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Weekly D'rash and Parsha Acharei mot-kedoshim

This week's D’rash is written in honor of Eliana Gerstein on the occasion of her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. The Torah portion for this week is a combination of two portions. The first one is Acharei Mot which is Leviticus 16–18, and the second one is Kedoshim which is Leviticus 19–20. The whole portion covers the instructions to the priests for the Day of Atonement, the prohibition against ingesting live blood, and a variety of moral and ethical prohibitions and admonitions. When we think about "religious practice", the Day of Atonement certainly is at the top of the list of important instructions. According to Lev 23:29, if a person did not fulfill the requirements for Yom Kippur, they would be cut off from the people. That is serious! However, when we read through the prophets and look closely at their accusations against the children of Israel, almost all the sins that the people committed were failures in morals and ethics. Thus, it must be emphasized that the reason they ended up in captivity (exile) was chiefly because of their failures in morals and ethics, and not because of failures in doing offerings or observing holy days. Chapters 18 and 19 are the core instructions for Israel in their calling to be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. The first five verses of chapter 18 can be paraphrased this way: “Do not live like the people in the land that you just left and do not lie like the people in the land where you are going. Live the way that I tell you to live”. Their king was not in Egypt or in Canaan. God is their king, and they are part of his kingdom. Chapter 19 begins with an admonition to be holy because God is holy. The most important instruction in this section is Lev 19:18b “Love your neighbor as yourself”. If Israel is to live under the kingship of God and to demonstrate his character, then they need to live out this instruction. It carries a lot of weight. In the Gospel of Matthew, Yeshua chastises the Pharisees when he says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others”. His point was that the ritual of offerings was important, but demonstrating the loyal love and mercy of God were more important. In Leviticus 19:18b, we read that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is a weightier provision than bringing the offerings and sacrifices. The application for us is that showing love, kindness, and compassion to people is the most important thing we should be doing. This is what Yeshua was emphasizing in his words to the Pharisees, and it is what our Torah portion for this week emphasizes. May this Torah portion remind us to be a blessing to others by having a servant attitude and looking for ways to meet the needs of others. Rabbi Howard

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