Serendipity - the Week of the Verdict
Sometimes it is serendipity - the weekly Torah portion lines up perfectly with what’s happening the world. This happens to be one of those weeks. The portion is called “Achare Mot – Kedoshim.” Translated, “After the death – holiness.”
Technical note: This week is a double portion, two portions combined into one week for those non-leap years that have fewer weeks in the Jewish calendar.
The first portion, Achare Mot, takes place after the unexpected, tragic and preventable deaths of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. In the legends of the Torah, Nadav and Avihu do something wrong in their role as junior priests. They offer up “alien fire” on the altar – what that means, nobody is sure. Some suggest they were drinking on the job. Others suggest there was something “counterfeit” about the sacrifice. God, in a fit of unexplained rage, lashes out and kills them with fire. It is the type of portion that makes humanists out of Jews.
Aaron remains silent after their deaths, expressing no remorse or anger. While some commentators have attempted to explain his reaction away, his reaction has made led to generations of questions and condemnations of his character. My (and many others’) take-away: His reaction is not to be emulated. We should question, argue and condemn when we see something unjust. We should be those bystanders yelling, questioning and filming.
The second portion includes the Holiness Code, the core of Judaism’s ethical mandates. Among the mitzvot contained in the portion:
- You shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another.
- You shall not render unfair legal decisions.
- You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
What messages for our world today!
I feel like this past week has been a testament to “After the death. . . holiness.” After the George Floyd’s murder, finally, we have witnessed justice. After centuries of bad verdicts in racially charged cases, we have seen a fair verdict. It is small, but it is a start. And we have been reminded that hate gets us nowhere. We need love our neighbors as ourselves.
As the great rabbi Hillel once said, “All the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”
Rabbi Debbie Cohen