Parashot Aharei Mot-Kedoshim are the 6th & 7th in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 16:1 – 20:27. Chronologically, it returns to Parshat Shemini, the deaths of Aharon’s eldest sons, Nadav & Avihu, after the subsequent digression to the laws of kosher animals, Tazria & Metsorah.
Aharei Mot begins with a warning to Aharon about the danger of randomly entering the Holy of Holies. Instead it details the elaborate Yom Kippur ritual service, with incense offering and scapegoat, to be performed in the Mishkan by Aharon the High Priest. The parasha includes further laws prohibiting animal offerings outside the Mishkan as well as commandments not to consume their blood. It ends with a series of laws on illicit sexual relationships.
Kedoshim contains the command to emulate G-d and become a holy nation. It includes variations of the 10 Commandments plus laws on social justice such as leaving over grain for the less privileged during the harvest, or not showing judicial favour to the rich over the poor. It also has many laws that appear to lack rationality such as Kilayim, not cross-breeding species nor wearing garments made from a mixture of wool and linen.
Included in Parshat Kedoshim are laws regarding waiting until the 5th year’s harvest to consume the fruit of new trees, maintaining an honest set of weights & measures, not giving over one’s children to the pagan infanticide practise of Molekh, and not committing incest.
Kedoshim concludes with the general prohibition against following the perverse ways of other nations who preceded Bnei Yisrael in Cana’an, the land they were to inherit. It emphasizes the need to separate from that which would lead to impurity; instead to live a sanctified life in G-d’s presence.
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COMMENT: The overarching theme of Aharei Mot & Kedoshim is about achieving Kedusha – a level of holiness associated with being in G-d’s presence.
Though the juxtaposition of Aharei Mot (about the death of Aharon’s sons and the annual Yom Kippur service) to Tazria-Metsorah (which concerned those who contracted spiritual impurity from their Tsara’at or bodily discharges) seems inexplicable, one possible link is the connection between Kedusha & spiritual purity.
When the Mishkan (or the 1st Temple) was in existence, our sages say that Bnei Yisrael could sense the Divine Presence in their midst. Whether it was through overt miracles – like the Clouds of Glory, or through a heightened sensitivity to their environment, they presumably felt an elevated spirituality and temperament.
We sometimes experience that today in rare gifted moments, when overwhelmed by the enormity of the natural world or after considerable selfless effort toward a noble cause. That feeling of Awe, that everything is far greater than our selves but that we are also an unending part of it, may be a glimpse of what Kedusha is about.
Tazria-Metsorah explained processes that bring us in contact with our mortality; birth and post-partum, ejaculation and menstruation. Because of taboos in most societies, they’re not often spoken about. Yet they touch the core of our physicality and are the basis for far more decisions than we’re willing to admit.
Through sexuality, humans attempt to overcome death – by creating a new generation to follow on. When conducted with a sacred intention, we’re brought closer to the Divine than through any other act. Misused, we are drawn farther away.
Tahara (spiritual purity) in the Book of Leviticus is a status one must doggedly pursue to enable proximity to the Almighty. Those who are Ta’mei (spiritually impure) find their path to the Divine obstructed.
Aharei Mot & Kedoshim teach us the ways to unblock and remove those obstructions. Uniquely, not aestheticism, prayer and fasting but through controlling our normal behaviour and through the performance of mitsvot, do we meet G-d.
No coincidence that much of these two parashot were chosen to be read on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year. Not just because they effect atonement but because they teach the necessary behaviour – Kedusha – enabling us to draw closer to G-d.