Transforming the Mundane Into the Sacred: Parsha Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1-18:30)

Transforming the Mundane into the Sacred
Parsha Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1-18:30)

Long before John F. Kennedy declared, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, said something similar to a self-absorbed disciple seeking blessing: “Until now you have focused on what you need from G‑d; it’s about time you asked, ‘What is needed of me?’ (

The Goal
The goal of the Jewish people is to sanctify the mundane and make it sacred. This is a relationship where Heaven (shamayim) comes to Earth. This is also the product of the Messiah/Messianic era (lion lays down with lamb, no war, etc).

Traditional Understanding: The death of Nadav and Avihu in Parsha Shemini shows the “incorrect” way to offer sacrifices to God. We need laws to show us the right way (hence Parsha Acharei-Kedoshim).

Midrash Based on I Kings: Eliyahu offered the same fire and went to Heaven (chariot of fire). Nadav and Avihu were ahead of their time and the Hebrews could not contemplate this. “Laws” help us to get to the point of Nadav and Avihu’s holiness.

“After the Death”
Following the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, G‑d warns against unauthorized entry “into the holy.” Only one person, the kohen gadol (“high priest”), may, but once a year, on Yom Kippur, enter the innermost chamber in the Sanctuary to offer the sacred ketoret to God. (

Am I Good Enough?
-A kohen was born into a family. This is at a time when ancestry was related to what job you could take on
-Other leaders (Moses, Noach, King David) were not that great, either
-“Do” and “Learn” (Exodus 24:6-7)

The Torah is open source holiness: there are no secrets that the “master” holds that you cannot have.

What Does Holiness Require?

Who You Are
-Seeing the equality of others (all laws in Acharei that apply to the Hebrews apply to the ‘strangers’ as well)
-Ask forgiveness, and you are forgiven. You only bear burdens if you don’t take the steps to remove them. When it’s over, it’s over (17:16)

What You Do
-Creating opportunities for others to engage in holiness (Yom Kippur Service, 16:1-17, 30)
-Going the “extra step” to challenge yourself to enter the divine (16:24, 26)
-Don’t act the way that evil people act (Chapter 18, the Canaanites and Egyptians). Note that the sexual activities are in the context of the acts of the foreign pagans. This includes child sacrifice (18:21), profaning God’s name, etc. This is also confirmed by 18:24, “You shall not defile yourselves by any of these things, for the nations, whom I am sending away from before you, have defiled themselves with all these things.”

How You Do It
-Give God a small part of everything that you do (The meat sacrifice, 17:3). Not giving part of what you do to God is “as killing another”.
-Rest (16:29-31). Shabbat is a gift from God to people, which we “return the favor for” by observing it

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