This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת אַחֲרֵי מוֹת
For the Haftarah for Parshas Acharei Mos, we return to Trei Asar to take a look at the end of Sefer Amos [9:7-15]. Acharei Mos itself devotes a major chapter to the laws of the Yom Kippur service, apparently in response to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Then, the Sidrah appears to digress to discuss a plethora of other miscellaneous laws, most famously (or infamously), the laws of the Arayos, illicit relationships. At the outset, it is challenging to identify a unifying theme for Acharei Mos. But, as usual, perhaps its Haftarah can provide us some further perspective.
So, what does Amos discuss? In rebuking the B’nei Yisrael for their sins, the Navi makes a point that Hashem had delivered them from Egypt just like He delivered Plishtim from Kaphtor and Aram from Kir [9:7] (although the Radak understands these deliverances as prophetic references to future events). And a simple question one can ask about this particular talking point is why it is at all relevant to the rebuke of the B’nei Yisrael. First of all, is it directly relevant that once upon a time, Hashem brought the B’nei Yisrael up from Egypt? Perhaps, it gives the B’nei Yisrael more of a responsibility to obey Hashem. But, if that’s the case, why does the Navi also mention Hashem’s apparent relationship with the Plishtim and Aram? Why should the B’nei Yisrael be interested in how Hashem had possibly gotten other nations out of tight spots?
The Metzudas Dovid explains simply that the Navi references these salvations of other nations with the intention of setting up a contrast between Hashem’s relationship with the B’nei Yisrael and His relationship with the nations of the world. Indeed, the B’nei Yisrael were not the only subjects of Hashem’s kindnesses and salvations, yet Hashem’s selection and elevation of the B’nei Yisrael from Egypt was one of exponentially different and larger purpose.
But just to demonstrate the point, the Navi goes on to explain how, when it comes to the B’nei Yisrael, Hashem has His eyes on the sinful kingdom and intends to destroy it “MeiAl Pinei HaAdamah”-“from on the face of the soil,” however, assures the Navi, Hashem will not destroy the entirety of “Beis Yaakov,” the household of Yaakov [9:8]. The Navi promises that Hashem will sift the B’nei Yisrael, like grain, from among the nations [9:9], and re-erect the fallen Succah of Dovid, the Beis HaMikdash [9:11]. And ultimately, he declares that the captives of Yisrael will be returned to their land where they will rebuild cities, plant vineyards and drink the wine they produce, cultivate gardens and eat the fruits of their labor [9:14]. But more importantly than their own plantings, the Navi says that Hashem too will plant the B’nei Yisrael “Al Admasam,” back on their soil where they will be uprooted no longer from the land He has given them.
Beyond the wordplay and imagery which are all absolutely beautiful and inspiring, the Navi is telling us that the relationship between the B’nei Yisrael and Hashem is permanently forged by their destiny to return to their holy soil. Whereas the other nations are transiently moved about, entrapped by one nation one day, perhaps delivered on the next, the one-tracked destiny of the B’nei Yisrael as Hashem’s chosen people sees them focused on returning to the Holy Land of Israel. That’s the emphasis of this Haftarah; the destiny of the B’nei Yisrael to be “Al Admasam,” on their holy soil. But, what will it take to replant the B’nei Yisrael in its soil?
Here is where Acharei Mos comes in. The Sidrah begins with the absolute sensitivity of the holiness of the land, starting from its holiest area, the Makom HaMikdash (place of the Temple). Because Nadav and Avihu overstepped their boundary and did not properly revere the sensitivity of the holy area, they were killed. The whole institution of the Yom Kippur Avodah is to underscore this sensitivity and instill a reverence that allows us to relate to Hashem in His holiest place.
But, it does not stop at the Makom HaMikdash. Like Amos, the Sidrah too contrasts the B’nei Yisrael from other nations, particularly Egypt and Cana’an, warning the B’nei Yisrael not to copy their abominable practices [Vayikra 18:3]. The Torah does this to emphasize that the immorality which is considered tolerable in other lands will not be tolerated by the Holy Land. And as a result, the lifestyle of sexual immorality which the Torah then discusses takes on a greater gravity than that of just a sin. The Holy Land’s sensitivity cannot tolerate it, and as such, the Torah emphasizes multiple times that Eretz Yisrael will, in its literal reading, “vomit” out those who commit such acts [Ibid. 25-28].
In this exact vein, the Navi in our Haftarah explains “BaCherev Yamusu Kol Chata’ei Ami…”-“By the sword all of the sinners of My people will die…” [Amos 9:10]. Hashem is weeding out the contamination. The land is vomiting that which it cannot take, namely, the breach of Hashem’s Torah, the breach of holiness which Hashem and His Holy Land require of His people.
In the end, it takes true reverence of this existential holiness to get the B’nei Yisrael back on its soil. Obviously, to adhere to this requisite level of holiness is not easy to say the very least. But our Sidrah and Haftarah highlight that the sensitivity, like that in any relationship, has to be felt. The relationship necessarily requires our sensitivity, so that if we truly want that relationship—if it is our destiny—then we will exert ourselves until we’re acutely attuned to that sensitivity. Then, Hashem will return us to our holy, sensitive soil.
May we all be Zocheh to gain this level sensitivity to holiness, manifest it in our actions, and Hashem ultimately redeem us, returning us again “Al Admaseinu,” to our holy soil in Eretz Yisrael with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת קְדֹשִׁים
“A City of Blood”
The Haftarah of choice for Parshas Kedoshim is really a giveaway. For this Sidrah (and for Acharei Mos as well, according to the Sephardic custom), we take the Haftarah from Yechezkeil 22:1-16. In this single chapter of Yechezkeil, when rebuking the B’nei Yisrael, the Navi references not one or two, but several of the Aveiros (transgressions) explicitly mentioned in the Sidrah, from idolatry, to illicit relationships, to lending with interest, gossip, slighting one’s parents, injustice against the widow and orphan, not fearing Hashem’s Mikdash, desecrating Shabbos, and so forth.
Moreover, the Navi describes these sinful acts as To’eivos, abominations, the same adjective used in Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, and also uses phrases such as “Zimah” (evil plot) and “Tamei” (impure), also referenced in these Sidros.
Finally, we have the icing on the cake as the Haftarah finishes with the recurring message and mantra of the Sidrah, an Acharei Mos-Kedoshim classic, that the people should know that “Ani Hashem”-“I am Hashem.”
Choosing a Haftarah is not usually this simple. It seems that this prophecy of Yechezkeil’s conspicuously feeds off of the Sidrah as though it was written with the Sidrah in mind. The question though is what this prophecy adds to the Sidrah. Is Yechzkeil’s prophecy a mere reiteration of the Sidrah’s themes? Or is it possible that Yechezkeil is coming to bring something new to this discussion, perhaps a new perspective?
Another question one might ask about this Haftarah is that as seemingly perfect of a Haftarah as this piece is, it does not seem to abide by the rule of the typical Haftarah which is to close with a comforting ending. The last verse says [22:16], “V’Nichalta Bach L’Einei Goyim V’Yada’ata Ki Ani Hashem”-“You will be caused to tremble before the eyes of the nations, and you will know that I am Hashem.” So, perhaps the point about everyone realizing that He is Hashem is a good thing, but the overall message is that it is going to take a lot of hard justice to get to that point. It’s not particularly pleasant. If that’s the case, where is the comfort in this ending, if anywhere at all in this Haftarah’s conclusion?
As for what this Haftarah adds to the Sidrah, if one looks at the full Haftarah in its specific context, Yechezkeil is told to judge or rebuke what Hashem refers to as the “Ir HaDamim,” or “the city of blood” (a rare expression which would also be used to describe Ninveih, the capital of Assyria in Sefer Nachum).
And although, as was mentioned, a lot of the Aveiros described between Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are listed here as crimes that the B’nei Yisrael have committed, the Navi does not merely repeat them, but it reframes them with apparent references to this “blood” theme. For example, the Navi writes [22:9], “Anshei Rachil Hayu Vach L’ma’an Sh’fach Dam”-“Men of gossip you were in order to spill blood.” The Navi makes no fewer than seven references to either blood or bloodshed. Apparently, blood is the theme. The question is why.
What direct relevance does blood have in the crime of gossip, for example? Sure, gossip could lead to bloodshed if things blow way out of proportion, but that seems kind of far off, isn’t it? The Navi also writes that people would exercise tyranny “to shed blood” [22:6] and would accept bribes, again, “to shed blood” [22:12]. And, yes, we know that as egregious as it may be, there can exist a murderous dictator or a hired hitman, considering that we know that there was a Hitler and an army of Nazis who fit these roles (may all of their names and memories be erased). But, again, it seems that in the context of this Yechezkeil’s prophecies, the analogy seems to be extremely far off if it is serving as a general rebuke to the B’nei Yisrael who, yes, might have been sinners, but could not have all been as evil as the Nazis. In fact, if we’re being intellectually honest, we would not compare most of the people in the world or in history—even the wicked ones, to Hitler and the Nazis. A person or group of people would have to reach a very high level of evil, taking thousands if not millions of innocent lives before we decide to draw such a parallel. And yet, that is what we think of when we hear this title “city of blood” which the Navi seems to use freely when describing the B’nei Yisrael. So, why use such a harsh and extreme label for the B’nei Yisrael in this rebuke?
If one wants to truly understand the theme of our Sidrah, this comparison to a “city of blood” is kind of important. Whether or not murder is objectively a bad or evil thing is not really a point that is argued about, at least not today. However, the first time bloodshed was ever committed, it might have been so obvious. When Kayin, in the heat of his envy, killed his brother Hevel, perhaps unintentionally, G-d rebuked him saying [Bereishis 4:10], “Kol Dimei Achicah Tzo’akim Eilai Min HaAdamah”-“The voice of the blood of your brother screams out to me from the soil!” Kayin’s response, however, is not one hundred percent clear. He says the words [Ibid. 4:13], “Gadol Avoni MiN’so,” literally, “My sin is too great to bear.” While this line can be read as a confession of guilt, Chazzal see it is a challenge; “Is my sin really too great to bear?” [See Rashi citing Bereishis Rabbah 22:11]. In other words, how egregious and unforgiveable can it really be? Either way, whether a confession or a denial, certainly at the time of his action, Kayin did not appreciate the gravity of his bloodshed. And perhaps this is the point that the Navi is getting at.
Because, although, for most us, murder is something we would never do, no matter how much we were pressured by temptation, coercion, or any other rationale, it is only the case because our society would never tolerate such behavior. But, what if it did? What society did not consider murder to be something which is completely unacceptable? What if we were citizens of Nazi Germany? Would we just “follow orders”? Would we just go along with the culture and accept whatever it is society accepts? Or would we be able to abide by a higher moral calling and do what’s right—not in the eyes of modern society—but in the eyes of the Torah, for no other reason but for the fact that “Ani Hashem”? But if we just go along with the crowd’s inappropriate behaviors and pay no attention to the conscience behind the curtain, although we certainly aren’t literal murderers, we have all of the qualities of a potential city of blood.
That is why, although we don’t murder, we all speak Lashon Hara (evil slander). It is because although we know that it is bad, we do not consider it to be unacceptable! Our society, even our religious society, does not manifestly consider it unacceptable. For the same reasons, many people talk during Davening at a time where it is not only rude but Halachically unacceptable! It is because although we know in concept that it bad, we do not consider it, as the Halachah does, to be unacceptable! That is why the Shulchan Aruch uncharacteristically writes of one who engages in idle talk during the Chazzan’s repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, “Gadol Avono MiN’so”-“His sin is too great to bear” [Orach Chaim 124:7]. It is because as light as we treat this sin to be, it is unacceptable. And if bloodshed were practically acceptable, we have to wonder if we would be any better, because although even Kayin might have admitted that it was a bad thing conceptually, even he did not truly appreciate how unacceptable the act was.
Parshas Kedoshim speaks about a bunch of sins which we may not consider so evil, but many of them, the Torah tells us, are punishable only by death. That’s the theme of Kedoshim—that there are strict laws which reflect the holiness demanded of Israel. Moreover, the level of unacceptability of some of these laws is reflected by the consequences for those who violate them, as they are listed in Parshas Kedoshim. They are unacceptable, not because society deems them unacceptable—they don’t—but because “Ani Hashem,” and Hashem said that they are unacceptable. Perhaps they’re not as bad as murdering millions of innocent lives. But, they too, like murder, are unacceptable in the eyes of Hashem. The Haftarah shows that the casualness with which the B’nei Yisrael and really all of the world treats many of these unacceptable acts creates a society that has the potential to culturally taking the weight out of an act of bloodshed.
And perhaps, this is where the comfort lies in this Haftarah. Yes, it’s mostly bad news. But, in some ways, there is a sense of comfort when one has an understanding that harsh justice is systematically being delivered where it is due. It’s terrifying, indeed, and we hope and pray that we end up on the good end of Hashem’s justice. We try to genuinely better ourselves so that Hashem will give us a positive verdict. But, in a society where the perception of what is wrong is ironically corrupted into something that is viewed as acceptable—when a “city of blood” has completely done away with the Will of G-d, there is something soothing about shock of justice that reminds us and the world around us that “Ani Hashem.” That is what we are called upon to realize as “Kedoshim,” as Hashem’s holy people. And if we’re prepared to make a genuine effort to devote our lives to the Will of Hashem, Hashem will be faithful to repay us favorably, “Ki Ani Hashem.”
May we all be Zocheh to be sensitive to the gravity of Hashem’s Will, devote our lives to being His Kedoshim, and Hashem should bring an end to all unacceptable bloodshed with the coming of the Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂