Acharei Mot – אַחֲרֵי מוֹת (Leviticus 16:1–17:16)
This Week’s Torah Portion: Acharei Mot – אַחֲרֵי מוֹת (Leviticus 16:1–17:16)
Acharei Mot, appears at the exact midpoint of the Torah. Beyond that distinction, there is little here of obvious merit. The topics for discussion are blood rituals, forbidden sexual relations, and the minute details of the sacrificial cult. In a broader sense though, Acharei Mot does stand at the center of the Torah, at the dividing line of Leviticus, marking the last of the ritual sections which have occupied us until now, followed by the Holiness Code and the laws which teach us of our obligations to one another in our everyday life.
Stepping back, there is a unity to what Leviticus comes to teach. At first, it seems rather odd that in this first half of the book, concerned largely with the rituals of sacrifice, God is barely mentioned. And then, as the topics turn toward the laws which affect our relations with other human beings, God’s name is emphasized again and again! And yet, this is precisely the point Leviticus intends to make.
The first half of Leviticus could easily lead to a mistaken understanding that God’s Presence is limited to the Tabernacle alone. And, that once we leave God’s holy place we can leave God there. The second half of Leviticus is intended to counter just this misconception. The Tabernacle does not limit God to that Holy Place, rather, it channels God’s presence from heaven to earth in order that it can reach forth from the Temple, outward to the entire world. The second half of Leviticus contains commandments which transport God’s Presence from inside God’s Holy Place, directly into our daily lives.
It is a simple but important message. God does not live only in holy sanctuaries, nor should our Judaism. If we would seek God in our lives, then we must carry within us the message of God’s words, everywhere we go and in everything we do. Acharei Mot teaches us that true holiness lives in our deeds and how we can bring God’s presence into the world.