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PARSHAT ACHAREI MOT/
Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:1-20:27
Haftorah - Amos 9:7-15
During the Sabbaths between Pesach (Passover) and Shavu'ot (Tabernacles) it is customary to study Pirkei Avot - "The Chapters of our Fathers." These moral and ethical Mishnayot (oral teachings that were organized, written down and finally edited by Reb Yehudah Hanasi, circa 200 C.E.) contain some of the most beautiful and wise teachings of our people and our heritage. My favorite is a teaching of Rebbi Akiva (died circa 136 C.E.) found in chapter 3 Mishna 18:
"...Beloved is man for he was created in ‘the image.' A higher level of reverence was given to him [man] for being created in ‘the image,' for it says: ‘in the image of G-d - man was created.' Beloved is Israel for they are called ‘Children of G-d.' A higher level of reverence was given to them because they are called ‘Children of G-d.' for it says: ‘you are Children of the L-rd Hashem.'
Rebbi Akiva is teaching us a very significant lesson, one that sets the tone for all human and Jewish morality. Hashem loves all of His creatures. Every angel, every ameba, every grasshopper, every spotted owl is beloved by Hashem. But mankind holds a special place in Hashem's heart - because of all of His creatures, only man was created in His image. Rebbi Akiva proves his point by bring a verse from the Torah, written by G-d Himself:
"in the image of G-d - man was created"
Most people assume that this verse is taken from the first chapter of B'rayshit (Genesis) dealing with the creation of man. But verse 1:26 states:
The Midrash on this verse says:
"When Moshe transcribed the Torah and came to the verse ‘let US make man' (which is written in the plural and implies that there is more than one Creator), Moshe said: ‘Master of the Universe! Why do you thus furnish a pretext for heretics to maintain that there is a plurality of divinities' ‘Write!' Hashem replied. ‘Whoever wishes to ere will ere ... instead, let them learn from their Creator, Who after creating all, took counsel with the ministering angels to create Man.' "
So from what part of the Torah did Rebbi Akiva draw the above mentioned quote?
Ten generations after mankind failed to live up to the standards set by Hashem with Adam and Eve, He flooded the world and saved only Noach, his family and the animals that sought shelter in the Ark. After the flood, when every creature again took to dry land, mankind (Noach's family) entered into a new and special covenant with Hashem contained in the seven Noachide commandments (see Vortify Yourself for Parshat Noach - Oct. 19, ‘96).
One of the seven commandments is:
"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of G-d - man was created." (B'rayshit 9:6)
Why are we not allowed to murder another human being? Because we were all created in the image of G-d and that image is holy, and no image of G-d may wantonly take the life of another image of G-d. In other words, there is a obligation to being an image of G-d.
Being created in the image of G-d is a a philosophical statement found in the first chapter of B'rayshit. But being created in the image of G-d can mean different things to different people from different cultures. However, the ninth chapter of B'rayshit brings the philosophy down to reality. An image of G-d has obligations and even in the heat of anger, passion, or jealousy, those responsibilities must be upheld.
Similarly, being a Child of G-d is a beautiful concept. Philosophy can twist the concept to mean just about anything. But again the Torah defines this philosophy in concrete terms. Devarim (Deuteronomy) 14:1 reads:
"You are Children to Hashem, your G-d - you shall not mutilate yourselves...for the dead."
In ancient times (and today in some primitive cultures) people would mutilate themselves upon receiving news of the death of a family member. The Torah forbade this behavior - the body is a holy vessel created in the image of G-d and therefore may not be treated in a disrespectful manner.
Again, we find obligation and responsibility taking precedence over philosophy. Rebbi Akiva's message is just that. Man can twist philosophy to contain beautiful and eloquent statements that do not necessarily affect one's behavior. The Torah contains much philosophy but it also merges those philosophies into obligations and responsibilities, superseding our passions and desires and elevating us to a higher plane of life. That is why Man is beloved and that is why Israel (among the nations of the earth) is beloved.
We find a Mitzvah with a similar model in our Parsha this week.
Taken by itself it can mean anything. I have often heard clergy of all faiths expound beautifully on "loving your neighbor" and usually missing the point completely. For this phrase is not a verse unto itself, it is a part of a whole that is often misunderstood. All of chapter 19 speaks about the responsibilities that we must have for one another. The full section reads:
"You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him. You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against members of your people; you shall love your neighbor (fellow) as yourself - I am Hashem."
Rebbi Akiva's insight above can help us put "love your neighbor (fellow) as yourself" into proper perspective. We are forbidden to take revenge and bear a grudge against our fellows. That doesn't mean that we must always lend a neighbor (who never returns what he borrows) an item whenever he requests something. There is no Mitzvah that commands us to give away our possessions. But if we act in a vengeful manner - "I will not lend you my saw because you didn't lend me your weedwacker," or, if we act in a begrudging manner - "even though you didn't lend me your weedwacker, I will still lend you my saw" - then we have lost the point. We are obligated to be loving to our fellows, to go beyond our feelings and emotions and rise above our petty differences. So we are obligated not to react from our hearts but from our souls. We are to avoid a morality based on our emotional expressions, and we choose a higher morality. That is how "loving one's neighbor" is meant to be actualized.
In the opening words of this Shabbat's second Torah portion we are asked by Hashem to emulate His.ways - "Kidoshim Ti'hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani - You shall be holy for I am Holy." In order to properly emulate Hashem, we must act as we expect Him to act - with love, with benevolence, with reason and with mercy.
Rising above philososophy and being willing to accept the responsibility of being His child is the name of the game. May we ascend above the animal and become true reflections of Hashem by transcending the level of image and becoming true Children of G-d.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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