It is another double parshah this week! The parshiot this week are Acharei Mot, which means “after the death of” and can be found in Leviticus 16:1-19:1, and Kedoshim, which means “holy [ones]” and can be found in Leviticus 19:2-20:27.
Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest, have made a fatal error. They entered into the innermost chamber of the Mishkan, the Sanctuary, when they were not supposed to. The Torah also tells us they were drunk and brought in strange incense, therefore desecrating the Mishkan not only by entering it, but also with their disrespectful actions. They are struck down by G-D, and G-D warns that only the High Priest may enter the innermost chamber, also known as the “holy of holies.” The High Priest may only do this on the Day of Atonement, the holy day of Yom Kippur. The parshah details additional rules of Yom Kippur and warns against sacrificing anywhere except for the Temple. The Torah then goes on to forbid the consumption of blood and lists the laws which prohibit incest and other types of aberrant sexual acts.
Kedoshim begins with “You shall be holy, for I, the L-RD your G-D, am holy.” Then there is a list of several dozen mitzvot, or commandments. The mitzvot include prohibiting idolatry, giving to charity, equality before the law, Shabbat, sexual morality, honesty in business, honoring one’s parents, and the sanctity of life.
If G-D is holy, why must we also be holy? Why must we emulate G-D?
G-D chose the Israelites to be His chosen people for a reason. We accepted the Torah and accepted Him as our G-D. Even though our ancestors were described as being stubborn and stiff-necked, they still welcomed the Torah and everything that accepting it would entail. They wanted to be better. They tried to follow the laws and sometimes strayed, just as Jews in the contemporary world do. But the point is not to be perfect, the point is to try. G-D set Himself as a standard not because He wants us to be like Him, but because He wants us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. We were blessed with the Torah and, like all humans, blessed with free will. We hold the free will to defy the Torah and G-D, but we also have the free will to follow it as much as we can.
G-D says we should be holy because He is holy, but that doesn’t mean we need to be G-D. Instead, we should maintain the quality that our ancestors had; a desire, a yearning to be better. When we are putting our impulse for positive growth first, we find it much easier to take on mitzvot. If you look at a commandment in a “I want to do this” instead of in a “I need to do this” way, growth is much more attainable. For example, if you want to keep kosher but are finding it difficult, you must put your aspiration first. Then, you can say to yourself “I want to do this, so I will take these steps” instead of thinking “I need to do this, and so if I don’t do it right it means I have failed.”
By using G-D as a measurement for being holy, we are giving ourselves an unrealistic standard so that we can always try to be better. And by keeping in mind that we were chosen because of our ancestors’ willingness to grow, we can look at mitzvot as something to aspire to, rather than something we must do all of the time and do perfectly.
Hadass Galili is a senior studying political science pre-law at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Hadass by tweeting her at @HadassGalili.