This is dedicated to the memory of a very close friend of my daughter Aliza,
Meredith Robin (Rachel Miriam) Farrell A”H,
who was taken from us much too soon and whose first yahrzeit was observed recently. She was a loving daughter, caring sister, affectionate “doda” (aunt), and wonderful friend.
Meredith was an upbeat, lively person filled with joie de vivre. She had the widest smile and a heart just as big. She lifted the spirits of hospitalized children with her enthusiasm and her art therapy. She was a vibrant, compassionate, warm, funny, giving person-- someone who was impossible not to like.
Meredith spread her love of life to all those with whom she interacted and inspired many with her Thankful Thursday posts. She would celebrate her friends’ happiness as if it was her own.
Meredith believed passionately in organ donation and in spreading awareness of it.
We still can picture her happy smile and laugh; her absence has left a gaping hole in our hearts.
Overview of Parshat Acharei-Mos
Contains two positive mitzvas and twenty-six prohibitions
Prohibition of entering Holy of Holies
The Yom Kippur Priestly Service
Observance of Yom Kippur shall be a permanent statute; it is a day characterized by self-denial and forgiveness
During the wilderness wandering, offering and slaughtering animals suitable for offerings is prohibited outside the Sanctuary
Consuming blood is prohibited
Blood from slaughtering wild animals or fowl (generally not suitable to be offered on the altar in the Temple) needs to be covered
Carcasses create tumah (ritual impurity)
Commandment to observe God’s ordinances (dictated by moral sense) and statutes (sometimes-incomprehensible precepts addressed to the Israelites)
Prohibition of adhering to the practices of the surrounding nations of Egypt and Canaan, including incestuous, forbidden marriages [to blood relatives or to relatives of blood relations] and child sacrifice to the pagan deity Molech
Illicit sexual relations listed, including homosexuality and bestiality
The Yom Kippur Service
(according to Rashi, as presented in the Gutnick Edition of the Torah)
The High Priest is the only one to conduct the service:
He alternates five times between wearing four white linen garments (for services connected with the Holy of Holies) and his regular golden garments (for the other services)
With each change of clothing he washes his hands and feet before and after and immerses his whole body in a mikvah
He prepares himself seven days before by living apart in a special section of the Temple and by being taught and by reviewing the rules and regulations for Yom Kippur.
Daily Temple Activities (wearing gold garments)
• Tamid (morning communal offering)
• Burning of incense on inner altar
• Meal offerings and wine libations
High Priest’s sin-offering bull (wearing white garments, confessing his sins in seeking atonement for impurity of temple and offerings caused by the priests)
• A bull is brought from his own property
• Confession for himself and for priests
• Slaughtering the bull
• Sprinkling of the blood on kapores (lid on Holy Ark) in the Holy of Holies (once with his index finger towards the top and seven times towards the lower part)
• Sprinkling the blood from inside the holy area towards the Paroches that separates the holy from the Holy of Holies
• Later placing some of the blood (mixed together with the male goat’s blood) on the horns of the golden (inner) altar all around then sprinkling the blood on top of the altar with his finger seven times
• Disposing of the bull by bringing it outside the camp where its skin, flesh and waste matter is burned
People’s sin offering (to atone for impurity of the Temple and sacrifices caused by the nation; wearing white)
• Two communal goats are brought to the entrance of the Ohel Moed
• Two lots are prepared, placed and mixed up in a small box. On one is written “for God” and on the other is written “LaAzazayl”
• The two goats are placed side by side, and then the High priest puts both his hands in the receptacle. The lot in his right hand is placed on the goat to the right and the lot in his left hand is placed on the goat to the left.
• The goat “for God”, designated a sin-offering, is slaughtered and its blood sprinkled (like the bull’s) towards the top and then bottom ends of the kapores; towards the paroches; on the horns of the golden altar all around; sprinkling with his index finger seven times on the top of the golden altar
• Disposing of the goat by bringing it outside the camp where its skin, flesh and waste matter is burned
Scapegoat to atone for all other sins of the nation (white garments)
• Aharon leans both of his hands on the second goat and confesses all the iniquities (crookedness, willful departure from God’s law); transgressions (rebellion); and sins (unintentional deviation from the right path) of the nation
• A pre-designated priest leads the goat, laden with all the sins, to an uninhabited land in the desert where he pushes the goat backward over a cliff.
Incense in the Holy of Holies for the spiritual elevation of the people (wearing white)
• A full pan of burning coals is taken from the outer altar
• A double handful of extra finely round incense is brought
• Inside the Holy of Holies, the High Priest places the incense on the fire in the pan
• The resulting cloud of the incense covering the kapores creates a screen preventing the High Priest from gazing at or getting too close to the Holy Presence
Further Yom Kippur offerings (Gold garments, because these are not connected to the Holy of Holies)
• High Priest’s ram for a burnt offering
• Nation's ram for a burnt offering
• Festival offerings
• Burning remains of the sin offering
Removal of spoon and shovel from Holy of Holies (white garments) …
• …That were used to burn the incense
• Linen garments are stored away
Completion of festival and daily temple procedure (gold garments)
• Remainder of festival offerings brought
• Tamid (afternoon communal sacrifice)
• Burning incense on golden(inner) altar
• Lighting menorah
What is Azazayl?
Name of a known mountain
Strong, hard rocky cliff
The one to be sent away
Ancient technical term for removal of sin and guilt of the community
Scapegoat (goat driven or escaping into the wilderness)
Personification of demon in the wilderness regarded as a focus of impurity
A Divinely-created force, Satan, who serves as prosecutor in the court of God
Sending Away the Goat to Azazayl
Rambam views these ceremonies as symbolic in nature designed to foster the process of repentance. The nation symbolically was set free from the offenses contracted in its desert life within the domain of the pagan deity of the desert. It felt cleansed of its sins having removed them away as far as possible.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that sins leave stains on the character of those who commit them, and these need to be cleansed before one can undergo catharsis. The sacrificed goat represents kapparah, atonement. The goat sent away symbolizes teharah, cleansing of the moral stain. The two goats, identical in appearance yet opposite in fate represent the duality of forces within us. We have two inclinations, one good (yetser tov), one bad (yetser hara). We have two minds, one emotional, one rational. We do not deny our sins. We confess them then let go of them. Our sins, that might have led us into exile, are themselves exiled. We symbolically send our yetser hara into the wilderness where it belongs and where it will meet a violent death. Now we are ready to start anew.
Consuming Blood is Prohibited
“This is because the life-force of the flesh is in the blood…it is the blood that atones for life” [when placed on the altar in the Holy Temple as part of the sacrificial service].This prohibition, mentioned seven times in the Torah, is so severe that it is punishable by karet [divine cutting off of one’s life or the life of one’s children].The text indicates that the prohibition applies to animals and birds.[Note: It is for this reason that meat that is to be cooked and eaten needs to be salted first, to draw out the blood. The liver is so filled with blood that only broiling can remove the blood.] Blood of fish and locusts is permitted. Human blood is prohibited Rabbinically.
Blood makes atonement for ritual uncleanliness because of “nefesh” or “soul substance” it contains. This “soul substance” was to be only used as a purifying agent for the soul of the person who sinned as part of the sacrificial service in the Holy Temple.
• Rambam explains that the Torah discourages occult practices. Ancients believed that the blood was the food of demons and summoned demons by using pools of blood. Consuming blood was part of an idolatrous pagan ritual designed to enhance power. This is foolishness. The Torah considers blood a purifying and sanctifying liquid when used in the Temple ritual.
• Ramban sees this prohibition as a remnant of the ancient pre-flood era when man was prohibited from eating meat. After the flood the eating of meat was permitted but the ban on blood remained in place.
• Rav Kook sees this (as well as the commandment to spill and cover the blood from the slaughter of wild beast and fowl) as a step toward the return of a more ideal vegetarianism state that existed before the flood.
• Perhaps we are what we eat, and consumption of blood could trigger a blood-lust in us that would desensitize us to the suffering of other humans when their blood is shed. It’s as if the consumed blood would mix with our own blood and infect us with animalistic coarse and unrefined traits and tendencies. Or perhaps the Torah wants us to avoid any feeling of overwhelming power and control that might be triggered by the consumption of the life force of ferocious, aggressive animals and fowl.
“And Keep My Decrees and Laws, since it is Only by Keeping Them That a Person Can Truly Live. I Am God”.
This verse introduces the section of the Torah that deals with forbidden relations. After listing the specific sexual liaisons (mostly family members) that are banned, the Torah states “Do not give any of your children to be initiated to Molekh, so that you do not profane your God’s name, I am God”. [Molekh was an Ammonite deity whose worship entailed a child’s trial by fire or, according to others, human sacrifice.] It is only then that the Torah lists and bans homosexuality (described as being an abomination) and bestiality (characterized as a depravity).
The Torah states as a general warning not to learn or copy the abominations of all the Canaanite nations because their pagan customs and values are antithetical to Judaism.
Perhaps the interjection of a cult practice not of a sexual nature was necessary…
To pave the way for introducing banned sexual behavior whose roots are in idolatrous cult worship or…
Because the Torah needed to first introduce one type of non-sexual insidious behavior(idolatry)so that it could then present other forms of disruptive social behavior (homosexuality and bestiality) that are banned for a society in which childbearing and childrearing are of paramount importance.
Sandwiched between the prohibition to offer up one’s child to the Ammonite deity Molekh and the prohibition of performing a sexual act with an animal is a law regarding human sexuality: “And you shall not cohabit with a male as one cohabits with a woman; it is a toavah (abomination)”. [ Lesbianism is never mentioned in the Torah but is forbidden by the Rabbis.]
Many ancient societies had little or no objection to homosexuality. In Greece, for example, there were love affairs between teenage boys and older men which were considered beneficial for the development of the younger person. We do not really know what causes some people to have a homosexual orientation. Homosexual behavior has been observed among animals. Sigmund Freud wrote that “Homosexuality… is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness”. In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association deleted the term from its official list of mental illness.
Up until recently it was assumed even in medical circles that being homosexual was a conscious choice. Current psychiatric thinking is that the individual who is homosexual has no choice because his condition derives from biological (hormonal) and/or genetic issues. Even some heterosexual men have had either latent or overt homosexual desires at some point in their lives. A recent article in Scientific American cites a study documenting that the biological attraction of males to other males exists across diverse cultures, suggesting a common biological foundation.
• A large study conducted in 2014 found some links between specific areas of the human genome [complete set of genetic information] and sexual orientation—but did not uncover a “gay gene” that reliably makes someone homosexual.
• A more recent study published in Science News came to a similar conclusion: genetics may account for perhaps 8-12% of one’s sexual orientation; hormonal, other societal factors and environment play a significant role in shaping a person’s sexual identity.
It has been documented that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. This suggests a non-genetic link.
Torah law is concerned not with the source of a person’s erotic urges or with his/her feelings, but only with a person’s behavior. The Torah forbids the act of homosexual intercourse, known as mishkav zakhar, but does not consider being gay to be a sin. There is no source which says that we must shun those who are homosexual or isolate them from the society. If one does not act upon his feelings, no actual problem arises. [Note: The nineteenth Hungarian psychologist Karl Benkert is credited with coining the term “homosexuality”. Because he believed that it was inborn, he felt that laws against it were fundamental violations of human rights.]
Homosexuality in Judaism has been written about and debated by Torah scholars through the years. Following are some points of view:
As mentioned, Torah is opposed to homosexual acts, not homosexual people. Judaism does not prohibit or in any way look down upon homosexual orientation and people, but does condemn homosexual behavior
Rambam asserts that lesbian practices (of which there is very little discussion) are forbidden because it was a "practice of Egypt" and because it constituted rebelliousness.
Although the Torah offers no rationale for the prohibition, the Sages of the Talmud reasoned that it undermines the structure of the family when a man abandons his wife to pursue a relationship with another man
Rav Kook ruled that a shochet who was rumored to have committed
a homosexual act could be retained because, even if the rumor were true, the man might have since repented. It is noteworthy that Rav Kook considered homosexuality an act of volition for which one can repent
The Lubavitcher Rebbe accepted the fact that certain men and women have an inherent sexual attraction to the same sex. However, these men are not "gay”, and the women are not "lesbian." Rather, these are people with a sexual preference for the same sex. In addition, the Rebbe believed this preference is a result of social conditioning, and not an irreversible physical condition. Furthermore, "society and government must be to offer a helping hand to those who are afflicted with this problem."
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein argued that homosexuality must be treated by those who oppose it and those who do not, as only one of the many concerns facing the Jewish community, and not let it dwarf all other issues. The Hebrew word toavah (abomination) appears some 122 times in the Torah and is not uniquely applied to the homosexual:
• It is also used to describe one who does not support the poor and one who is deceitful in trade
• It is also used to describe forbidden animals
• Eating non-kosher food is an abomination
• A woman returning to her first husband after being married in the interim is an abomination
• Bringing a blemished sacrifice on God’s altar is an abomination
• Proverbs goes so far as to label envy, lying and gossip as that which “the Lord hates and are an abomination to Him”
“We wish mechallelei Shabbat [Violators of Sabbath] would be shomrei Shabbat [Sabbath observers], but if that’s what they are, that’s what they are, we accept them as they are, and we don’t pass judgment.” All the revulsion and moral energy that is brought against homosexuality should be equally (or perhaps even more) directed against other anti-Torah behaviors, too.
Rabbi Shmuel Boteach’s opinion is that homosexuality cannot be a deviance, since sexual deviance is an oxymoron. Sex is instinctive, and an instinct cannot be deviant. The Torah expressed a preference for heterosexuality and mandated that only this type of sexual activity is permitted for human beings. Homosexuality is a religious issue (between man and God) and not a moral one. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. But who is being harmed when two, unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship? Since the Torah has defined Western morality (and has preserved it for thousands of years), its viewpoint needs to be taken seriously. Only actions are prohibited, not proclivities. Controlling behavior, though difficult, is what the Torah asks. Judaism looks negatively at homosexual intercourse (possibly only involving penetration), but not at homosexual love.
Rabbi Norman Lamm, among others, reasons that while “the act itself remains an abomination, the fact of illness lays upon us the obligation of pastoral compassion, psychological understanding, and social sympathy.” Homosexual acts always remain prohibited, but the participants are not legally culpable for actions that stem from involuntary inclinations (onayss).
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, founding chief Rabbi of the city of Efrat, thinks that the Biblical prohibition on homosexual relations only applies to one who voluntarily chooses homosexuality, but that one who considers himself wired as homosexual and feels that he can only experience intimacy with another man is exempt from the prohibition. Rabbi Riskin, too, applies the Talmudic axiom of “ones Rachmana patreh” — that the Torah does not hold one accountable for an involuntary act — as his source for this “heter” (halachic leniency).
Writer and thinker Dennis Prager notes that Judaism’s opposition to homosexual behavior is based on the religion’s fundamental concept that supports whatever enhances life and opposes or separates whatever represents death. “This is probably why the Torah juxtaposes child sacrifice with male homosexuality. Though they are not morally analogous, both represent death: one deprives children of life, the other prevents their having life. This parallelism is present in the Talmud: ‘He who does not engage in propagation of the race is as though he had shed blood.’” Judaism is worried about what happens to men and to society when men do not channel their passions into marriage that can produce offspring.
Judaism has a sexual ideal — marital sex. Not marrying is a less holy, less complete, and a less Jewish life. Homosexuality contradicts the Jewish ideal; it cannot be held to be equally valid; and those publicly committed to it may not serve as public Jewish role models. If all non-marital forms of sexual behavior are permitted, other forms of sexual expression--even those repugnant like bestiality--become acceptable.