This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim (5769)
This week we read another double Torah portion. Acahrei Mot means After Death and Kedoshim means Holy.
'After Death' refers to the tragic and bizarre deaths of two of the Holiest people ever to walk the face of the earth: Nadav and Avihu the sons of the Aaron the High Priest. Two beams of fire entered their nostrils when, in their longing for G-d, they rashly entered the Holy of Holies without preparation.
And the name of the second Torah portion, 'Being Holy,' refers to doing the 48 commandments listed afterwards; honoring your parents, not worshiping idols, loving every Jew etc. which are designed to make us holy.
But at first glance it should be the opposite.
The first Torah portion which talks about Holy people entering the Holy of Holies should be called 'Holy'. And the second section that gives 48 commandments whose reward cannot be felt in this world but only after we die in heaven, should be called 'After Death'!
To understand this, here is a story. (Sichat HaShavua #1164)
Some one hundred years ago in Czarist Russia two wealthy Jewish businessmen decided to make a partnership and finalize it by a great Rabbi, an expert in monetary laws Rav Yitzchak Yoel Rafalovitz.
The papers were signed and, because there was somuch money involved, they agreed that each of them would deposit the huge sum of one thousand rubles with the Rabbi on condition that if either of them purposely broke his side of the agreement the other would receive all the money.
Now it just so happened to be that it was forbidden for an unauthorized Rabbi to do such a thing. Large monetary cases were to be judged only in civil courts. But Rabbi Rafalovitz had no choice. Jewish businessmen did not trust the civil courts to give them justice and if he didn't act as a judge there would be no law and order.
But the case turned sour. Several years later one of the partners came to the Rabbi with the sad news that the other had broken the agreement, and after investigation it was found to be true.
As per the agreement the Rabbi gave all the deposit money to the jilted partner (which only covered a portion of his losses) but when the crooked partner heard about it he immediately reported the entire thing, with papers and documents as proof, to the police.
Rabbi Raflovitz was in big trouble!! He knew that no lawyer would take his case. He was too guilty and there was too much evidence against him.
The next day there was a knock on his door and two policemen presented him with a subpoena to appear in court. In just over a week he was to stand trial and didn't have a chance! He would be sentenced to life in prison!
And if that wasn't enough, a few days earlier his pregnant wife complained that she didn't feel the child in her womb and she just returned with the news that her doctor said that the fetus was dead and they had to operate and remove it or... But she didn't believe him. Or rather she didn't want to believe him. But on the other hand, what if he was right?! She was confused and very scared.
It all happened at once! Worse than the worst nightmare!
Suddenly it occurred to him. He would travel to his Rebbe Maharash, Rebbe Shmuel of Lubavitch (The forth Lubavitcher Rebbe). It was his only chance.
He got to Lubavitch on Wednesday. He as desperate. In just a week would be the trial and what about his wife and baby! Every second was precious!
He was lucky! He immediately got an audience with the Rebbe (some people waited weeks) and before he knew it he was standing in the Rebbe's office pouring out his heart and breaking into tears when he spoke of his wife. It was urgent!
"Rav Yitzchak Yoel!" the Rebbe smiled and said in a friendly tone. "What's the hurry? Why are you rushing so? In any case you will be here for Shabbat. After Shabbat we will discuss your problem."
Rav Rafalovitz was surprised. But the Rebbe's answer strangely calmed him down. He was right, the trial would only be next week and maybe his wife's situation was not so bad. But then again…..
The next two days he tried to sit and learn but it was futile. He simply couldn't get the worries out of his mind and when Shabbat rolled around although the calm and holiness of the day of rest had a good influence on him he still was troubled. In fact when the Rebbe said a long complicated 'Mimor'; a Chassidic discourse filled with deep kabalistic terms and explanations his mind was so turbulent that he almost did not hear a word.
"But after Shabbat it will be different!" he thought to himself. "After Shabbat I'll see the Rebbe and he will solve everything."
And sure enough, shortly after it was dark and the Shabbat was over he was admitted to the Rebbe's office and stood there waiting for salvation.
"Did you understand the Mimor I said on Shabbat?" The Rebbe asked him.
"Mimor?" He sheepishly answered. "Ehhh I'm sorry Rebbe but I had trouble concentrating. You see…."
"Then go learn it," the Rebbe concluded, "and when you know it by heart we'll talk."
Rav Rafalovitz left the room, found a young man who had written down the Rebbe's discourse from memory, copied it over and spent the entire night learning it until the next morning when he entered the Rebbe's office for the third time it was etched in his memory.
The Rebbe listened to his repetition of the 'Mamor' and blessed him with success in the trial, success in business and Mazal Tov on the child his wife would give birth to in another few months.
He thanked the Rebbe profusely. He rushed to the telegraph office where he sent his wife an urgent message not to make the operation and not to worry. Then, early the next morning day made his way to Petersburg where the trial was to take place with no idea what to do to make the Rebbe's blessing work.
In Petersburg he stayed at the home of a good friend who after he heard what had happened, suddenly shouted, "Ah! I have an idea!! Listen. Every morning there is an old peasant woman that delivers milk to all the houses in this area and one of those houses is that of the Judge who will be presiding over your case.
This milk lady is liked by everyone and she told me that Judge's wife often consults with her. So this is my plan. Tomorrow morning when she delivers the milk we'll start crying and when she hears your story I'm sure she'll help. Or rather G-d will help.
Sure enough it worked. When she heard them weeping and heard the explanation she told them not to worry… that she would take care of it.
When she brought milk to the Judge's house and was greeted by his wife she too began to cry. Tears were streaming down her wrinkled cheeks as she explained to the Judge's wife that a 'relative' of hers, an honest, upstanding, caring, righteous man was falsely accused because of a mistake he made and, with no money or powerful friends she is afraid that he will be found guilty for a crime he did not commit in the trial here tomorrow.
The Judge's wife called her husband, the milk lady repeated her story and the Judge listened, was impressed and promised he would do what he could.
But the next day the Judge saw it wouldn't be simple. He looked through the accusations and the evidence and realized that the poor Rabbi didn't have a chance. None whatsoever! But suddenly he had an idea.
He called the court to order and called one case after another putting off the Rabbi's case until last. Then, just before he called for the case to begin he announced a recess. Everyone stood and as he was walking down the aisle to leave the courtroom he 'happened' to pass the prosecuting lawyer and witnesses and mumbled to them under his breath, "You clowns don't know what you got yourselves into!"
The prosecution was stunned! What could he have meant? Perhaps they had made some mistake!
Knowing that this Judge always took long breaks they left the courtroom to reconsider…. where had they gone wrong?
But this particular time the Judge returned on time, took his place behind the desk and called out. "The State versus Rafalovitz! Will the prosecution step forward! …… WILL THE PROSECUTION STEP FORWARD!!!
When no one answered he looked around, raised his gavel high, brought it crashing down on a small shiny block on his table and yelled, "The prosecution has forfeited! Case dismissed!! Court dismissed!!"
He stood, handed the Rabbi the portfolio containing the incriminating evidence, informed him that he was cleared of all charges and assured him that he would be sent a letter of permission to judge all monetary cases in the near future.
Rabbi Rafalovitz was stunned! He was free! He only had to wait a few months and the third blessing of the Rebbe also came to pass. To the amazement of the doctors his wife gave birth to a healthy, baby boy!
This answers our question. The reason the first Torah portion is called 'After Death' is that it opens with the story of Nadav and Avihu; two holy, devoted, spiritual, but after all, very selfish people. They wanted the highest levels of spirituality for themselves regardless of the outcome. And this separation from the world is the source of death.
Life can only exist when there is harmony and unity between the soul and body; spiritual and physical, Creator and the creation. But egotism and selfishness cause the opposite of life; something like the bad partner in our story.
But our second Torah portion is called 'Holy' because it contains the main commandment in Judaism: Loving your fellow man (19:18 see Rashi).
'Holy' in Judaism means 'the source of life'. For instance the Holy Temple was the source of life for the world and G-d is called the 'Holy one blessed be He' for the same reason; He is the source of life… above all division.
And what draws this holiness into the world is unity; loving your fellow man as yourself. As we saw the Rebbe, the Rabbi's friend, the milk lady, the Judge and his wife did in our story. And it brought life.
But the only way to actually do this; to love everyone, overlook their faults and see only their loveable traits is to be 'Holy' ourselves; trying to reveal the Creator's love in the entire creation… like the Rebbe in our story.
Even one loving thought, word or deed can do it. Before we know it the entire world will be alive and we will all be dancing with …
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.