Parasha Inspiration – Achrei Mot

וְהָיְתָ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם לְחֻקַּ֣ת עוֹלָ֑ם בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַ֠שְּׁבִיעִ֠י בֶּֽעָשׂ֨וֹר לַחֹ֜דֶשׁ תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם וְכׇל־מְלָאכָה֙ לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּ הָֽאֶזְרָ֔ח וְהַגֵּ֖ר הַגָּ֥ר בְּתוֹכְכֶֽם׃ כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃ שַׁבַּ֨ת שַׁבָּת֥וֹן הִיא֙ לָכֶ֔ם וְעִנִּיתֶ֖ם אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם חֻקַּ֖ת עוֹלָֽם׃

And [all this] shall be as an eternal statute for you; in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and you shall not do any work neither the native nor the stranger who dwells among you. For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the Lord, you shall be cleansed from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves. It is an eternal statute.

Leviticus 16:29-31

This week’s Torah portion contains commandments for Yom Kippur. It is to take place once a year on the 10th day of the 7th month. All Israel is to participate. It is a Shabbat of complete rest. And we are to afflict ourselves literally, we are to affect our Nefesh.

           One of the ideas that do not translate well into English is the idea that we, as a nation, are to do this. In the commandment, you will do this, the “you” is plural, not singular. This is something Israel participates in as a nation.

           Of all your sins, that is plural, all the nations sins, you will be cleansed. before Hashem. The nation of Israel will be made Tahor, clean, or pure. This day is not about the forgiveness of individual sins. There is a completely different process to accomplish that and it should be accomplished throughout the year. This day, the day of atonement is for the entire nation of Israel.

           Atonement is an act of contrition. Atonement does not force Hashem to forgive, rather, it is an action indicating we recognize our sin and are contrite before Hashem. Consequently, this contrition is the process of afflicting our Nefesh. We fast, no food or water for 24 hours. This is an act of contrition in which all Israel participates. This act is Israel’s proclamation before Hashem that we have sinned and we are sorry. Anyone who does not fast on this day (unless they have a medical reason) is cut off from the people. That is, we are to be killed.

           It is important to note that this commandment immediately follows the death of Aaron’s sons. They died because the offering they made was Pasul, it was done incorrectly. They were too casual about their work, and so, the offering was invalid. Now we receive the instruction on Yom Kippur. We are not to take this instruction casually. We are to pay attention to Hashem and perform this day of atonement, as he asks. Shabbat shalom.


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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.