Parashas Acharei/Kedoshim – Animals, Relationships and Relationships with Animals:
Another double header Torah reading this week with Parashas Acharei and Kedoshim. Majority of Parashas Acharei deals with the Yom Kippur service with the Torah taking us through the steps in which we tried to gain repentance on this holy day… from the selection of the offerings to the order in which they were slaughtered and in what way, down to small details such as what the Kohen Gadol was to wear and where each part of the service took place (which as you can imagine, has embedded in it important halachas amongst deep symbolism). We are then given the laws regarding the slaughtering of animals outside of the Tabernacle which flows on to (no pun intended) the prohibition against eating blood and its related laws. Parashas Acharei concludes with a large section on the various forbidden relationships, ending with a reminder of the holiness of the land… which we shall discuss in more detail. The second reading this week, Kedoshim, contains a number of laws connected to how we should maintain our holiness as a nation… hence the name Kedoshim/קדושים, which of course has the root ‘קדש/holy’… these include respecting parents, Shabbat, prohibitions against idolatry, acts of chesed, honesty in business dealings and to love your fellow neighbour to name the most prominent. Parashas Kedoshim ends with us being told the penalties for the forbidden relationships given over in Acharei and concludes with an exhortation to avoid forbidden foods, as a prerequisite of holiness. Now we have our overview, lets get cracking on the detail…
Following on from the laws of the Yom Kippur service we are given the commandment that offerings must be slaughtered and their service performed in the Sanctuary area of the Tabernacle. The Torah explicitly states that “it shall be considered as bloodshed for that man” [17:4] if he were to slaughter an animal, which Rashi tells us was consecrated as an offering, if he were to do it outside the Mishkan. So two questions regarding this… firstly why are we being told this seemingly random law following the Yom Kippur service and secondly why is it considered such a grave crime with such a serious punishment (that being כרת/kares, early death in this context according to Ramban)? The mefarshim bring down that following on from the Yom Kippur service, one might have thought that since it is required to send off one of the Yom-Kippir goat offerings to the wilderness and then kill it there (by pushing it off of Azazel), then it should be equally permissible to bring offerings outside of the Sanctuary, or that worst still it should be permitted to bring offerings to alien forces… consequently the Torah stresses that all such offerings are forbidden.
So why is bringing an offering outside of the ‘temple’ such an extreme offence? A very righteous man (you know who you are), once asked me… ‘why do we have the right to kill animals?’, my answer at the time went along the lines of the Ramchal’s work in explaining that everything in this world was made in order to help us reach a higher ‘station’ and therefore since this includes animals, they were also made to serve our purpose and we therefore have the right to ‘use’ them accordingly. This argument is true but limited in response to the question as if this was fully applicable then we could surely make sacrifices outside of the Sanctuary or even kill animals just because we felt it would help us achieve growth. This week’s parasha gives us a much deeper insight into our relationship with the animal kingdom. We were originally permitted to use animals as a source of food following the great flood with Noach and according to some opinions this license is there as a reminder that we are above animals and should therefore behave differently from them. Quickly linking this to last week’s sedra; the Chafetz Chaim used to point out that the most distinguishing feature between humans and animals is speech… if we use our speech to commit the sin of lashon horra then we are actually acting in an inferior manner to that of animals as they never speak badly about eachother… you will never hear your cat bad mouthing the dog even if it has been terrorised all morning! So why are we allowed to kill animals? The real answer which is a lot less airy than the one I gave is simply ‘because G-d said so’! To take this further with a cheeky attack, any vegetarians who say that they do not eat meat because they think it is wrong are actually opposing G-d… he says it isn’t wrong and that they are there for us to use BUT and most importantly, within the boundaries that he sets (to give the benefit of the doubt, most vegetarians simply don’t like the taste of eating animals or the actual consumption repulses them). So, when slaughtered in the appropriate way we are allowed to enjoy a juicy steak and in fact many mitzvahs rely on the use of animals such as eating meat on Shabbat and Yom Tovim, the Korban Pesach, Teffilin straps are made from leather… to name but a few. On the flip-side however, if we slaughter animals in an inappropriate manner or if we do so beyond the limits set by Hashem then it is bloodshed and effectively murder. We therefore see that if one bring an offering outside of the Sanctuary then he is not bringing an offering at all but is just spilling blood… we do not have the permission to do this and he is therefore liable to the heavy punishment ofכרת/kares.
According to our sages, the laws governing sexual relationships are the key to Jewish holiness as wherever one finds safeguards of chastity, there one finds holiness. What better way to express this point than in the first step of Jewish marriage where we learn in Kiddushin that the groom betroths his wife by saying ‘הרי את מקדשת לי/behold, you are consecrated to me’. This formula speaks of consecration because from its outset, Jewish marriage is founded on holiness. Parashas Acharei speaks from the other end of the scale and spells out exactly what constitutes an unholy relationship. These include… family members, your fathers or brothers wife, step-brothers/sisters taking women in addition to their sisters or mothers/daughters, a woman in her time of unclean separation and your neighbours wife. Interestingly enough, of all the obscure incestuous relationships mentioned in this section, only one uses the harsh language that “it is an abomination” and that is the commandment not to “lie with a man as one lies with a woman” [18:22]. This commandment is also mentioned right at the end alongside the prohibition on bestiality which isn’t even described in such harsh terms (but is called a ‘תבל/perversion’ [18:23]). We can therefore infer that the harshness with which the Torah describes these two forms of immorality testifies to their repugnance in which Hashem holds those who engage in these unnatural practices.
When introducing the various forbidden relationships the Torah states that “Any man shall not approach” [18:6]… which Rashi tells us is in the plural and therefore equally applies to women as well as men. This type of language isn’t found anywhere else in the Torah commandments with regards to prohibitions… we aren’t told to ‘not approach’ non-kosher food or even idols, so why is this form of terminology used here with regards to the forbidden relationships? The general idea being given over here is that you should stay away, Hashem is telling us to not even get near, just stay as far away as possible. An average human’s sexual drive is so strong that putting oneself in a vulnerable position could lead to all sorts of trouble. Hashem created us and knows that we have weakness in this area and therefore he is giving us the heads up on how to prevent ourselves from forbidden relationships, we need to stay away from situations in which they could happen. In Judaism we therefore have rules on Yichud in which a men and women can not be alone in a locked room or a secluded place (these rules are much wider than this but are beyond this discussion), we also have mechitzas (separation walls) up at events and simchas where men and women are both attending and we have strict rules with regards to shomer negiyah (not touching women, although this also has roots in impurity due to the woman’s cycle). In certain areas of Bene Beraq they even have separation with the side-walks and there is talk of them implementing mechitzas on the buses in Jerusalem. This has come under fire from the secular majority in Israel however, who laugh off the idea as old-fashioned or extreme… but what needs to be analysed before laughing off the concept of a separated bus is what goal is trying to be achieved. When you are submerged in a society who harbour values in which anything goes and the ultimate goal is to have as much immorality and promiscuity as possible then obviously this concept is laughable, it ultimately interferes with this goal because the men and women are separated… but if your goal is to raise a decent G-d fearing society where people do not commit adultery or have abortions then this is a solid idea. Laughing at such a system is not plausible unless you analyse what is trying to be achieved. This is ultimately what Hashem means when he tells us that “Any man shall not approach” [18:6]… protect your self from the inevitable.
With that final thought I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and chatzlacha rabba for the week ahead.
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)