Making sense of the sedra: Acharei Mot

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Making sense of the sedra: Acharei Mot

How to handle the post-Pesach sense of loss

We can find meaning and a connection to God in everyday activities
We can find meaning and a connection to God in everyday activities

As the Pesach period has now come to a close, after eight days of chagim following weeks of cleaning, shopping, cooking and preparing for the sedarim, it is easy to be overcome with a sense of emptiness and loss of direction.

Although we are all likely quite relieved to be back to our regular diets and freed from the ‘slavery’ of the kitchen, the feeling that something is missing is a regular part of the post-Pesach blues. The spiritual environment coupled with the quality time spent together with family, friends and community is something we all cherish, and miss.

In this week’s parsha, Acharei Mot, Aharon is asked to bring a sin offering on Yom Kippur to “atone for himself and for his household” (Vayikra 16:6).

Chazal (Yoma 2a) state that the Kohen Gadol’s “household” refers to his wife. On the one hand the Kohen Gadol needed to be married on Yom Kippur – to the extent that according to one opinion a “back-up” wife was designated, lest his current wife pass away in the interim – but on the other hand he had to be separated from his wife for seven days prior to Yom Kippur to prevent any accidental exposure to impurity. Why was the Kohen Gadol’s marriage status so pivotal if in any event he was sequestered from his wife in advance of Yom Kippur?

Furthermore, the Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Yom HaKippurim 4:2) codifies as halacha (and not a mere practical order of events) that upon completion of Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol would return home. How do we understand the contrast between the Kohen Gadol dressed in his holy garments in the holiest of locations on the holiest day of the year, only to immediately thereafter return home to his wife, household and regular mundane needs?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that even though the Kohen Gadol attains sublime holiness on Yom Kippur, the goal of the sanctity attained is not to stay in this state of retirement from the world – remaining “holy” and separate – but to make use of that exalted holiness within the framework of the material world. His separation from his wife and physicality is a short-term aberration and not the daily norm. The halacha of him returning “home” emphasises that the lofty elevation achieved must be channelled to become a way of life for him and his household throughout the entire year!

As we move on from Pesach, let us focus on bringing God’s presence into every aspect of our lives. Let’s not limit our connection with God to shul, Shabbat, or the seder table, but rather make a conscious decision to allow him to permeate the seemingly ordinary moments of our lives.


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