This week’s parsha review is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Sheldon Sirota whose first yurtzeit was observed today, the 11th of Iyar. Dr. Sirota was a giant among men whose accomplishments are too long for this brief shout-out. May his memory be a blessing to his entire family.
Raboyseyee and Ladies:
Was incest always bad?
The heylige Internet, despite the consternations of certain chasiddishe rebbes, keeps on giving. Daily emails remind us to daven mincha and of shkia. Just yesterday, the Oisvorfer received a WhatsApp reminding him to count the sefira. Later in the day, he received yet another reminder from a chaverta (female chaver) who reminded him that we’re half way through the Omer. Who knew that girls who attended SAR, formerly Salantar a few decades back, counted the sefira? Shoin, today a few also strap on tifilin, why not? Welcome then to the 27th day of the Yimay Hasfira (Sefrias Ho’oimer), and taka it would appear that we are mamish half way through the 49 day count-up (yes, up not down) to the great Yom Tov of Shovuois, the holiday we celebrate because on that day we received the heylige Toirah. And when was that? For those counting………… the RBSO gave the heylige Toirah to Moishe and His Chosen people, the Yiddin, on Har Senai some 3,316 years ago, or, seven weeks after the Yiddin left Mitzrayim. That was on the 6th day of the month Sivan, in the year 2448 of the Jewish calendar. Nu, are we only ½ way through? We will address that below.
Unfortunately, 40 days later the Yiddin were already off the derech (path) and partied hearty with the Eygel (golden calf), causing Moishe to break the Luchois containing the Ten Commandments, beg the RBSO for mercy on behalf of the Yiddin and started the process all over again. He came back with new tablets on Yom Kippur. The eygel continues to haunt the Yiddin ad hayoim hazeh (until today) and efsher you recall that just last week, one medrish told us that the reason the RBSO introduced Tzora’as (skin afflictions) was because of the eygel, the sin that keeps on punishing. The RBSO, as we have discussed many times in the past, is a very jealous G-d and abhors –more than anything, including more than forbidden relations which are center stage this week- disloyalty. Interestingly, parshas Achrei Mois, the first half of this week’s double-header which also includes Kedoishim, will discuss the role of the koihen Godol (high priest) on that day. Ober Achrei Mois also is efsher more famous for the list of forbidden familial and other sexual relationships, and which would you rather read about? The two goats involved in the service with one going to a mysterious place called Azozale, whatever and wherever that is, or, the myriad relationships the Yiddin seemingly enjoyed prior to the RBSO shutting the window on over 20 of them? Shoin: don’t answer that!
Shoin, just above we asked azoy: Are we really only half way through the mourning period for the 24,000 -according to some- students of Rebbe Akiva who -according to some- perished during that time period? Not! Based on the calendar of upcoming weddings the Oisvorfer and eishes chayil will be attending with great joy in the next few weeks, it’s mashma (apparent) that we are more than 90% done with sefira, the 49 day period between Pesach and Shovuois when we are, or used to be, in a state of mourning. Are we, though the official calendar tells us that it will be another 27 days until Yom Tov, done mourning? Do we not mourn for the group of hundreds or maybe thousands who maybe passed away after the 33rd day of the Oimer? Seemingly we don’t! Why, ver veyst? Were they bad guys?
Is it the Oisvorfer’s imagination or is Sefira and its observance mamish declining rapidly and maybe even done and kaput? How much more can it shrink? Does business override customs that date back hundreds of years? How far are we from weddings and bar mitzvahs on Tisha Be’av mamish? Ver veyst? Altz kint (as a young child) and even until the Oisvorfer’s mid 30’s, he recalls that the observance of sefira was taka strict. We mourned for Rebbe Akiva’s talmidim. We did? Ober didn’t all the yeshivas back then close for the day and take the kinderlach to the park where we would play with our fallenboigens (bows and arrows) while the rebbe was trying to shoot his? They did! We didn’t listen to music, and caterers went on vacation. There were zicher no weddings, engagement parties, shul dinners or any other festivities. Ober in hyntige tzytin (in our days), a nechtiger tug, it’s epes punkt farkert (just the opposite) and but for a tiny window of efsher 21 days, there are parties and events daily. Shoin: sefira, is one thing, ober business is business and avada a shul needs money every day. The caterers, too, were not very happy about being closed for 49 days and slowly over time we seem to have forgotten about rebbe Akiva’s students. Besides, if they taka didn’t respect one another and weren’t so nice to one another, should we be crying for them so many years later? Ver veyst.
And taka today, in our times, with all the sefira exemptions including the 14 days leading to Roish Choidesh, Roish Choidesh itself – sometimes two days- Yom Hoatzmout, Lag Bo’omer, the days following, the three days leading to Shavuois, the allowance to make a lechaim anytime, and others, the observance of sefira and its restrictions is down to about 14 days. Nu, efsher we should count sefira ober without a brocho on nights that we attend a simcha, ver veyst. In any event, it’s avada always good to attend a Simcha and mazel tov!
Some taka argue that his students died because they taka were not such nice guys. Efsher they knew how to learn but epes were lacking in derech eretz (respect for one another). Interestingly enough, loving another Jew is discussed in the back end of the double header, in Kedoishim, where among the 51 mitzovis found (the largest amount of any parsha and sadly mostly of the do-not-do variety), is the great mitzvas ah-say (to do) of Viohavto Lirayacho Komicho- (to love your friend as you love yourself) see (Vayikra 19:18). Shoin, this isn’t a heter (permission granted) to literally love your neighbor as you do yourself, if you chap, chazir that you are. That discussion for another day and parsha; let’s stay focused please. Of course Rebbe Akiva is quoted by many and his words describing this particular mitzvah as being a great principle of the Toirah are oft time quoted and were also put to song by the Rabbi’s Sons, Album number 1 way back in the late 1960’s. It’s mamish kideye (worthwhile) to find and listen to this great song, a classic mamish.
And speaking of this concept, and before we get to some straight talk about forbidden sexual encounters and relationships, let’s quickly chazir a few interesting approaches to these and other words found in the parsha; lommer lernin a few words likovid (in honor of) the shabbis tish.
The literal translation of “Love your neighbor just as much as yourself” can be very confusing. And many taka wax fancy about their true meaning ober said the Baal Shem Tov so gishmak azoy: The words are the basis for fulfilling all the mitzvois in the heylige Toirah that pertain to mankind. If one is able to look at another person as a man who has faults just like one’s self, then ultimately one will not have grudges against other people. Nice theory, difficult to put into practice.
Shoin, lomer lernin three words found just one possik earlier (19:17) which tell us azoy: “Hoicheach Toicheach Es Amisecha,” (You shall reprove your fellow). The word “Hoicheach” is repeated for emphasis, ober why? And why would the heylige Toirah which does not repeat concepts or words double up on this language? Said Reb Dovid Feinstein mamish so gishmak azoy: This emphasis is not meant for the one who sinned, –mistama you. Instead, it’s meant to deliver an important message to the one the reprove. The person reproving his friend must understand that before he can reprove someone else, he must first reprove himself. It is impossible to reprove someone else and make an impact on the sinner unless the sinner knows that your only motive is to help him out, which can only happen if the person reproving is him or herself careful in the Mitzvah. Many medroshim will teach us that Aharoin Hakoihen had this unique ability. He was known for making peace between those arguing and fighting. He internalized all the lessons and virtues of the heylige Toirah, and was able to reprove the sinners effectively. Avada it’s good to be like Aharoin who despite having lost two sons in this week’s parsha was able to internalize the lesson being taught by the RBSO and move on.
Though Achrei Mois does extensively cover the Yom Kippur service as performed by the Koihen, one could easily get the impression that these two parshios in the heylige Toirah are primarily about sexual relations, all of the forbidden variety. One wouldn’t be all that wrong. There is avada other content and every word of the heylige Toirah is zicher holy, meaningful and special ober none of it will chap you quite the same way, and the major point of both parshios is that one shouldn’t be chapping where one isn’t supposed to. Shoin! In both, the heylige Toirah presents the laws of arayos (forbidden sexual relationships). It outlines in great detail all the familial relationships which render sexual contact forbidden, as well as other forbidden relations, including homosexuality (unless, as we have discussed in the past, one applies for the ‘Rebbe in Yeshiva exemption’ also later extended to others who work with boys), relations with animals (especially vilde chayis, if you chap), and so on. Acharei-Mois (Vayikro 18) specifically delineates the actual prohibitions of arayois and warns us not to violate them. And if you want to get scared straight, read and study Parshas Kedoshim (chapter 20) wherein the Toirah prescribes the punishment for each of the violations listed in the preceding parsha, and then some. It’s not a pretty picture and zicher you’d be much better off going home to the eishes chayil, no matter how challenging the thought, if you chap. Or maybe not!
And before some of you wisenheimers start sending mail accusing the Oisvorfer of writing ’schmutz’, let me kindly point you to the text of the heylige Parsha, the Rashi, the Gemoras, and myriad medroshim who, like the Oisvorfer, were trying to make sense of these very detailed encounters one should avoid. Let’s keep in mind that the Oisvorfer is merely for the most part, repeating what other very holy people wrote and whose writings, despite their content, seemingly made their way into such places as the heylige Gemora, the Mikro’ois Gedoilois versions of the Chumish (mandated by every Yeshiva high school – boys and girls) and other very choshova seforim. What’s taka pshat? Many wonder why these forbidden relations are spelled out in such detail in both Parshas. Wasn’t one parsha enough to cover the material? Or, why not just tell us that a man can only be with his eishes chayil and that’s it? Why the theatrics? What the hec is going on here?
Nu, some say that there is a Talmudic principle which states “ein onshim elah im kein mazhirim” (A punitive action is not meted out for the transgression of a prohibition unless there is a prior scriptural warning.) Others, not just oisvorfs, suggest that the RBSO wanted to give the Yiddin some time to wean themselves off the myriad such relationships they had efsher enjoyed while in Mitzrayim or even in the Midbar, pre Matan Toirah and gave the Yiddin a shtikel quiet period to clean up their acts. Some ask why these ‘don’t dos’ aren’t then listed respectively in any one parsha? The unusual placement of these sexual transgressions begs for further interpretation and avada we should dig deeper, why not?
And taka many, many commentators asked the same questions and it’s the Oisvorfer’s tafkid (charge) to try to answer these questions without sweeping these gehoibene (elevated) concepts under the proverbial rug and to shed some light onto the matter. Nu, lommer unfangin and see what some have to say about these. And since both parshas cover these relationships, at times, we’ll just lump them together.
Just for educational purposes, you should know that the first three aliyois of Achrei Mois are all about Yoim Kippur and the Avoida (the service) of the koihain godol (high priest) on that day, but is that really vichtig on May 1? Shoin, there is taka plenty of time until Yom Kippur and the thought of doing tshuva is nowhere near the radar ober forbidden relations are always nearby. Nu, where were we? Let’s get back to Arayos because avada kuli-alme-loi-p’ligi (no one would argue in Gemora lingo), this topic is always sadly relevant, and, avada, one that you could all use some chazorra (review) on.
Some ask yet another sheaylo (question). The list of prohibitions in Parsha #1 of this week’s laining commences with illicit familial relations (mishpocho incest) and concludes with deviant relations and acts (adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, oy vey). Ober , in Parsha #2, it’s punkt farkert (opposite) where deviant relations and acts come first, if you chap, followed by incestuous relations. Vus epes the change in order? Avada only people who mamish look into these words so deeply and chazir them over and again would taka notice these subtle differences and seemingly, there are nebech many such people. And taka why? Ver veyst.
Is incest taka so giferlich? Well, not according to everyone, and in fact, says the Seforno (18:6) azoy: marriage to one’s close relatives would seem to be ideal. The shared values, backgrounds, and personalities should combine to produce wonderful children. As evidence for this claim, he cites no lesser a personality than Amrom, who married his Tanta (aunt) Yoicheved (seemingly mutir (permissible) prior to the giving of the Toirah). And what came forth from this union? No lesser a giant of a person by the name of Moishe Rabaynu. And let’s not forget his siblings Aharoin and Miriam who between them, get mentioned in every single parsha in the heylige Toirah from their emergence on the scene until the last Parsha in the gantze Toirah. Shoin, case closed! Nu, given such kinderlach from this union, why did the RBSO change His mind and declare these relationships out of bounds? Doesn’t it taka make sense to marry relatives who understand our own shtick, minhogim, mishigassin, desires, and idiosyncrasies?
Answers the Seforno to his own question and says azoy: had it been the case that the intentions of the couple were solely leshaym shomayim (noble purposes), such unions would indeed be successful and their children would be exceptional. Ober in reality, it’s nebech not the case because human nature shows that people are but chazerim, for the most part. Along with the RambaM and Ibn Ezra, the Seforno explains that the RBSO ideally prefers that people be completely focused on and dedicated to serving Him, ober because we are human, He had no choice but to permit marital relations.
However, in an effort to minimize sexual relations (even of the permitted variety), the Toirah forbade relations with all of a person’s close relatives. Because the person -say you, by way of example- would so frequently be surrounded by them, and this regular contact could easily lead to constant involvement in your base (sub) human desires and avada this could lead to mixed dancing and worse. What could be worse, ver veyst? And more…..since such desires and acting upon them, would distract us from focusing on elevating ourselves and achieving our true spiritual purposes, the Toirah therefore prohibited these relationships. Seemingly, elevation is not always a good thing, if you chap.
Ober the RambaN wasn’t very tzifridin (satisfied) with this pshat and said azoy: 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 to free him to pursue spiritual endeavors. In other words: intimacy is a good thing. He argues that it’s mamish illogical that marrying one’s daughter or sister should be punished so severely when somebody else, lemoshol (by way of example) Shlomo Hamelech married 1,000 wives with impunity. Nu, it’s avada good to be the king! As a result, the RambaN suggests that the entire concept of forbidden relationships falls into the category known as chukim and avada you recall from our previous learning, that chukim are mitzvos which we perform only because that’s what the RBSO ordered and if He taka ordered them, mistama there’s good and sound logic for them. And the fact that your little heads, if you chap, can’t internalize these concepts, does not exonerate you from violating these laws. Moreover, who says we have to chap and understand all that the RBSO asks of us? Our job is to believe and follow orders. Especially these, since they carry the death penalty in various varieties; yikes.
Ober why taka are unions between close relatives taka off-limits? Some say it’s to prevent genetic disorders caused by inbreeding. Ober it’s clear from looking at the expansive list of no-nos that the heylige Toirah wasn’t really concerned about such issues. Avada we know that genetic risks aren’t increased when marrying a stepmother, a sister-in-law, or the wife of one’s uncle and still it’s a no- no (unless of course these same people were already previously related ). In fact, a man may not marry his shivgger (mother-in-law) or grandmother-in-law even after he divorces his wife or his wife dies. Shoin! Not that there is much demand for such unions, ober the heylige Toirah wasn’t taking any chances. Basically, the mother-in-law status (but not always the relationship) stays intact forever: once a shvigger, always a shvigger and it’s hands off, no matter how desirous, even for revenge for giving you her tuchter (daughter).
Ober said the RambaM azoy: the heylige Toirah forbade 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 said osur (no) to 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. Es veyst tzich ois (seemingly), many of the heylige neshei chayil (wives) understood and chapped the essence of the RambaM’s writings and taka do their part to limit dramatically physical contact and taka also desire such contact only occasionally, efsher rarely. Nu, efsher that’s why taka the RBSO did allow (and still does) a man to have multiple wives. Between a dozen or more, the man will zicher be tzifridin (satisfied), though it took at least 18 for Dovid Hamelech and epes 1,000 for Shlomo Hamelech. Can you just imagine?
Rabbaynu Bachya adds a few very interesting thoughts to being holy: Ershtens (first of all), being holy means that each spouse, both husband and wife must maintain pure and holy thoughts while having permitted relations. Shoin, another nice theory ober…..when was the last time that happened and is this at all possible, ver veyst? He also emphasizes that both men and women are included in this requirement, since, as the medrish, cited by Rashi, tells us, this Parsha (of Kedoishim) was told to all the Yiddin, veyber (ladies included). He also suggests that the reference to observing Shabbis is mentioned again in this parsha because the main time for such relations is on Friday night. And when the Toirah tells us not to turn to idols (Vayikro 19:4), it is also a veiled reference to the prohibition of gazing at women, and that the subsequent mention, in that verse, of the prohibition of making molten gods is a veiled reference to thinking of another woman while having relations with one’s wife. Oy vey!
There is seemingly some good news to report. Said Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, concerning the advice that Bilam gave to Bolok, to cause the Yiddin to sin at Ba’al Peor azoy: Bilam advised that Bolok should station beautiful women outside their tents to tempt Jewish men. When the Yiddin approached these women to sin, the women told them that they must first worship the avoida zoro known as Pe’or. The men nebech succumbed, and the RBSO immediately punished them, killing thousands. Why was this particular incident so heinous that so many people were killed and why is this being mentioned here? Said the Rav: while arayos by itself, and avoidah zoro by itself, are each giferliche and despicable acts, neither by itself, pose a threat to the continued existence of the Jewish people. However, when the two are combined, they constitute a lifestyle of completely unbridled behavior, a lifestyle which is in complete contradiction to all that the Toirah stands for, and, thus merits immediate retribution. In other words: whatever you do, which should be none of the above, make sure it’s not both together.
A gittin shabbis-