Acharei Mot Year 2 Leviticus 16:1-34 (Plaut p. 770; Plaut p. 480)Haftarah Ezekiel 22:-1-19 (Plaut p. 795; Hertz p. 494);
Haftarah Hagadol Malachi 3:4-24 (Plaut p. 1459; Hertz p. 1005)
The opening chapter of Parashat Acharei Mot is read at Yom Kippur for its description of Atonement Day as practiced in the ancient days. The sacrificial worship, including the scapegoat sent to Azzazael for destruction.
The opening phrase takes us back to Leviticus 10, and the tragic story of Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons who brought esh zarah—strange fire—to the newly consecrated altar. Their actions are adolescent in nature. Nadab and Abihu tested the boundaries of their responsibilities, their powers and their environment.
Several other Biblical tales are built upon the same premise. Innovation, audacity and decisions often lead to untoward results, whilst at other times, they are rewarded: compare Pinchas to Korach in Torah, and similar accounts later in scripture and history.
Human beings take risks. Tradition ascribes this to yetzer hara—the evil inclination. Torah describes free will as an intrinsic quality of humanity. Jewish tradition sees the yetzer as inspiration for investigation, creativity and progress itself.
The ceremony of absolution and forgiveness, the transfer of sin from priestly hands to the goat selected for Azzazael falls out of practice, replaced by the idea that humans, having erred, can retract from the unsuccessful, the self-defeating and the false to find hope, renewal and liberation…but then that is the theme that underlies the narrative from slavery in Egypt across the wilderness and into the Promised Land.—Rabbi Robert Jacobs
Pesach Day 1, Exodus 12:21-51; (Plaut p.412, Hertz p.257);Haftarah Isaiah 43:1-15 (Plaut p.1462)
During the festival season, we step away from the annual cycle of Torah reading and focus on the Pesach and the first part of the journey through the wilderness. The readings take us—as the Haggadah recalls—from sorrow to joy, and from slavery toward freedom. At the start of the festival we rehearse the great event, the night of watchfulness when the malach hamavet—the angel of death—passed through Egypt. It is the night on which those had prepared their homes and marked their doors were physically saved. In the second reading of the series, from the weekly portion Mishpatim, we learn of the obligations for all generations to recall and reread, to live by the instructions of the Torah. At the close of the holiday, our reading includes Song of the Sea, the record of the end of Pharaoh’s vain quest to keep us in slavery and to overpower God.
At your Seder table, and through the days of eating Matzah, may these experiences serve as instructions for living, for spiritual growth, and for the quest for a fulfilling spiritual life. Chag kasher v’samei’ach~A joyous and kosher Passover!
—Rabbi Robert Jacobs