Parashah of the week: Acharei Mot

“God spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two children” Leviticus 16:1


Epictetus once said: “If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.”

The title of this week’s parashah, Acharei Mot, refers to the death of Aaron’s eldest two children, Nadab and Abihu, who actually died a few weeks ago in an earlier parashah. There isn’t another parashah in the Torah which has as its title “death”.

Despite the name of the parashah referring to their death, there is nothing in the portion which talks about the death of Nadab and Abihu. Earlier we are told that at the induction of the Tabernacle, the brothers offer a foreign fire that “God had not commanded to be brought”, resulting in the brothers being consumed by a fire (Leviticus 10:1). What’s wrong with voluntarily offering a fire?

Torah celebrates the diversity of the human spirit. It encourages creativity, originality and ingenuity. But it is crucial to remember that these commendable concepts must always be anchored into our obligations in life and that they do not destroy our identity. There are guidelines as to how we must use our creativity in life. It cannot be impetuous and hot-headed creativity.

Nadab and Abihu were passionate young boys coming of age. They yearned for closeness to the Divine. But instead of tempering that passion, they lost themselves in it, offering a sacrifice at the wrong time.

And so the parashah of Acharei Mot is dedicated towards providing a framework for creativity and passion in Judaism. We are told the exact criteria and regulations on how to enter the Holy of Holies. Any encounter we have with the holy in our lives must be tempered and balanced.

We find the same message at the end of the parashah, when we are instructed about incestuous relationships. The Torah calls such relationships chesed, “kindness”! We of course encourage love and affection between family members. But there must be a balance so that such love does not end up misdirected and inappropriate.

Thus, our parashah is all about creating a balance in life, whether in our relationship with God or with our loved human beings.

The title Acharei Mot, “After the death”, is therefore the essence of the parashah: ensuring we have a framework for our Divine and human relationships so that we do not “die” and lose our identity.


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