To follow this week’s parsha carefully, let’s begin with 2 Advil because zicher a headache you’ll get trying to understand the connection between the subjects covered. Parshas Achrei Mois begins following the deaths of Nodov and Avihu. Hey, didn’t they pass away a few weeks back (Parshas Shmini) and didn’t we cover this b’eyun (in depth)? We did! Accordingly, we won’t repeat this sigya (topic) as we are about to learn all about forbidden relationships and zicher (surely) you’ll be paying close attention. I have a feeling that I won’t need to remind you to halt kup as you’ll be begging for more.
Anyway, in parsha time (the first three Aliyois), it’s all about Yoim Kippur and the Avoida (the service) of the koihain godol on that day but for me and most of you, it’s but days before Pesach and its second seder-yikes- and we’re either shopping for food at very inflated prices or for clothing that will fit our inflated bodies by the last days.
Do you really want me to review the part where the RBSO tells Moishe to tell Aharoin the koihain godoil that he should not come into the Mishkan at all times … ‘so that he should not die’. I just did. And the next 31 pisukim are about the Avoida (service) on Yoim Kippur and what it atones for. Nu, we’ll cover that as we get closer. I see no reason to usher in Yom kipppur so early and besides, do we have enough Aveyrois on our records yet for this year? Oy vey, nebech I know the answer. Still, we’ll skip over the great majority of the parsha and stay focused on a topic that kuli-alme-loi-p’ligi (no one would argue in gemorah lingo), is important, relevant, fun and of course, one that you could all use some chazorra (review) on.
Nu, after we’re told not to eat blood – the parsha goes off onto a new direction and instructs us in the final section of the parsha (chapter 18) and introduces the prohibitions known as arayos (forbidden sexual relations). Of course another parsha and yet more sex talk. Both Achrei Mois and Kedoishim (next week’s parsha -which we typically read together, but not this year) have lots of detailed discussion on issues of sexuality and intimacy. In methodical fashion, the heylige toirah delineates the forbidden liaisons between humans. Ok let’s dive right in.
The list presented deals primarily with forbidden incestuous relationships, but includes other offenses, such as homosexuality and relations with a nidda (a woman just before, during and after the onset of her menstrual cycle). Today we will look at some of these and the reasons offered for these prohibitions, specifically the arayos of family relatives.
Avada we know that the customs of the Mitzrim (Egyptians) were among the most morally decadent in the world and the deeds of the Canaanites were the most abominable. To illuminate this point, the parsha continues to discuss the laws of immorality and forbidden relationships that were the pernicious hallmark of these indigenous cultures. We are warned not to follow or perform the practices of the peoples of Mitzrayim (Egypt) and Canaan or to follow their traditions but, “to carry out My laws and safeguard My decrees.” What were those customs and if they were so girferlich and disgusting, why did the RBSO keep us there for 210 years? It stands to reason that after so much time, the Hebrews would epes pick up and efsher (maybe) even enjoy a number of these customs, who wouldn’t? Do I know? Ver Veyst?
Mistama (likely), this was of course all part of the grand master plan leading to the giula (redemption), the toirah and of course Pesach which we celebrate each year by packing our clothing and flying right back to the desert. Shoin ginig (enough) commentary: back to the Parsha.
Incest is defined and prohibited. Additional offenses are described for a chazir (swine) having this minuvildike relationship with one’s own father or uncle. Homosexuality, bestiality and child sacrifice are prohibited. So far nisht geifrelich and to a normal person, I think these all make sense. Unless you’re a Rebbe in a Yeshiva, homosexual relations between men are forbidden in no uncertain terms. Avada, some of you purists are wondering: what about lesbian relationships? Nu, it’s taka not discussed in this parsha…and as to watching two lesbians, mistama this is also ossur. Bestiality is expressly forbidden to both men and women. Seemingly, the sexual practices that the RBSO says are forbidden were performed by the Canaanite nations. It’s for this type of chazeerish behavior that the RBSO decided that He’s driving those nations out of the land that the BNY are about to enter. All of these forbidden relationships carry the penalty of koreis (cut off); more on that next week. Anyway, what takah happens if chas v’sholom, we violate any of these laws and find ourselves in the middle of such a forbidden relationship(s)? Nu, you’ll have to wait until next week where a long litany of punishments awaits those oisvorf chazerrim that have not listened to this week’s warnings.
The heylige toirah tells us that it’s mamish forbidden to engage in incestuous marriages and relationships between certain blood relatives. And if you good for nothings would taka open a Chumish, and read Perek yud ches (chapter 18), you’ll find a list of the many forbidden matings. Bazman Hazeh (nowadays), this is only a partial list as toirah she’ baal peh (Oral Tradition) has greatly expanded it and supplies a supplemental list as a geder (fence) around the Toirah. I’m disgusted to say that for many of you, such a list is mamish essential and seemingly, even that fence isn’t doing the trick. Perhaps a brick wall is in order.
As expected, not all agree that incest is so giferlich and The Seforno suggests that marriage to one’s closer relatives is more than logical, and taka, this is how it’s done in middle America. They do, after all, share similar values, backgrounds, and personalities and are these not the perfect ingredients to produce wonderful children. He brings proof from Amrom. Who’s that? Oy vey! Did you forget that Amrom went and married his Tanata (aunt) Yoicheved? And who came out of this union? No lesser personalities and giants among the Yiddin than Moishe, Aharoin, and Miriam, each a great leader, perhaps the greatest we’ve ever had. If so, what could be so terrible were we each to start giving our Tantas and other blood relatives a second look? And taka why does the heylige toirah forbid these?
Ober he answers his own query azoy: such relationships would be ok if the intentions of the couple were solely for noble purposes. Nebech however, human nature makes this scenario incredibly rare. Let’s be real: did you ever look at your hot forbidden relative and say that you wanted to bed her leshaim shomayim (for heaven’s sake)? Along with the Rambam and the Ibn Ezra, the Seforno explains that the RBSO ideally prefers that people be completely focused on and dedicated to serving him. Because we are human (or less), He had no choice but to permit marital relations. However, in an effort to minimize them (sexual relations), the Toirah forbids relations with all of a person’s close relatives. The logic is that because he (the man) is so frequently surrounded by them (his family members), that regular contact could easily lead to constant involvement in our base human desires. And as such desires would zicher distract us from focusing on elevating ourselves and achieving our true spiritual purposes, the Toirah therefore prohibited these relationships.
Ober (but), The Ramban questions this explanation. He points out that a man is Biblically permitted to marry as many wives as he wants, something which should clearly be forbidden if the Toirah’s goal was to minimize his involvement in marital relations in order to free him to pursue spiritual endeavors. He argues that it’s illogical that marrying one’s daughter or sister should be punished so severely when somebody else may marry 1000 wives with impunity. As a result, the Ramban suggests that the entire concept of the forbidden relationships falls into the category known as חוקים, commands which seem to defy human logic and which we perform only because the RBSO commanded us to do so, even though we are unable to understand the rationale behind them. Let’s also keep in mind that He scared the living daylights out of us with a very detailed description of what can happen to us if we violate these.
Anyway, one of the listed prohibited relationships is with a woman who is married (to someone else). However chevra (guys), even a woman who is single, divorced or widowed may be a forbidden relative. If she is married, then the man who has an affair with her is guilty on both counts.
Not surprisingly, we’re also taught that it’s mamish osur (verboten) for a person to marry his wife’s sister. Of course, if the shvester (sister) is very hot, one could claim a hardship and ask for a variance, if you chap. Interestingly enough, though most of the laws given by the RBSO on these forbidden relationships are given as Chukim (laws defying logic), for this particular relationship (with the sister), the toirah uses a term meaning co-wife- when telling us why it’s ossur. Why is this particular relationship singled out?
Says The Ramban: that the RBSO taka did not tell us why for most of these chukim- isn’t it enough for you oisvorfs that the RBSO said no? Who said you’re entitled to ask such questions? Did you create the world, split the sea and perform miracles? Ober the RBSO does tell us ‘why not’ for you to marry your own sister in law (in addition). Says the Ramban: that it’s inappropriate to make two sisters into co-wives of the same husband. Takah why? Because sisters are supposed to love each other, but vying for the attention of the same man will lead to jealousy and worse. Mistama you’ve seen rivalries between sisters before, even when they’re married to different husbands; can you imagine what would taka go on under one roof? Avada, for the man, what could be better?
Ober what to do if the man takah falls in love with his sister-in-law? Should he suffer from love pangs all his life and visualize sister #2 while being married to sister #1? Nu, all is not lost: because she (sister in law) is only forbidden to him while the first wife is alive. Ober should he be so fortunate that she passes away of natural causes, if you chap, or if he somehow finds an efficient method without getting chapped, then he can taka marry her. Ok- got all that? Shoin genig (had enough) or should we chaziir? Nu- I see you want to hear it again, here goes:
You cannot marry 2 sisters, whether one at a time or both at a time. You can however marry sister number two if sister number one is dead. Avada just about now you’re murmuring to yourselves and saying hey hey hey: how did Yankiff Ovenu marry 2 full sisters (Ruchil and Lea) and 2 half sisters (Bilha and Zilpa). Or was it two sisters and a half sister of each sister? Who remembers, but one thing is zicher: he had all 4 of them and they were all very much alive at the time. And didn’t these unions lead to the birth of all the Shvotim (tribes) and to the BNY? Could the “House of Israel” have been built on one of the forbidden relationships listed in our parsha? Say it’s not so please. Seemingly, others were wondering about this same issue and there are other theories as to why Yankiff’s marriage was kosher but what you’re plotting is not. Let’s learn.
How did Yankiff Oveenu taka marry four sisters? Wasn’t he, along with the other Ovois (forefathers), commanded to keep the seven noachide laws? And did the Ovois keep the heylige Toirah before it was given? Nu, since we opened the topic, let’s taka go tiffer (deeper) into the sugya. It’s mamish a shtikel conundrum: both the mishna and heylige gemorah clearly state that Avraham Oveenu kept not just the entire toirah but also toirah she-baal peh (oral tradition) – (see Kiddushin 82a, Gemarra Yoma 28b). He knew what to keep through ruach hakoidesh (divine prophecy). Yet there are several examples of unzeri (our) Ovois (and others) violating the Toirah. Cases that avada come to mind include; Yankiff, Kayin married his sister, and Amram married his tanta (aunt) Yoicheved. So did they keep the entire Toirah or not? What’s p’shat?
Nu, There are two approaches here; one is to say that they didn’t and deal with the mishna and gemorah above some other way and the other is to say that they did keep the Toirah but the above cases are exceptions. It’s like most of you: you’re basically orthodox and practicing except when you’re not! Shoin- we got that settled.
Says The Rema (Rav Mosher Isserlis): that only Avraham kept the Toirah but not the others. According to this p’shat, we can understand how Yankiff married the sisters. The problem here is that not many accepted his answer, so let’s go veyter.
Says the Ramban (Bereishis 26;5) that the Ovois only kept the entire Toirah in Eretz Yisroel, and since Yankiff married the two sisters (actually four) outside of Israel, all was kosher. In other words: these laws of not marrying sisters are only in the land.
The Maharal rejects this approach and says that the prohibition to marry two sisters has no inherent connection to the Land of Israel so why should Yankiff’s whereabouts affect this? Of course, he, like many others, answers his own question by suggesting that like most of you, the Ovois only kept the mitzvois ah-say (positive) but not the lo-sa-says (negative mitzvois);. And since the Toirah was still hundreds of years off, the Ovois didn’t hear about the lo-sah-say not to marry two or four sisters, for example.
But listen to this gevaldige thought: We could say that Ovois takah kept all the mitzvos. But what about the cases we listed where they didn’t? Nu, this also has an answer, in fact a few. First is the Ridbaz, who says that first of all, only the Ovois kept the toirah and that already eliminates Kayin and/or Amram as potential violators. And the reason that Yankiff could marry two or four sisters is based on the dictum that they were mi’gayear (converted) to Judaism in order to marry Yankiff. And as we all know or should know that a geyr (convert) is considered like a newborn baby, and as such they are not considered halachically related to their former family. Accordingly, Ruchil and Leah were no longer sisters and thus there was no problem for Yankiff to marry them. Wow!!
Another blow away p’shat comes from the Or HaChaim (Bereishis 49;3) who writes that our Ovois taka kept the entire Toirah, but in these isolated instances where it appears that they didn’t, there were mitigating circumstances. These were cases where they received through ruach hakoidesh (divine prophecy) not to keep certain. In other words, such prophecy trumps the Toirah, at least temporarily. Avada most of you are already thinking how to use this excuse the next time you get chapped by the eishes chayil with one of your hot shiksa girlfriends or worse, maybe with her own sister (see above) ober Raboyseyee- you are not the Ovis and avada you cannot use such an excuse. You are but a bum and and oisvorf. Of course we have to remember that all this happened before the written law where one could taka come up with an excuse.
Grada, this p’shat makes good sense. Just as our forefathers who hadn’t received the toirah saw with divine prophecy that they had to keep certain mitzvois, they could also see that they were exempt for others. Avada, when it comes to women and the desire to marry sisters or even one’s own aunt, such prophecy was taka helpful. And if you think that only an oisvorf would dare say such a thing- you’re dead wrong. Because this thinking is also confirmed by other luminaries including the Da’as Zekeinim and the Nefesh HaChaim who state exactly that. Examples of this prophecy to deviate include of course the marrying of two sisters and two concubines in order to build Klal Yisrael. Is that a beautiful p’shat or what? This kind of forward thinking should have you yearning to run back to yeshiva to learn even more and tiffer (deeper).
The Bottom line: it’s all quite simple. All this talk and theorizing about Yankiff and his four veyber (wives) mamish was before matan toirah. Ober (but) here in the parsha where the RBSO says no, it’s following the receipt of the toriah. And the same holds true for Amrom who married his own aunt. Ginig shoin (enough)- let’s move on, but should we?
And don’t even think for a second that it’s taka forbidden to marry the sister in law now that the toirah say so but efsher a quickie or even an affair is mutir (ok). Raboyseyee: The RBSO knew just what chazerrim you are and quickly closed that loophole, in the same possik mamish. It states clearly that any relations with his wife’s sister – “to uncover her nakedness beside the other (his wife).” is not kosher. In fact, it’s not even kosher, if she keeps her clothing on, if you chap. But the reason for the prohibition is, as we learned above from the Ramban: “For it is not proper that one take a woman and her sister (as wives), making them into rivals, for they should love one another and not distress each other.”
Also forbidden: a man may not marry or even make sexual advances to his mother or stepmother (even after his father’s death), his daughter or daughter-in-law, his sister, half-sister or sister-in-law (even after his brother’s death – except in the special case where his brother died childless, in which case he may have to marry her or perform the ceremony of chalitza to release her).
Why are unions between close relatives off-limits? Some may believe it’s to prevent genetic disorders caused by inbreeding. Ober it’s clear from looking at the expansive list of no-no’s that the toirah wasn’t really concerned about such issues. Avada we know that genetic risks are not increased when marrying a stepmother, a sister-in-law, or the wife of one’s uncle and still it’s a no- no. A man may not marry his mother-in-law or grandmother-in-law even after he divorces his wife or his wife dies. Basically, the mother-in-law status (but not always the relationship) stays intact forever: once a shviger, always a shviger and it’s hands off, no matter how hot.
According to the Rambam, the heylige toirah proscribed intimate relations – including marriage – with close relatives because of the regularity of contact with them. Had the Toirah permitted relations with relatives, people would engage excessively in intercourse, and, as the Rambam writes earlier, the Toirah seeks “to inculcate the lesson that we ought to limit sexual intercourse altogether, hold it in contempt, and desire it very rarely.” To this end, the Toirah proscribed relations with those who would otherwise be available for this purpose at all times. And the Toirah forbade marriage with these relatives, too, in order to render these relatives entirely and permanently forbidden, such that relations with them would not be desired at all. Seemingly, most of the Neshay Chayil follow the Rambam and taka avoid sexual intercourse with family members- especially their husbands.
The Akeidas Yitzchak dismisses the Rambam’s approach, claiming that the natural revulsion towards intercourse with relatives is innate, rather than a result of the Toirah’s strict prohibitions. He observes that there is hardly a nation on earth among whom such conduct has become standard. We might draw evidence from the disturbing incident recorded in the heylige Gemara (Sanhedrin 103b) of Amon, the wicked king of Yehuda, who engaged in relations with his mother. She asked him, “Do you receive enjoyment from the place from where you left?” Her son responded, “Am I doing this for any reason other than to anger my Creator?” This conversation would suggest that such relationships are naturally repulsive, even for those who have cast from themselves the yoke of the divine command. He also suggests that the Canaanite people suffered from some mental disturbance that resulted in this unnatural conduct.
We close this week’s heylige toirah with a word on yichud. Says the possik “A man shall not approach his close relatives to commit adultery” (18:6). According to the K’li Yakar, this is a warning against ‘Yichud’, secluding oneself with a woman whom one is not permitted to marry. And that explains why the Toirah writes here ”Ish ish … ” implying one man, since two men are permitted to be alone with a woman. Nu, sometimes, takah, two is better.
The Rambam however, interprets this Pasuk differently. Quoting this Pasuk as his source, the Rambam (Hilchos Isurei Bi’ah 21:5) writes that a man who has relations with any of the forbidden women or who embraces or kisses them in a lewd manner, and derives pleasure from their closeness, receives Malkos (lashes) min ha’Toirah. Nu, to some you chazerrim that pay a hefty sum for such lashes, this sounds like a freebie. What the Toirah means, he explains, is that any form of close contact with such women that leads to intimacy is forbidden. Be forewarned because when we learn next week’s parsha, you will not be happy campers.
A gitten shabbis and a zissen peysach….