Thursday, April 14, 2011

PARASHAT ACHAREI MOT 5771/2011: DEFILING THE SACRED


DEFILING THE SANCTUARY


And he shall slay the goat of the sin offering that is for the people…and make atonement for the sacred place, because of the defilement of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions (Lev.  16:15-16).

The first section of parashat Acharei Mot is a description of the process of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Its centerpiece is the ritual performed with two identical goats.  Lots were drawn over them.  One was assigned the scapegoat role.  All the transgressions of the Jewish people were symbolically projected onto it and it was sent to its death in the wilderness, taking all the sins of the Jewish people with it.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all of their transgressions, even all of their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat and send it away by the hand of an anointed man into the wilderness. (Lev 15:32-22).

The function of the second goat was to achieve atonement for the defiled sanctuary, as indicated in our text. The sages were puzzled by the role of this goat.  They taught:  “This goat might have been thought to atone for the cardinal sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual activity and murder, all of which are defined as defilement.  Therefore the Torah states, [clarifying the specific transgression for which the sacrifice of this goat atones] mi-tum’at [an aspect of defilement] and not all types of defilement. What is this aspect?  It is the defilement of the Sanctuary (Shevu’ot 6b). What troubled the sages was the necessity of having a second goat.  If the scapegoat had achieved atonement for every type of iniquity and transgression, what need was there for the second goat?  What transgression was so severe that it was excluded from the entire gamut of sins and required it’s own special process of atonement?  According to the Torah, this extraordinary transgression was the defilement of the Sanctuary.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the extraordinary nature of this transgression.  The Sanctuary represented the perfect ideal of the Torah.  Its role was to inspire and transform the people, so that their daily lives would gradually come to reflect the ideal. But when the process was reversed and the values of the street corrupted the Sanctuary, it was considered defiled. 

Whereas Rabbi Hirsch defines the defilement of the sanctuary in the most general of terms, the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin is specific.  He writes in Harchev Davar:  “On Yom Kippur the inadvertent transgressions of the scholars are considered deliberate sins, since there is no repentance for the neglect of Torah by those who are engaged in its study. The Torah describes their transgression as the defilement of the Sanctuary and its holy vessels.  This defilement is, for the most part, caused by the scholars who frequent the Sanctuary and are at home with its [various] holy elements”. 

At first glance, the comment of the Netziv is counter- intuitive.   One would expect the sacred domain of the community to be sanctified by its spiritual leaders. But the Torah accuses them of effecting its defilement. Their iniquity is too great to be included with all the other transgressions of the Jewish people- including the cardinal sins- for which the scapegoat atones. 

However, upon further reflection it is clear that the Netziv’s interpretation is not at all counterintuitive.  It is fully in line with the Jewish interpretation of chillul ha-Shem [the desecration of the Divine]. 

Tractate Yoma (86a) of the Babylonian Talmud, the primary rabbinic source about Yom Kippur discusses this issue: 

What is chillul ha-Shem?  Rav said: if someone like me would take meat from a butcher and not pay him promptly, that would be chillul ha-Shem... Yitzchak of the Academy of Rabbi Yannai said:   “Anybody whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation- this is chillul ha-Shem.  The opening verse in the Shema Yisra’el recitation  ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ can be interpreted as commanding that the name of Heaven should become beloved through your actions.  One should read Scripture, study Mishnah and [receive moral training] by serving Torah scholars [and imitating their behavior].  One’s dealings with people should be conducted with pleasing integrity.  What shall people say about one who behaves thus?  “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah.  Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.  Woe unto people who do not learn Torah.  This person learned Torah.  See how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.”  Of such a person Scripture declares ‘ God said to me:  You are my servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified. (Isaiah 49:3).    But as for one who learns Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves Torah scholars, but his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant—what do people say about him?  ‘’Woe unto that person who learned Torah.  Woe onto his father who taught him Torah. Woe onto his teacher who taught him Torah.  This individual learned Torah.  Behold how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly his ways.”  Of him Scripture declares:  ‘and they desecrated my Holy Name when it was said of them:  These are the people of ha-Shem…  (Ezekiel 36:20). 

Special conduct is required of those who represent Torah.  Their moral standards must be exemplary.  Because they are identified as particularly devoted to God, unethical behavior and lack of sensitivity reflects badly on their Maker and is a chillul ha-Shem.

This is the sin greater than all others.  This is behavior that defiles God’s holy places, for which regular rituals of atonement are inadequate.  This is the transgression for which an extraordinary sacrifice of atonement was required. 

The Talmud speaks of chillul ha-Shem in the singular.  It illustrates chillul ha- in reference to the behavior of individuals.  Our text, however, refers to chillul ha-Shem in the plural, to the insensitive and unethical posture of Torah giants as a class.

 Sadly, we have witnessed this type of chillul ha-Shem all too frequently.  The indifference of leaders of the rabbinic establishment to the suffering of women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get [religious divorce], thus effectively preventing them form moving on with their lives, is nothing less than the defilement of the Holy.  The callous and dismissive attitude of esteemed rabbis to those who seek to come under the wings of the Shekhinah [the divine Presence] by converting to Judaism is a defilement of the Sacred.  Torah leaders rightly concern themselves with ritual minutiae, but are inexplicably silent about pressing societal issues like doctors’ and social workers’ strikes in Israel, and the implications of such actions.  Rightly they have much to say about the produce of the seventh year, but nothing about those who refuse to work for a living and choose to stay on the dole, or about those who refuse to serve in the military, leaving others to risk their lives in defending them.  Small wonder that that they alienate those who do work and do serve. Small wonder that they bring scorn to the Torah. It is of them that the Torah speaks.

Fortunately the Torah assures us that despite the defiling behavior and collective chillul ha-Shem of those of whom special standards are expected, God will not abandon the rest of us.  Our text concludes with the assurance that God will abide with us in the midst of defilement—irrespective of the deficits of those who should know better. (Lev:  16:16).






















































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0DEFILING THE SANCTUARY


And he shall slay the goat of the sin offering that is for the people…and make atonement for the sacred place, because of the defilement of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions (Lev.  16:15-16).

The first section of parashat Acharei Mot is a description of the process of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Its centerpiece is the ritual performed with two identical goats.  Lots were drawn over them.  One was assigned the scapegoat role.  All the transgressions of the Jewish people were symbolically projected onto it and it was sent to its death in the wilderness, taking all the sins of the Jewish people with it.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all of their transgressions, even all of their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat and send it away by the hand of an anointed man into the wilderness. (Lev 15:32-22).

The function of the second goat was to achieve atonement for the defiled sanctuary, as indicated in our text. The sages were puzzled by the role of this goat.  They taught:  “This goat might have been thought to atone for the cardinal sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual activity and murder, all of which are defined as defilement.  Therefore the Torah states, [clarifying the specific transgression for which the sacrifice of this goat atones] mi-tum’at [an aspect of defilement] and not all types of defilement. What is this aspect?  It is the defilement of the Sanctuary (Shevu’ot 6b). What troubled the sages was the necessity of having a second goat.  If the scapegoat had achieved atonement for every type of iniquity and transgression, what need was there for the second goat?  What transgression was so severe that it was excluded from the entire gamut of sins and required it’s own special process of atonement?  According to the Torah, this extraordinary transgression was the defilement of the Sanctuary.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the extraordinary nature of this transgression.  The Sanctuary represented the perfect ideal of the Torah.  Its role was to inspire and transform the people, so that their daily lives would gradually come to reflect the ideal. But when the process was reversed and the values of the street corrupted the Sanctuary, it was considered defiled. 

Whereas Rabbi Hirsch defines the defilement of the sanctuary in the most general of terms, the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin is specific.  He writes in Harchev Davar:  “On Yom Kippur the inadvertent transgressions of the scholars are considered deliberate sins, since there is no repentance for the neglect of Torah by those who are engaged in its study. The Torah describes their transgression as the defilement of the Sanctuary and its holy vessels.  This defilement is, for the most part, caused by the scholars who frequent the Sanctuary and are at home with its [various] holy elements”. 

At first glance, the comment of the Netziv is counter- intuitive.   One would expect the sacred domain of the community to be sanctified by its spiritual leaders. But the Torah accuses them of effecting its defilement. Their iniquity is too great to be included with all the other transgressions of the Jewish people- including the cardinal sins- for which the scapegoat atones. 

However, upon further reflection it is clear that the Netziv’s interpretation is not at all counterintuitive.  It is fully in line with the Jewish interpretation of chillul ha-Shem [the desecration of the Divine]. 

Tractate Yoma (86a) of the Babylonian Talmud, the primary rabbinic source about Yom Kippur discusses this issue: 

What is chillul ha-Shem?  Rav said: if someone like me would take meat from a butcher and not pay him promptly, that would be chillul ha-Shem... Yitzchak of the Academy of Rabbi Yannai said:   “Anybody whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation- this is chillul ha-Shem.  The opening verse in the Shema Yisra’el recitation  ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ can be interpreted as commanding that the name of Heaven should become beloved through your actions.  One should read Scripture, study Mishnah and [receive moral training] by serving Torah scholars [and imitating their behavior].  One’s dealings with people should be conducted with pleasing integrity.  What shall people say about one who behaves thus?  “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah.  Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.  Woe unto people who do not learn Torah.  This person learned Torah.  See how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.”  Of such a person Scripture declares ‘ God said to me:  You are my servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified. (Isaiah 49:3).    But as for one who learns Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves Torah scholars, but his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant—what do people say about him?  ‘’Woe unto that person who learned Torah.  Woe onto his father who taught him Torah. Woe onto his teacher who taught him Torah.  This individual learned Torah.  Behold how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly his ways.”  Of him Scripture declares:  ‘and they desecrated my Holy Name when it was said of them:  These are the people of ha-Shem…  (Ezekiel 36:20). 

Special conduct is required of those who represent Torah.  Their moral standards must be exemplary.  Because they are identified as particularly devoted to God, unethical behavior and lack of sensitivity reflects badly on their Maker and is a chillul ha-Shem.

This is the sin greater than all others.  This is behavior that defiles God’s holy places, for which regular rituals of atonement are inadequate.  This is the transgression for which an extraordinary sacrifice of atonement was required. 

The Talmud speaks of chillul ha-Shem in the singular.  It illustrates chillul ha- in reference to the behavior of individuals.  Our text, however, refers to chillul ha-Shem in the plural, to the insensitive and unethical posture of Torah giants as a class.

 Sadly, we have witnessed this type of chillul ha-Shem all too frequently.  The indifference of leaders of the rabbinic establishment to the suffering of women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get [religious divorce], thus effectively preventing them form moving on with their lives, is nothing less than the defilement of the Holy.  The callous and dismissive attitude of esteemed rabbis to those who seek to come under the wings of the Shekhinah [the divine Presence] by converting to Judaism is a defilement of the Sacred.  Torah leaders rightly concern themselves with ritual minutiae, but are inexplicably silent about pressing societal issues like doctors’ and social workers’ strikes in Israel, and the implications of such actions.  Rightly they have much to say about the produce of the seventh year, but nothing about those who refuse to work for a living and choose to stay on the dole, or about those who refuse to serve in the military, leaving others to risk their lives in defending them.  Small wonder that that they alienate those who do work and do serve. Small wonder that they bring scorn to the Torah. It is of them that the Torah speaks.

Fortunately the Torah assures us that despite the defiling behavior and collective chillul ha-Shem of those of whom special standards are expected, God will not abandon the rest of us.  Our text concludes with the assurance that God will abide with us in the midst of defilement—irrespective of the deficits of those who should know better. (Lev:  16:16).





































 DEFILING THE SANCTUARY


And he shall slay the goat of the sin offering that is for the people…and make atonement for the sacred place, because of the defilement of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions (Lev.  16:15-16).

The first section of parashat Acharei Mot is a description of the process of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Its centerpiece is the ritual performed with two identical goats.  Lots were drawn over them.  One was assigned the scapegoat role.  All the transgressions of the Jewish people were symbolically projected onto it and it was sent to its death in the wilderness, taking all the sins of the Jewish people with it.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all of their transgressions, even all of their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat and send it away by the hand of an anointed man into the wilderness. (Lev 15:32-22).

The function of the second goat was to achieve atonement for the defiled sanctuary, as indicated in our text. The sages were puzzled by the role of this goat.  They taught:  “This goat might have been thought to atone for the cardinal sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual activity and murder, all of which are defined as defilement.  Therefore the Torah states, [clarifying the specific transgression for which the sacrifice of this goat atones] mi-tum’at [an aspect of defilement] and not all types of defilement. What is this aspect?  It is the defilement of the Sanctuary (Shevu’ot 6b). What troubled the sages was the necessity of having a second goat.  If the scapegoat had achieved atonement for every type of iniquity and transgression, what need was there for the second goat?  What transgression was so severe that it was excluded from the entire gamut of sins and required it’s own special process of atonement?  According to the Torah, this extraordinary transgression was the defilement of the Sanctuary.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the extraordinary nature of this transgression.  The Sanctuary represented the perfect ideal of the Torah.  Its role was to inspire and transform the people, so that their daily lives would gradually come to reflect the ideal. But when the process was reversed and the values of the street corrupted the Sanctuary, it was considered defiled. 

Whereas Rabbi Hirsch defines the defilement of the sanctuary in the most general of terms, the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin is specific.  He writes in Harchev Davar:  “On Yom Kippur the inadvertent transgressions of the scholars are considered deliberate sins, since there is no repentance for the neglect of Torah by those who are engaged in its study. The Torah describes their transgression as the defilement of the Sanctuary and its holy vessels.  This defilement is, for the most part, caused by the scholars who frequent the Sanctuary and are at home with its [various] holy elements”. 

At first glance, the comment of the Netziv is counter- intuitive.   One would expect the sacred domain of the community to be sanctified by its spiritual leaders. But the Torah accuses them of effecting its defilement. Their iniquity is too great to be included with all the other transgressions of the Jewish people- including the cardinal sins- for which the scapegoat atones. 

However, upon further reflection it is clear that the Netziv’s interpretation is not at all counterintuitive.  It is fully in line with the Jewish interpretation of chillul ha-Shem [the desecration of the Divine]. 

Tractate Yoma (86a) of the Babylonian Talmud, the primary rabbinic source about Yom Kippur discusses this issue: 

What is chillul ha-Shem?  Rav said: if someone like me would take meat from a butcher and not pay him promptly, that would be chillul ha-Shem... Yitzchak of the Academy of Rabbi Yannai said:   “Anybody whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation- this is chillul ha-Shem.  The opening verse in the Shema Yisra’el recitation  ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ can be interpreted as commanding that the name of Heaven should become beloved through your actions.  One should read Scripture, study Mishnah and [receive moral training] by serving Torah scholars [and imitating their behavior].  One’s dealings with people should be conducted with pleasing integrity.  What shall people say about one who behaves thus?  “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah.  Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.  Woe unto people who do not learn Torah.  This person learned Torah.  See how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.”  Of such a person Scripture declares ‘ God said to me:  You are my servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified. (Isaiah 49:3).    But as for one who learns Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves Torah scholars, but his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant—what do people say about him?  ‘’Woe unto that person who learned Torah.  Woe onto his father who taught him Torah. Woe onto his teacher who taught him Torah.  This individual learned Torah.  Behold how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly his ways.”  Of him Scripture declares:  ‘and they desecrated my Holy Name when it was said of them:  These are the people of ha-Shem…  (Ezekiel 36:20). 

Special conduct is required of those who represent Torah.  Their moral standards must be exemplary.  Because they are identified as particularly devoted to God, unethical behavior and lack of sensitivity reflects badly on their Maker and is a chillul ha-Shem.

This is the sin greater than all others.  This is behavior that defiles God’s holy places, for which regular rituals of atonement are inadequate.  This is the transgression for which an extraordinary sacrifice of atonement was required. 

The Talmud speaks of chillul ha-Shem in the singular.  It illustrates chillul ha- in reference to the behavior of individuals.  Our text, however, refers to chillul ha-Shem in the plural, to the insensitive and unethical posture of Torah giants as a class.

 Sadly, we have witnessed this type of chillul ha-Shem all too frequently.  The indifference of leaders of the rabbinic establishment to the suffering of women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get [religious divorce], thus effectively preventing them form moving on with their lives, is nothing less than the defilement of the Holy.  The callous and dismissive attitude of esteemed rabbis to those who seek to come under the wings of the Shekhinah [the divine Presence] by converting to Judaism is a defilement of the Sacred.  Torah leaders rightly concern themselves with ritual minutiae, but are inexplicably silent about pressing societal issues like doctors’ and social workers’ strikes in Israel, and the implications of such actions.  Rightly they have much to say about the produce of the seventh year, but nothing about those who refuse to work for a living and choose to stay on the dole, or about those who refuse to serve in the military, leaving others to risk their lives in defending them.  Small wonder that that they alienate those who do work and do serve. Small wonder that they bring scorn to the Torah. It is of them that the Torah speaks.

Fortunately the Torah assures us that despite the defiling behavior and collective chillul ha-Shem of those of whom special standards are expected, God will not abandon the rest of us.  Our text concludes with the assurance that God will abide with us in the midst of defilement—irrespective of the deficits of those who should know better. (Lev:  16:16).






















































0




0
DEFILING THE SANCTUARY


And he shall slay the goat of the sin offering that is for the people…and make atonement for the sacred place, because of the defilement of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions (Lev.  16:15-16).

The first section of parashat Acharei Mot is a description of the process of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Its centerpiece is the ritual performed with two identical goats.  Lots were drawn over them.  One was assigned the scapegoat role.  All the transgressions of the Jewish people were symbolically projected onto it and it was sent to its death in the wilderness, taking all the sins of the Jewish people with it.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all of their transgressions, even all of their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat and send it away by the hand of an anointed man into the wilderness. (Lev 15:32-22).

The function of the second goat was to achieve atonement for the defiled sanctuary, as indicated in our text. The sages were puzzled by the role of this goat.  They taught:  “This goat might have been thought to atone for the cardinal sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual activity and murder, all of which are defined as defilement.  Therefore the Torah states, [clarifying the specific transgression for which the sacrifice of this goat atones] mi-tum’at [an aspect of defilement] and not all types of defilement. What is this aspect?  It is the defilement of the Sanctuary (Shevu’ot 6b). What troubled the sages was the necessity of having a second goat.  If the scapegoat had achieved atonement for every type of iniquity and transgression, what need was there for the second goat?  What transgression was so severe that it was excluded from the entire gamut of sins and required it’s own special process of atonement?  According to the Torah, this extraordinary transgression was the defilement of the Sanctuary.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the extraordinary nature of this transgression.  The Sanctuary represented the perfect ideal of the Torah.  Its role was to inspire and transform the people, so that their daily lives would gradually come to reflect the ideal. But when the process was reversed and the values of the street corrupted the Sanctuary, it was considered defiled. 

Whereas Rabbi Hirsch defines the defilement of the sanctuary in the most general of terms, the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin is specific.  He writes in Harchev Davar:  “On Yom Kippur the inadvertent transgressions of the scholars are considered deliberate sins, since there is no repentance for the neglect of Torah by those who are engaged in its study. The Torah describes their transgression as the defilement of the Sanctuary and its holy vessels.  This defilement is, for the most part, caused by the scholars who frequent the Sanctuary and are at home with its [various] holy elements”. 

At first glance, the comment of the Netziv is counter- intuitive.   One would expect the sacred domain of the community to be sanctified by its spiritual leaders. But the Torah accuses them of effecting its defilement. Their iniquity is too great to be included with all the other transgressions of the Jewish people- including the cardinal sins- for which the scapegoat atones. 

However, upon further reflection it is clear that the Netziv’s interpretation is not at all counterintuitive.  It is fully in line with the Jewish interpretation of chillul ha-Shem [the desecration of the Divine]. 

Tractate Yoma (86a) of the Babylonian Talmud, the primary rabbinic source about Yom Kippur discusses this issue: 

What is chillul ha-Shem?  Rav said: if someone like me would take meat from a butcher and not pay him promptly, that would be chillul ha-Shem... Yitzchak of the Academy of Rabbi Yannai said:   “Anybody whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation- this is chillul ha-Shem.  The opening verse in the Shema Yisra’el recitation  ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ can be interpreted as commanding that the name of Heaven should become beloved through your actions.  One should read Scripture, study Mishnah and [receive moral training] by serving Torah scholars [and imitating their behavior].  One’s dealings with people should be conducted with pleasing integrity.  What shall people say about one who behaves thus?  “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah.  Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.  Woe unto people who do not learn Torah.  This person learned Torah.  See how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.”  Of such a person Scripture declares ‘ God said to me:  You are my servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified. (Isaiah 49:3).    But as for one who learns Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves Torah scholars, but his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant—what do people say about him?  ‘’Woe unto that person who learned Torah.  Woe onto his father who taught him Torah. Woe onto his teacher who taught him Torah.  This individual learned Torah.  Behold how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly his ways.”  Of him Scripture declares:  ‘and they desecrated my Holy Name when it was said of them:  These are the people of ha-Shem…  (Ezekiel 36:20). 

Special conduct is required of those who represent Torah.  Their moral standards must be exemplary.  Because they are identified as particularly devoted to God, unethical behavior and lack of sensitivity reflects badly on their Maker and is a chillul ha-Shem.

This is the sin greater than all others.  This is behavior that defiles God’s holy places, for which regular rituals of atonement are inadequate.  This is the transgression for which an extraordinary sacrifice of atonement was required. 

The Talmud speaks of chillul ha-Shem in the singular.  It illustrates chillul ha- in reference to the behavior of individuals.  Our text, however, refers to chillul ha-Shem in the plural, to the insensitive and unethical posture of Torah giants as a class.

 Sadly, we have witnessed this type of chillul ha-Shem all too frequently.  The indifference of leaders of the rabbinic establishment to the suffering of women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get [religious divorce], thus effectively preventing them form moving on with their lives, is nothing less than the defilement of the Holy.  The callous and dismissive attitude of esteemed rabbis to those who seek to come under the wings of the Shekhinah [the divine Presence] by converting to Judaism is a defilement of the Sacred.  Torah leaders rightly concern themselves with ritual minutiae, but are inexplicably silent about pressing societal issues like doctors’ and social workers’ strikes in Israel, and the implications of such actions.  Rightly they have much to say about the produce of the seventh year, but nothing about those who refuse to work for a living and choose to stay on the dole, or about those who refuse to serve in the military, leaving others to risk their lives in defending them.  Small wonder that that they alienate those who do work and do serve. Small wonder that they bring scorn to the Torah. It is of them that the Torah speaks.

Fortunately the Torah assures us that despite the defiling behavior and collective chillul ha-Shem of those of whom special standards are expected, God will not abandon the rest of us.  Our text concludes with the assurance that God will abide with us in the midst of defilement—irrespective of the deficits of those who should know better. (Lev:  16:16).





































 DEFILING THE SANCTUARY


And he shall slay the goat of the sin offering that is for the people…and make atonement for the sacred place, because of the defilement of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions (Lev.  16:15-16).

The first section of parashat Acharei Mot is a description of the process of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Its centerpiece is the ritual performed with two identical goats.  Lots were drawn over them.  One was assigned the scapegoat role.  All the transgressions of the Jewish people were symbolically projected onto it and it was sent to its death in the wilderness, taking all the sins of the Jewish people with it.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all of their transgressions, even all of their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat and send it away by the hand of an anointed man into the wilderness. (Lev 15:32-22).

The function of the second goat was to achieve atonement for the defiled sanctuary, as indicated in our text. The sages were puzzled by the role of this goat.  They taught:  “This goat might have been thought to atone for the cardinal sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual activity and murder, all of which are defined as defilement.  Therefore the Torah states, [clarifying the specific transgression for which the sacrifice of this goat atones] mi-tum’at [an aspect of defilement] and not all types of defilement. What is this aspect?  It is the defilement of the Sanctuary (Shevu’ot 6b). What troubled the sages was the necessity of having a second goat.  If the scapegoat had achieved atonement for every type of iniquity and transgression, what need was there for the second goat?  What transgression was so severe that it was excluded from the entire gamut of sins and required it’s own special process of atonement?  According to the Torah, this extraordinary transgression was the defilement of the Sanctuary.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the extraordinary nature of this transgression.  The Sanctuary represented the perfect ideal of the Torah.  Its role was to inspire and transform the people, so that their daily lives would gradually come to reflect the ideal. But when the process was reversed and the values of the street corrupted the Sanctuary, it was considered defiled. 

Whereas Rabbi Hirsch defines the defilement of the sanctuary in the most general of terms, the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin is specific.  He writes in Harchev Davar:  “On Yom Kippur the inadvertent transgressions of the scholars are considered deliberate sins, since there is no repentance for the neglect of Torah by those who are engaged in its study. The Torah describes their transgression as the defilement of the Sanctuary and its holy vessels.  This defilement is, for the most part, caused by the scholars who frequent the Sanctuary and are at home with its [various] holy elements”. 

At first glance, the comment of the Netziv is counter- intuitive.   One would expect the sacred domain of the community to be sanctified by its spiritual leaders. But the Torah accuses them of effecting its defilement. Their iniquity is too great to be included with all the other transgressions of the Jewish people- including the cardinal sins- for which the scapegoat atones. 

However, upon further reflection it is clear that the Netziv’s interpretation is not at all counterintuitive.  It is fully in line with the Jewish interpretation of chillul ha-Shem [the desecration of the Divine]. 

Tractate Yoma (86a) of the Babylonian Talmud, the primary rabbinic source about Yom Kippur discusses this issue: 

What is chillul ha-Shem?  Rav said: if someone like me would take meat from a butcher and not pay him promptly, that would be chillul ha-Shem... Yitzchak of the Academy of Rabbi Yannai said:   “Anybody whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation- this is chillul ha-Shem.  The opening verse in the Shema Yisra’el recitation  ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ can be interpreted as commanding that the name of Heaven should become beloved through your actions.  One should read Scripture, study Mishnah and [receive moral training] by serving Torah scholars [and imitating their behavior].  One’s dealings with people should be conducted with pleasing integrity.  What shall people say about one who behaves thus?  “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah.  Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.  Woe unto people who do not learn Torah.  This person learned Torah.  See how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.”  Of such a person Scripture declares ‘ God said to me:  You are my servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified. (Isaiah 49:3).    But as for one who learns Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves Torah scholars, but his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant—what do people say about him?  ‘’Woe unto that person who learned Torah.  Woe onto his father who taught him Torah. Woe onto his teacher who taught him Torah.  This individual learned Torah.  Behold how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly his ways.”  Of him Scripture declares:  ‘and they desecrated my Holy Name when it was said of them:  These are the people of ha-Shem…  (Ezekiel 36:20). 

Special conduct is required of those who represent Torah.  Their moral standards must be exemplary.  Because they are identified as particularly devoted to God, unethical behavior and lack of sensitivity reflects badly on their Maker and is a chillul ha-Shem.

This is the sin greater than all others.  This is behavior that defiles God’s holy places, for which regular rituals of atonement are inadequate.  This is the transgression for which an extraordinary sacrifice of atonement was required. 

The Talmud speaks of chillul ha-Shem in the singular.  It illustrates chillul ha- in reference to the behavior of individuals.  Our text, however, refers to chillul ha-Shem in the plural, to the insensitive and unethical posture of Torah giants as a class.

 Sadly, we have witnessed this type of chillul ha-Shem all too frequently.  The indifference of leaders of the rabbinic establishment to the suffering of women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get [religious divorce], thus effectively preventing them form moving on with their lives, is nothing less than the defilement of the Holy.  The callous and dismissive attitude of esteemed rabbis to those who seek to come under the wings of the Shekhinah [the divine Presence] by converting to Judaism is a defilement of the Sacred.  Torah leaders rightly concern themselves with ritual minutiae, but are inexplicably silent about pressing societal issues like doctors’ and social workers’ strikes in Israel, and the implications of such actions.  Rightly they have much to say about the produce of the seventh year, but nothing about those who refuse to work for a living and choose to stay on the dole, or about those who refuse to serve in the military, leaving others to risk their lives in defending them.  Small wonder that that they alienate those who do work and do serve. Small wonder that they bring scorn to the Torah. It is of them that the Torah speaks.

Fortunately the Torah assures us that despite the defiling behavior and collective chillul ha-Shem of those of whom special standards are expected, God will not abandon the rest of us.  Our text concludes with the assurance that God will abide with us in the midst of defilement—irrespective of the deficits of those who should know better. (Lev:  16:16).






















































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DEFILING THE SANCTUARY


And he shall slay the goat of the sin offering that is for the people…and make atonement for the sacred place, because of the defilement of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions (Lev.  16:15-16).

The first section of parashat Acharei Mot is a description of the process of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Its centerpiece is the ritual performed with two identical goats.  Lots were drawn over them.  One was assigned the scapegoat role.  All the transgressions of the Jewish people were symbolically projected onto it and it was sent to its death in the wilderness, taking all the sins of the Jewish people with it.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all of their transgressions, even all of their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat and send it away by the hand of an anointed man into the wilderness. (Lev 15:32-22).

The function of the second goat was to achieve atonement for the defiled sanctuary, as indicated in our text. The sages were puzzled by the role of this goat.  They taught:  “This goat might have been thought to atone for the cardinal sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual activity and murder, all of which are defined as defilement.  Therefore the Torah states, [clarifying the specific transgression for which the sacrifice of this goat atones] mi-tum’at [an aspect of defilement] and not all types of defilement. What is this aspect?  It is the defilement of the Sanctuary (Shevu’ot 6b). What troubled the sages was the necessity of having a second goat.  If the scapegoat had achieved atonement for every type of iniquity and transgression, what need was there for the second goat?  What transgression was so severe that it was excluded from the entire gamut of sins and required it’s own special process of atonement?  According to the Torah, this extraordinary transgression was the defilement of the Sanctuary.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the extraordinary nature of this transgression.  The Sanctuary represented the perfect ideal of the Torah.  Its role was to inspire and transform the people, so that their daily lives would gradually come to reflect the ideal. But when the process was reversed and the values of the street corrupted the Sanctuary, it was considered defiled. 

Whereas Rabbi Hirsch defines the defilement of the sanctuary in the most general of terms, the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin is specific.  He writes in Harchev Davar:  “On Yom Kippur the inadvertent transgressions of the scholars are considered deliberate sins, since there is no repentance for the neglect of Torah by those who are engaged in its study. The Torah describes their transgression as the defilement of the Sanctuary and its holy vessels.  This defilement is, for the most part, caused by the scholars who frequent the Sanctuary and are at home with its [various] holy elements”. 

At first glance, the comment of the Netziv is counter- intuitive.   One would expect the sacred domain of the community to be sanctified by its spiritual leaders. But the Torah accuses them of effecting its defilement. Their iniquity is too great to be included with all the other transgressions of the Jewish people- including the cardinal sins- for which the scapegoat atones. 

However, upon further reflection it is clear that the Netziv’s interpretation is not at all counterintuitive.  It is fully in line with the Jewish interpretation of chillul ha-Shem [the desecration of the Divine]. 

Tractate Yoma (86a) of the Babylonian Talmud, the primary rabbinic source about Yom Kippur discusses this issue: 

What is chillul ha-Shem?  Rav said: if someone like me would take meat from a butcher and not pay him promptly, that would be chillul ha-Shem... Yitzchak of the Academy of Rabbi Yannai said:   “Anybody whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation- this is chillul ha-Shem.  The opening verse in the Shema Yisra’el recitation  ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ can be interpreted as commanding that the name of Heaven should become beloved through your actions.  One should read Scripture, study Mishnah and [receive moral training] by serving Torah scholars [and imitating their behavior].  One’s dealings with people should be conducted with pleasing integrity.  What shall people say about one who behaves thus?  “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah.  Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.  Woe unto people who do not learn Torah.  This person learned Torah.  See how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.”  Of such a person Scripture declares ‘ God said to me:  You are my servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified. (Isaiah 49:3).    But as for one who learns Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves Torah scholars, but his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant—what do people say about him?  ‘’Woe unto that person who learned Torah.  Woe onto his father who taught him Torah. Woe onto his teacher who taught him Torah.  This individual learned Torah.  Behold how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly his ways.”  Of him Scripture declares:  ‘and they desecrated my Holy Name when it was said of them:  These are the people of ha-Shem…  (Ezekiel 36:20). 

Special conduct is required of those who represent Torah.  Their moral standards must be exemplary.  Because they are identified as particularly devoted to God, unethical behavior and lack of sensitivity reflects badly on their Maker and is a chillul ha-Shem.

This is the sin greater than all others.  This is behavior that defiles God’s holy places, for which regular rituals of atonement are inadequate.  This is the transgression for which an extraordinary sacrifice of atonement was required. 

The Talmud speaks of chillul ha-Shem in the singular.  It illustrates chillul ha- in reference to the behavior of individuals.  Our text, however, refers to chillul ha-Shem in the plural, to the insensitive and unethical posture of Torah giants as a class.

 Sadly, we have witnessed this type of chillul ha-Shem all too frequently.  The indifference of leaders of the rabbinic establishment to the suffering of women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get [religious divorce], thus effectively preventing them form moving on with their lives, is nothing less than the defilement of the Holy.  The callous and dismissive attitude of esteemed rabbis to those who seek to come under the wings of the Shekhinah [the divine Presence] by converting to Judaism is a defilement of the Sacred.  Torah leaders rightly concern themselves with ritual minutiae, but are inexplicably silent about pressing societal issues like doctors’ and social workers’ strikes in Israel, and the implications of such actions.  Rightly they have much to say about the produce of the seventh year, but nothing about those who refuse to work for a living and choose to stay on the dole, or about those who refuse to serve in the military, leaving others to risk their lives in defending them.  Small wonder that that they alienate those who do work and do serve. Small wonder that they bring scorn to the Torah. It is of them that the Torah speaks.

Fortunately the Torah assures us that despite the defiling behavior and collective chillul ha-Shem of those of whom special standards are expected, God will not abandon the rest of us.  Our text concludes with the assurance that God will abide with us in the midst of defilement—irrespective of the deficits of those who should know better. (Lev:  16:16).




























                             DEFILING THE SACRED


And he shall slay the goat of the sin offering that is for the people…and make atonement for the sacred place, because of the defilement of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions (Lev.  16:15-16).

The first section of parashat Acharei Mot is a description of the process of atonement on Yom Kippur.  Its centerpiece is the ritual performed with two identical goats.  Lots were drawn over them.  One was assigned the scapegoat role.  All the transgressions of the Jewish people were symbolically projected onto it and it was sent to its death in the wilderness, taking all the sins of the Jewish people with it.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all of their transgressions, even all of their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat and send it away by the hand of an anointed man into the wilderness. (Lev 15:32-22).

The function of the second goat was to achieve atonement for the defiled sanctuary, as indicated in our text. The sages were puzzled by the role of this goat.  They taught:  “This goat might have been thought to atone for the cardinal sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual activity and murder, all of which are defined as defilement.  Therefore the Torah states, [clarifying the specific transgression for which the sacrifice of this goat atones] mi-tum’at [an aspect of defilement] and not all types of defilement. What is this aspect?  It is the defilement of the Sanctuary (Shevu’ot 6b). What troubled the sages was the necessity of having a second goat.  If the scapegoat had achieved atonement for every type of iniquity and transgression, what need was there for the second goat?  What transgression was so severe that it was excluded from the entire gamut of sins and required it’s own special process of atonement?  According to the Torah, this extraordinary transgression was the defilement of the Sanctuary.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the extraordinary nature of this transgression.  The Sanctuary represented the perfect ideal of the Torah.  Its role was to inspire and transform the people, so that their daily lives would gradually come to reflect the ideal. But when the process was reversed and the values of the street corrupted the Sanctuary, it was considered defiled. 

Whereas Rabbi Hirsch defines the defilement of the sanctuary in the most general of terms, the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin is specific.  He writes in Harchev Davar:  “On Yom Kippur the inadvertent transgressions of the scholars are considered deliberate sins, since there is no repentance for the neglect of Torah by those who are engaged in its study. The Torah describes their transgression as the defilement of the Sanctuary and its holy vessels.  This defilement is, for the most part, caused by the scholars who frequent the Sanctuary and are at home with its [various] holy elements”. 

At first glance, the comment of the Netziv is counter- intuitive.   One would expect the sacred domain of the community to be sanctified by its spiritual leaders. But the Torah accuses them of effecting its defilement. Their iniquity is too great to be included with all the other transgressions of the Jewish people- including the cardinal sins- for which the scapegoat atones. 

However, upon further reflection it is clear that the Netziv’s interpretation is not at all counterintuitive.  It is fully in line with the Jewish interpretation of chillul ha-Shem [the desecration of the Divine]. 

Tractate Yoma (86a) of the Babylonian Talmud, the primary rabbinic source about Yom Kippur discusses this issue: 

What is chillul ha-Shem?  Rav said: if someone like me would take meat from a butcher and not pay him promptly, that would be chillul ha-Shem... Yitzchak of the Academy of Rabbi Yannai said:   “Anybody whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation- this is chillul ha-Shem.  The opening verse in the Shema Yisra’el recitation  ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ can be interpreted as commanding that the name of Heaven should become beloved through your actions.  One should read Scripture, study Mishnah and [receive moral training] by serving Torah scholars [and imitating their behavior].  One’s dealings with people should be conducted with pleasing integrity.  What shall people say about one who behaves thus?  “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah.  Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.  Woe unto people who do not learn Torah.  This person learned Torah.  See how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.”  Of such a person Scripture declares ‘ God said to me:  You are my servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified. (Isaiah 49:3).    But as for one who learns Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves Torah scholars, but his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant—what do people say about him?  ‘’Woe unto that person who learned Torah.  Woe onto his father who taught him Torah. Woe onto his teacher who taught him Torah.  This individual learned Torah.  Behold how corrupt are his deeds and how ugly his ways.”  Of him Scripture declares:  ‘and they desecrated my Holy Name when it was said of them:  These are the people of ha-Shem…  (Ezekiel 36:20). 

Special conduct is required of those who represent Torah.  Their moral standards must be exemplary.  Because they are identified as particularly devoted to God, unethical behavior and lack of sensitivity reflects badly on their Maker and is a chillul ha-Shem.

This is the sin greater than all others.  This is behavior that defiles God’s holy places, for which regular rituals of atonement are inadequate.  This is the transgression for which an extraordinary sacrifice of atonement was required. 

The Talmud speaks of chillul ha-Shem in the singular.  It illustrates chillul ha- in reference to the behavior of individuals.  Our text, however, refers to chillul ha-Shem in the plural, to the insensitive and unethical posture of Torah giants as a class.

 Sadly, we have witnessed this type of chillul ha-Shem all too frequently.  The indifference of leaders of the rabbinic establishment to the suffering of women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get [religious divorce], thus effectively preventing them form moving on with their lives, is nothing less than the defilement of the Holy.  The callous and dismissive attitude of esteemed rabbis to those who seek to come under the wings of the Shekhinah [the divine Presence] by converting to Judaism is a defilement of the Sacred.  Torah leaders rightly concern themselves with ritual minutiae, but are inexplicably silent about pressing societal issues like doctors’ and social workers’ strikes in Israel, and the implications of such actions.  Rightly they have much to say about the produce of the seventh year, but nothing about those who refuse to work for a living and choose to stay on the dole, or about those who refuse to serve in the military, leaving others to risk their lives in defending them.  Small wonder that that they alienate those who do work and do serve. Small wonder that they bring scorn to the Torah. It is of them that the Torah speaks.

Fortunately the Torah assures us that despite the defiling behavior and collective chillul ha-Shem of those of whom special standards are expected, God will not abandon the rest of us.  Our text concludes with the assurance that God will abide with us in the midst of defilement—irrespective of the deficits of those who should know better. (Lev:  16:16).






















































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