Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Acharei and Kedoshim.

Withdrawal and Return

Our reading begins with the verse: "And the L-rd spoke to Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near to the L-rd and they died". The Midrash, cites the following explanations: They entered the Holy of Holies; they did not wear the priestly garments necessary for their service; they did not have children; and they did not marry.

How can we suppose that Aaron's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, were guilty of sin? The Midrash relates (based on Leviticus 10:3) that Moses said to Aaron, "Aaron, my brother, I knew that the Sanctuary would be sanctified by those who were beloved and close to G‑d. Now I see that they — Nadav and Avihu — are greater than both of us." If this was so, how could they have sinned?

There is a Chassidic explanation that Aaron's two sons did not "sin" literally. Their "sin" was to allow their desire to cleave to G‑d to mount to such an intensity that they died. Their bodies could no longer contain their souls. Thus the Torah says "when they drew near to the L-rd (with such passion that) they died." Still this was counted as a sin, for although a Jew must divest himself of material concerns, at the moment when he stands poised at the ultimate ecstasy of the soul, he must turn again to the work that the soul must do within a physical existence.

Their faults stemmed from a single misconception: that the Jew draws close to G‑d by withdrawal instead of involvement. In fact, both are necessary. This lies at the heart of each of the faults which the Midrash ascribes to them.

They "entered the Holy of Holies," the innermost reaches of the spirit, without thinking of their return to the outer world.

They "did not wear the (priestly) garments." Their concern was to divest themselves of the world and to become purely spiritual. They forsook the necessary "garments" in which the word of G‑d is clothed, the Mitzvot, the physical actions that sanctify a physical environment.

They "had no children" and "did not marry." They did not fulfill G‑d's command to "be fruitful and multiply" and to bring new souls into the world. They did the opposite. They withdrew their own souls from the world.
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True Love

Parshat Kedoshim contains the command, “Love your fellow man as yourself.”

Seemingly, this is demanding the impossible. We care for others only to the extent that we perceive a common denominator, but that common denominator affects only a limited part of our personalities. It can never penetrate us entirely, for each of us possesses a fundamental self-concern; there is no one with whom we identify as strongly as we identify with ourselves. Thus, as long as we retain our self-concern, there is no way we can love any other person as much as we love ourselves.

It is possible, however, to redefine our sense of self. Instead of focusing on our personal “I,” we can highlight the G‑dly spark we possess, our true and most genuine self. And when a person’s G‑dly spark comes to the fore, he is able to appreciate that a similar spark also burns within the other. He can thus love another person as himself, because he and the other share a fundamental identity.

By looking beyond one’s selfish and material concerns and focusing on the spiritual core that exists within him and within every person, a person is able to redefine himself. Truly loving another person means focusing on the G‑dly potential that person possesses.
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A G‑dly Vitality

In the portion of Acharei we encounter the verse: “Perform My judgments and safeguard My statutes.” “Judgments” translates the Hebrew mishpatim, referring to those laws whose rationale can be comprehended by mortal intellect. “Statutes” translates the Hebrew chukim, mitzvot whose rationale transcends our understanding. The linkage in the verse implies a reciprocal relationship. Fulfilling the “statutes” refines a person and makes him spiritually sensitive, enabling him to appreciate the rationale that exists in the “judgments,” those laws that can be grasped by our minds. Conversely, carrying out the “judgments” strengthens our spiritual potential, giving us inner fortitude so that the observance of the “statutes” will not be an overwhelming challenge.

The passage continues: “You shall safeguard My statutes and decrees and… live in them.” G‑dliness is the ultimate vitality, true and genuine life. Through the Torah and its mitzvot, a person connects to G‑d and thereby derives vitality.

A person who derives his vitality from worldly things, looks forward to those moments and focuses his life on them entirely. So too, a person should focus his life on the Torah and its mitzvos. Every moment should be one of anxious expectation, eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to experience the spiritual vitality that the Torah and its mitzvos offer him.

The latter point enables us to understand why this verse was chosen to introduce the passage concerning forbidden intimacy. When a person is able to appreciate the energy and vitality the Torah provides him, he will have an inner source of positive satisfaction and will not be drawn after forbidden indulgence.
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Permeated With Holiness

Kedoshim begins with the command to “be holy,” and continues with a variety of commandments including prohibitions against theft, lying, gossip, intermingling species of animals, eating produce before the plants which bear it mature, and giving the guidelines for marital relations and the foods we eat.

Implied is that the holiness the Torah asks of us is not otherworldly, but instead anchored in the day-to-day routines of life. Judaism does not want us to be angels, but rather holy men and women, people who live in touch with material reality and control their involvement with it, rather than letting it control them.

Within every element of existence, there is a G‑dly spark. Being holy means seeking to tap into that G‑dly energy instead of becoming involved with the entity’s material nature.

We have a natural tendency to polarities: either to seek gratification through indulgence in material pleasures or to renounce them and search for spiritual fulfillment in an ascetic lifestyle.

In the long run, however, neither of these approaches is satisfactory, not for man, nor for G‑d. G‑d certainly does not appreciate material indulgence. And ultimately, man is also not satisfied with that. Deep inside, man wants something more from life than having his desires gratified. Eating, drinking, and other sensual pleasures cannot provide him with the lasting and meaningful satisfaction he is looking for.

On the other hand, asceticism is also not an answer. If G‑d made us with physical bodies and material tendencies, it seems obvious that they are also part of His intent. Our Sages say that He created the world because He desired a dwelling in the lower realms, the material dimension of our existence is an integral element. G‑d invested Himself in the material realm, infusing sparks of holiness into every material entity. What He desires is that we uncover those sparks by using the material entities for His intent.
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Love Your Fellow As Your Fellow Needs

The mitzvah to “love your fellow as yourself” raises a dilemma. What should you do when your needs are different from your friend’s? If you are thirsty while your friend is hungry, it would be un-loving to offer him a drink instead of food. If you have time for Torah study while your friend is struggling to make ends meet, it is wrong to help him learn Torah but ignore his need for help earning a livelihood.