be seen as a continuation or culmination of the first, prior event. On the other hand, since there will inevitably be another, third event that will follow the second, the second event cannot be considered the ultimate completion or culmination of the first. By the same token, the third event cannot claim this title either, since there will a fourth event following on its heels, and so on, ad infinitum.

Or rather, almost ad infinitum, since there is one event that will constitute a quantum leap in existence, namely, the final, ultimate Redemption. Since life after the Redemption will be on an entirely higher order of reality, the events that will occur then cannot be properly considered “follow-through” to what happened prior to the Redemption. Thus, the Redemption will be a discontinuity relative to everything preceding it, and in this sense it may be rightly considered the ultimate completion of all that came before it. It will be the true acharei (“after”), which is why it is sometimes referred to as “the End of Days,” or literally, “the after days” (acharit hayamim).6

Parashat Acharei, then, by its very name, directs our gaze to the ultimate future: the messianic Redemption and all that will follow it. Aware that both the advent and the fullness of the Divine revelations that will accompany and follow the Redemption depend upon our conduct and efforts prior to the Redemption, we should be inspired to imbue our lives with redemptive consciousness.

This means, first of all, that we should seek to liberate every aspect (i.e., constituent entity or moment) of our lives from its “exilic” consciousness by sanctifying it—making it into an opportunity to fulfill a Divine commandment or perform some other good deed—thereby revealing its Divine source.

Additionally, we should seek to live our lives to whatever extent possible with post-Redemption consciousness, i.e., conscious that nothing can constitute an obstacle to fulfilling our Divine mission, just as in the messianic future there will be no obstacles to Divine consciousness or Divine revelation.

Furthermore, we know that in the messianic future, all nations and peoples will accept God’s authority over them, as it is written, “I will then transform the nations to speak a pure language, so they will all call upon the Name of God, to serve Him with one accord.”7 Living with messianic consciousness thus also includes encouraging non-Jews both to accept the seven categories of commandments they are obligated to accept8 and to live peacefully and generously with one another.9 All humanity will then be able to freely pursue Divine knowledge and enhance their Divine consciousness, thereby transforming the world into God’s ultimate home.10


As we have seen,11 the lesson we learn from the sequence of the four preceding parashiotShemini, Tazria, Metzora, and Acharei—is that true holiness is living a holy life in this world, rather than trying to escape it or renounce it. Once it has taught us this lesson, the Torah proceeds with the details of how holiness is in fact achieved. This is the subject of the present parashah, Kedoshim, which means “holy.”

Parashat Kedoshim comprises a dizzying assortment of seemingly unrelated topics and commandments, many of which are in fact treated elsewhere in the Torah, as well. How are we to make sense of this?

The answer is to be found in the opening words of the parashah: “You shall be holy, for I, God, your God, am holy.” As we will see, this means that our holiness derives from God’s holiness.

What is holiness? The Hebrew word for “holy” (kadosh) means “separate,” “removed,” and “above and beyond.” Relative holiness means being “beyond” (i.e., in a separate category from) surrounding entities; absolute holiness means being “beyond” everything, beyond the limitations of this world. God is thus axiomatically absolutely and infinitely holy. Since He created the world, He is by definition categorically beyond it and any of its characteristics. God is absolutely unlimited by time, space, or any of the conceptions of creation.

So by being told that we are to be holy “because I, God, your God, am holy,” we are being told that we, too, can partake of God’s otherness, that the heights of holiness we can reach are infinite, just as God is infinite.

This is another reason why Kedoshim follows Acharei. Yom Kippur, the opening topic of parashat Acharei, is both the embodiment and apex of the process of teshuvah, the reinstatement of Divine consciousness after a fall. In this process, we learn how to break out of the rut of our natural life and make a spiritual quantum leap. The entropic force of natural spiritual reality dictates that all creation be locked in a downward spiral of degeneration and degradation. Teshuvah belies this “truth.” Through teshuvah, we can attain heights of holiness that our natural sense of logic tells us are beyond our grasp.

Thus, only after having experienced teshuvah, after having become expert at defying the gravitational pull of earthly reality, are we ripe for the call of Kedoshim: “Be as holy as I am, and ascend infinitely in this holiness, for the source of your holiness is Me—and I am infinite.”

To be beyond nature means to live with the awareness that nature poses no contradiction to Divinity. The holier we are, the more capable we are of infusing Divine consciousness into all aspects of creation previously locked into their worldly orientation. There is no aspect of life that is beyond our capacity to elevate, so long as we are connected to God and at one with His will. Therefore, all aspects of life—from the lowest depths of idolatry to the loftiest ideals of love for our neighbor—come within the purview of parashat Kedoshim. It is this all-embracing scope of holiness that is expressed by the mélange of laws comprised within this parashah.12


In most years, parashiot Acharei and Kedoshim are read on the same Sabbath, which means that they share a common denominator. Inasmuch as the subject of the beginning of parashat Acharei is the observance of Yom Kippur in the Temple—in which the holiest place (the Holy of Holies in the Temple), the holiest person (the high priest), and the holiest time (Yom Kippur) all come together—and inasmuch as the name of parashat Kedoshim means “holy,” it is clear that the common denominator of these two parashiot is the concept of holiness.

As we know,13 the name of parashat Acharei means “after,” referring to the fact that God gave the commandment that opens that parashah—the order of the Temple rites performed on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—after the deaths of Aaron’s two eldest sons. Although we have noted that Nadav and Avihu were wrong in desiring to escape this world and expire in the ecstasy of Divine rapture, this does not mitigate the fact that they did indeed reach exalted heights of Divine consciousness and closeness to God—heights to which we should all aspire.

In this light, the name Acharei alludes to the lesson that no matter how high we climb on the ladder of holiness, even if we reach the heights reached by Nadav and Avihu, there is always an “after” awaiting us, a higher level to reach. The details of how to attain ever-higher levels of holiness and the power that fuels this process, as described above, are given in parashat Kedoshim.

The lesson we learn from the combination of these two parashiot, beyond the lesson we learn from their sequence, is thus that our ascent in holiness must be continuous and infinite, each level infinitely surpassing our previous level, inasmuch as we draw our capacity for spiritual progress from God’s own holiness, which is infinite.14


Nonetheless, in some years parashiot Acharei and Kedoshim are read separately, indicating that they are also significantly different from each other—different enough to warrant being focused on at different times. And in fact, if we look closely, we can discern that their messages indeed seem to be diametrically opposed. Parashat Acharei, as we have noted, underscores the fact that the essential concern of religious life should be engaging this world and sanctifying it, rather than trying to avoid or escape it. The very word Kedoshim, in contrast, implies, as we have also noted, separateness from the material world and its inherent limitations. It would seem that this awareness should foster a more ascetic, abstinent attitude toward life—the very opposite of embracing and engaging the material world, even in order sanctify it.

Indeed, there are those among us whose lives mainly reflect one or the other of these opposites approaches to life; there are also periods in all of our lives when we emphasize one or the other of them. For example, those of us who have overcome their human/animal drives and are therefore only motivated by the innate drives of their Divine souls can confidently engage the material world without fear of being lured by its various enticements. In contrast, those of us who are still struggling with their human/animal drives will be much more circumspect in their dealings with the material world, tending rather to avoid its temptations whenever possible. Nonetheless, even those of us in this latter category do experience a measure of freedom from these drives when they immerse themselves in prayer or the study of the Torah, temporarily shedding their self-awareness and identifying wholly with their inner Divine dimension.

On the other hand, the fact that in most years these two parashiot are read together implies that we are meant to unify these two opposites. We have seen15 how the ability to encompass both sides of a paradox is the earmark of Judaism; this unification of Acharei and Kedoshim, of separation from the world and involvement with it, is another example of this. When we identify with our Divine souls completely—either on an ongoing basis, as is possible for those who have overcome their human/animal drives, or temporarily, as is possible for those who are still struggling with these drives—we can manifest God’s ability to live both sides of a paradox, in this case, being “in the world” and “outside the world,” or self-aware and non-self-aware, simultaneously.

In other words, the involvement with the world associated with parashat Acharei necessitates sustaining self-awareness, inasmuch as the ongoing task of self-refinement and refining the world requires us to measure our progress as we grow spiritually and elevate the world we live in. In contrast, the dissociation from the world associated with parashat Kedoshim is predicated upon abnegating self-awareness, identifying totally with God and His desires for us. Living the paradox of Acharei-Kedoshim means devoting ourselves to the task of self-refinement out of pure devotion to God and His agenda rather than as means toward self-fulfillment or betterment per se.

This paradox is evident in the standard blessing we recite before performing many commandments: “Blessed are You, God, our God, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to….” First, we acknowledge God as having sanctified us—that is, made us holy and separate from the world, devoted solely to His will. From this perspective, all commandments are the same: they are all means of fulfilling His desire for us, and it is immaterial how this desire expresses itself. But then we go on to finish the blessing: “and has commanded us to do such and such,” acknowledging the particular efficaciousness of this specific commandment.

By living this paradox, transcending the straitjacketing limitations of this world, we hasten the day when God will release us from all the ontological “straitjackets” of exile: the final, ultimate Redemption.16