TORAH MINUTE - ACHAREY MOS MAY, 1997
It is perhaps ironic, that the portion of ACHAREY MOS should be read this year immediately after the conclusion of the Passover Festival. A scant four days ago, complaints of "It's hard to be a Jew" arose from hundreds of Jewish homes, as we struggled with the exchange of the Passover dishes. Today, with the dust not settled on the Passover festival, we were unfortunately reminded of the solemn and, granted, difficult YOM KIPPUR observances because the opening of today's PARSHA describes the AVODA, the sacrifices offered by the COHEN GADOL on the Day of Atonement in biblical times.
The connection of this week's PARSHA to the just-completed festival of PESACH however, should not evoke images of the burdens of Judaism. It should teach us instead, that the relationship between our Holy Festivals and the seasons during which we are commanded to observe them should be recognized as a modern-day miracle, a precious gift from our Creator.
Let's rewind the tape to six months ago and try remember the spiritual afterglow we experienced at the conclusion of the High Holy Days which, of course, coincide with the conclusion of the joyous summer season. We can equate this post Simchas Torah feeling with the relatively good times experienced by ancient Hebrew people during the early days of the Egyptian exile. But B'NEI YISROEL's fortunes changed with passage of time, much as our mood changes with the approach of the cold and dark days of winter. Mid-winter tends to be a time of emotional depression, our memory of the inspiration of the High Holy Days fades and along with it the light of our spirituality, in much the same way as B'NEI YISROEL's faith waned during their 210 year winter of slavery.
Then and now, HASHEM remembers his creations, and by His grace the seasons change once again. The days begin to lengthen, blossoms appear on the trees, and the first returning songbird sings to us a reminder of the approaching Passover holiday when we commemorate the springlike rebirth of B'NEI YISROEL and their redemption - our redemption - from slavery. How perfect is the Creator of the seasons, who redeemed Israel, commanded future generations to consider themselves as actually participating in that redemption and gave us a means to do so by situating the Passover about the vernal equinox when our physical senses are bathed in a myriad of natural symbols of rebirth.
And now, following PESACH, we embark upon our season of waiting. As we count the days that our ancestors waited for Z'MAN MATAN TORASENU (the time of the giving of our TORAH), and count the days remaining before the anticipated summer season, we are reminded that we are waiting for yet another momentous event. The coming Messianic age was alluded to by three powerful HAFTORAHs we read in the course of the Passover festival - Malachi's reminder that Elijah would herald the coming of our deliverance, Ezekielís vision of the redemption of Israel through the Parable of the Dry Bones and the promise of Isaiah that from the "Shoot of Jesse" would arise the agent of our redemption.
One of the many preparations for the coming redemption is given to us in the concluding chapters of this week's PARSHA. Here we are delivered a warning against indulging in the practices of the Pagan tribes surrounding ancient Israel. In the secular world, avoidance of such abominations as eating blood and the unauthorized sexual unions listed in ACHEREY MOS is often advised for the preservation of physical health. In the Jewish world, an entirely different reason exists to avoid them. The explanation is found in the opening phrase of next week's PARSHA which, incidentally, is frequently combined with this week's, KEDOSHIM TE'HIU (you will be holy), HASHEM's exhortation that we rise above the world of pure physical sensation and tend to the special needs of our spirituality, an HMO for the soul if you will.
Through positive and negative commandments such as those we've just read, the TORAH provides the means to sanctify all aspects of our lives. As each season passes, as each holy festival approaches, we are not presented with a new set of burdens or prohibitions, but with an opportunity to rejoice in the rich heritage we share with the generations which preceded us. An opportunity to take yet another step towards the Jewish ideal of spiritual purity to hasten the day when, as we read in the concluding HAFTORAH of PESACH, "He will raise a banner for the nations and assemble the castaways of Israel; and the dispersed ones of Judah will He gather in from the four corners of the earth."
I'd like to conclude with a brief thought about two of my teachers whom I especially remember at this time of the year. My grandfather, Harry Sturm, of blessed memory whose YARZEIT is on the last day of PESACH and my teacher, Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Morgenstern, of blessed memory, whom I honor through the study of his favorite text, the PIRKEY AVOS now during the traditional time to do so. This Torah Minute was clearly the result of their legacy to me - the fundamental knowledge to appreciate of beauty of our rituals and understand their underlying meaning, and the realization that it is not hard to be a Jew - it is a privilege to be a Jew.