1. The present Shabbos is connected with three Torah portions: Acharei and Kedoshim which this Shabbos are joined together as a single portion and are read in the morning, and Emor, which is read in the Minchah service. Since everything that happens is controlled by Divine Providence — and surely this applies to the public Torah readings — we can assume that there is a common factor shared by these three portions, each one contributing a dimension lacking in the other.

This common factor centers on the expression of the interrelation of the holiness of G‑d’s Name (the mitzvah of sanctifying G‑d’s Name) and the holiness of the Jewish people.

This concept is communicated in parshas Acharei which begins with a reference to the death of Aharon’s sons as they “drew close to G‑d.” In his commentary on the verse, “I will be sanctified by those near to Me,” Rashi explains: Moshe told Aharon: “I knew that the Sanctuary would be consecrated by the death of those close to G‑d.” The portion continues on a similar theme mentioning the service of the High Priest in the Sanctuary and in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.

Similarly, as implied by its name, parshas Kedoshim reflects the concept of the sanctification of G‑d’s Name. Within this portion there are several commandments urging the Jews to sanctify themselves including the conclusion of the portion which states, “And you shall be holy because I am holy.” On this verse, our Sages commented:

The Holy One, blessed be He, told Israel: “I am sanctified because of you as it is written, ‘...Israel, through whom I will be praised,’ and you will be sanctified because of Me... If you sanctify yourselves, I will consider it as if you sanctified Me.”

In the same vein, parshas Emor includes the verse, “And I will be sanctified among the children of Israel,” from which our Sages derived the commandment to sanctify G‑d’s Name. A similar concept can be interpreted from the name of the portion which can be interpreted to mean “grant praise and distinction” as in the verses: “You have granted praise and distinction to G‑d today... and G‑d has granted praise and distinction to you.” This is the function of the Jewish people, to render praise to G‑d’s Name by revealing Divine unity throughout the world.

To explain these concepts in greater depth: The death of Aharon’s sons mentioned in the beginning of the portion is problematic. From a simple understanding of the Torah’s narrative, it appears that their death came as a punishment for a sin. Nevertheless, this is difficult to understand: They were on a very high spiritual level as obvious from the fact they were the individuals “close to G‑d,” with whom G‑d chose to consecrate the Sanctuary. Indeed, after they passed away Moshe told Aharon: “I thought that either me or you would be chosen to consecrate the Sanctuary. Now, I see that their level surpasses ours.” Moshe surely did not make this statement as an expression of humility,1 but rather, as a true appreciation of their spiritual level.

The Or HaChayim attempts to resolve this difficulty, explaining that the death of Aharon’s sons came because of their tremendous attachment to G‑d:

They came close to a great light of holy love and died because of it. This is the mystic secret of [G‑d’s] kiss through which the righteous died.... Although they appreciated that they would die they did not hold back from coming close to this sweet [bond] of love... to the extent that their souls departed.

Thus, their sin (chet, the Hebrew for sin also means, “lack”) consisted of not restraining their attachment to G‑d, consciously allowing themselves to reach the point where their souls departed from their bodies. This is considered undesirable because together with the great yearning and love which a Jew feels for G‑d (ratzo), he must also dedicate himself to fulfilling G‑d’s will in this world by transforming this world into a dwelling for Him.2

Thus, the death of Aharon’s sons can be compared to a sacrifice for they gave up their lives to cling to G‑d. In this manner, they sanctified G‑d’s name and consecrated the sanctuary.

In this context, we can understand a positive interpretation of the verse, “And they brought close to G‑d a strange fire concerning which they were not commanded.” The love of Aharon’s sons for G‑d was “a strange fire,” i.e., it was out of the ordinary, “concerning which they were not commanded,” i.e., beyond the limits that could be commanded of the Jewish people. Indeed, this was the first example of a Jew giving up his life because of love for G‑d (Kiddush Hashem).

This unbounded expression of love for G‑d gave the Jewish people the potential to sanctify G‑d’s Name — through life within this world — in all the generations that followed. For this reason, this passage was chosen to introduce the portion describing the Yom Kippur service. The sanctification of G‑d’s Name by Aharon’s sons generated the potential for Aharon and the subsequent High Priests to carry out the service of Yom Kippur.3

On this basis, we can understand the connection between parshas Acharei and the portions that follow: Parshas Kedoshim contains the commandment to sanctify ourselves, a service which can be carried out because of the influence of the service of Aharon’s sons. Afterwards, parshas Emor expresses the commandment to sanctify G‑d’s Name and bring out His oneness throughout the world.

The three portions can, thus, be understood to express three different phases of this service of sanctification: a) sanctifying G‑d’s Name through service within the realm of holiness; b) sanctifying G‑d’s Name by separating oneself from negative influences in the world; c) sanctifying oneself through using the material elements of the world for the sake of holiness.

2. The three services explained above can be understood in greater depth through the explanation of the first Mishnah of the third chapter of Pirkei Avos:4

“Reflect on three things, and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting. ‘From where you came’ — from a putrid drop, ‘And to where you are going’...”

This Mishnah is divided into three sections, each one serving as a directive to one of the three types of Jews: the righteous, the beinonim, and the wicked (and also, the parallels to these levels in the spiritual worlds: the realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah). Also, it can be understood to reflect the three different services of sanctification, one service where holiness shines in open revelation, one service where one is involved in mundane affairs where there is a potential that they be used either for good or for other purposes, and one service in which one confronts the forces of evil as they are revealed. The opening clause: “Reflect on three things and you will not come to sin” relates to the service of a righteous person, whose soul shines in open revelation and thus, his service is focused primarily in the sphere of holiness. His yetzer hora no longer influences him. Nevertheless, in order to allow a Jew to serve G‑d by choice, the possibility of sin — or descent — is not totally negated and it is through his own service that he comes to the level where he “will not come to sin.” Not only will he not commit a sin, he will be far removed from any approach to sin.5

This is accomplished through looking at “three things;” i.e., since his soul shines in open revelation and he is occupied with holy matters, his perception focuses on only “three things”: his soul, “a part of G‑d from above,” the world into which his soul descended where he must carry out his service; and G‑d, the source of his soul and the Creator of the world into which he was sent. The comprehension of these three things will impress upon him how, even as his soul exists within the world, it is “a part of G‑d from above,” and still connected with its G‑dly source. This awareness will allow him to continue a life of holiness and prevent him from descending to a level which is not appropriate to him.

The second clause, “Know from where you came, and to where you are going...” refers to a beinoni, and in spiritual terms, to the world of Yetzirah which is “half good and half evil.” In contrast to the world of Beriah (which parallels the service of the righteous described above), in Yetzirah, G‑dliness is not openly perceived and one appreciates the world as an independent entity. Nevertheless, the world is not seen as contrary to G‑dliness.

This is reflected in the service of the beinoni who has both an active yetzer tov (“good inclination”) and yetzer hora (“evil inclination”). Unlike the righteous who is totally involved in the realm of holiness, such an individual appreciates the secular nature of the world and thus, is sensitive to the lures of the yetzer hora. He, nevertheless, overcomes this challenge, and, on the level of thought, speech, and deed, serves G‑d in a complete manner.6

A person on this level needs more particular instruction than the perception of the three things mentioned above to carry out his spiritual service. Since the secular aspects of this world affect his consciousness, he must be instructed in a more particular manner.

Thus, the Mishnah emphasizes the importance of knowing, “from where you came,” i.e., the essential G‑dly source of the soul, and “to where you are going,” the goal of his service in this world.

The last clause, “ ‘From where you came’ — from a putrid drop,...” refers to the world of Asiyah, which is dominated by evil (and in personal terms, a wicked person).7 For such a person to transform his behavior and avoid sin, it is necessary to consider all the factors and details mentioned by the Mishnah: the undesirable aspects of worldliness, “a putrid drop,” “a place of worms and maggots,” and the awareness of whom one is serving, “the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”

To relate these concepts to the three levels of holiness described above: Parshas Acharei relates to the sanctification of G‑d through the service of the righteous which centers on “drawing close to G‑d,” above the level of the world. Parshas Kedoshim reflects the service of Beinonim who exists within the context of this world and separate themselves from undesirable influences. Parshas Emor which relates the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem shows how the Jews can express holiness through positive acts within the world.

* * *

3. The service of holiness described above is related to the counting of the Omer as emphasized by the prayer recited after fulfilling this mitzvah in which we ask G‑d to “purify and sanctify us in Your sublime holiness.” This holiness is increased from day to day as emphasized by the manner in which the Omer is counted. Rather than say, “Today is the second day...,” “Today is the third day...” and the like. We say, “Today is two days of the Omer,” “Today is three days...,” indicating that each day includes within it the service of all the previous days and then, contributes a further dimension of growth itself.

Though the counting of the Omer spans three months — Nissan, Iyar, and Sivan; in particular, it is connected with the present month Iyar because every day of the month is associated with this mitzvah. Though Nissan is important for it represents the birth of our people and Sivan is distinguished as the month of the giving of the Torah, the fact that every day of Iyar is associated with the mitzvah of counting the Omer gives it special significance.

The name Iyar (אייר) serves as an acronym for the names Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, and Rachel8 (אברהם יצחק יעקב רחל), the four figures who comprise “G‑d’s chariot.” Just as a chariot is totally nullified to the will of its driver, the Patriarchs were totally given over to G‑d’s will, and therefore, “all their limbs were holy and separated from matters of this world.” Their service — as transferred to us through the medium of Rachel — generates the potential for us to live in a holy manner in this world, even if doing so requires self-sacrifice, and in this way transform the world into a dwelling for G‑d.9

The holiness of the Jewish people (that is brought about through the service of the Patriarchs) has its ultimate source in G‑d’s holiness as alluded to in the verse, “Be holy, for (i.e., because) I am holy.” This concept is also alluded to in the name Iyar since, it also serves as an acronym for the Hebrew words (אני ה' רפאך), “I, G‑d, am your healer.”10

This refers to Jews in this world — for only here is there the possibility of sickness — and yet they are assured that they will be healed by G‑d, Himself. This refers to the level of Kesser, which is identified with His essential holiness. G‑d’s “healing” the Jews indicates that this holiness will be expressed in physical terms; their bodies as well as their souls will be holy.

The service of holiness described above is further enhanced by the influence of the present day, the tenth of Iyar for, as our Sages state, “the tenth shall be holy.”

* * *

4. The above is further enhanced by the fact that we are in the midst of the days of preparation for Lag BaOmer, the day of celebration associated with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.11 Rabbi Shimon personified the service of holiness and drawing close to G‑d as he stated, “Throughout all my days, I was connected in this world with one bond with the Holy One, blessed be He... In it, I was united.” This potential is granted to every Jew, to live within this world in a holy manner.

For this reason, Lag BaOmer is commemorated with gatherings and parades, stressing the theme of the unity of the Jewish people and thus, sanctifying G‑d’s Name within the world.

These parades and gatherings, as does any entity associated with holiness, require preparation. Therefore, every day of the week that remains before Lag BaOmer: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Shabbos, should be used to prepare for these gatherings.

Since these gatherings are intended for the purpose of education, they must follow the principle, “Educate a child according to his way;” i.e., the above concepts should be presented in a manner to which even children of a very young age can relate by using flags and banners and the like. This will inspire the children and leave a lasting impression upon them.

Since this is “a year of miracles,” when we are lifted above the limitations of nature, these parades and gatherings must surpass those of the previous years, both in the numbers of the participants and the quality of the program. Each person should do whatever he can to make these gatherings a success, participating in the parades himself and influencing others to join him. This will lead to a great Kiddush Hashem and lead to the ultimate Kiddush Hashem which will come when G‑d will “sanctify His great Name... and take [Israel] from among the gentiles... and bring her to her land,” in the ultimate redemption. May it be in the immediate future.