A Summary of My Remarks May 4, 2019
Interpretation of the Torah is really an exciting endeavor because it can produce varied and profound lessons from the very same words. Such is the case with the very first line of our portion. The section known as Acharei Mot begins, "God spoke to Aaron after the death of his two sons who had drawn too close to the Lord..." After that statement the portion continues to describe the ritual of the Yom Kippur sacrifices. The question that biblical commentators ask is why is the introduction necessary? Why does Aaron need to be reminded of the death of his two sons (which we read 6 chapters earlier) before learning of Yom Kippur?
One possible interpretation could be that Aaron is still in shock after the death of his beloved sons. He is still grieving and in a daze and has no idea what to do or where to turn. So perhaps God understands that and provides Aaron with direction. With these commandments Aaron knows he has to work. He understands that he still has a purpose and through this ritual he can move on in his sons' memory.
We as Jews are in shock as well. It has been a week since the tragic shooting at the synagogue in Poway, CA which occurred 6 months to the day after the shootings at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. As a Jewish community we are in a daze as the ADL has reported on the steady rise of violent anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in our country. We as Jews have taken our safety here for granted. Tragically we realize that as our 4,000 year history has proven we must still look over shoulder and we must still fight for our freedom and safety.
How can we move on? We come together on shabbat as a community. We come together to recite the liturgy that asks God to bring peace to us and to the world. We recite prayers that ask us to find comfort and strength with one another as we advocate for justice and security.
Another interpretation of that opening sentence of our Torah teaches us about the supposed character of Aaron's sons. Not only does it tell us that God spoke to Aaron after their deaths, but the verse teaches us about the nature of their death - they drew too close to God. The rabbis teach us that they were arrogant. They thought they deserved to be close to God simply by virtue of being Aaron's sons. They took their priestly status for granted. The Yom Kippur ritual is focused on humility and forgiveness. It teaches us to rid ourselves of arrogance and pride and understand that we need to approach our lives with humility and respect.
We celebrate Charlotte and Moish Potosky today on his 90th birthday and their 68th wedding anniversary. They have been models of humility for decades as they have worked tirelessly for the shul without needing any fanfare or accolades. They worked behind the scenes as president of the shul, attending the morning minyan every day, working in the kitchen, heading up the Sisterhood Torah Fund campaign and in many other ways all because it's the right thing to do. Hopefully we can continue to learn from them and approach our tasks with the same passion and humility.
Both lessons - resolve in the face of tragedy and approaching life with humility - are derived from our portion this morning. May they both inspire and motivate us.