Pearls of Rashi – Acharei Kedoshim

This week’s Torah portion, Acharei-Kedoshim, begins by teaching us the order of the service of the High Priest in the Tabernacle and the Temple on Yom Kippur. As a prelude to this, we are told that these commandments were given (Vayikroh 16:1) “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they drew near before the Lord and died.” Why is this introduction to the laws which apply to the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur necessary? Rashi explains that (ibid.) “Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah explained this with a parable of a patient whom a doctor came to visit. The physician said to him, ‘Do not eat cold foods or lie down in a cold, des damp place.’ Then, another doctor visited him and said to him, ‘Do not eat cold foods or lie down in a cold, damp place so that you will not die the way that so-and-so died.’ The second doctor’s warning was more effective than the first. Therefore the Torah says ‘after the death of Aaron’s two sons.’”

What does Rashi’s allegory come to teach us? Everything in Torah provides each of us with a timeless lesson. The Rebbe explains that generally one who is ill suffers from fever; he is very hot. Therefore it is natural for him to want to eat cold food and stay in cold places. Just warning him not to do so will not help; his desire is too great. It is only by telling him of the possible consequences that one can successfully curb this behavior.

The same is true of the High Priest. He has such a burning desire to come close to G-d that it is only natural for him to “draw too near” to Him and lose his soul. Therefore Hashem warned him of the consequences.

Maimonides teaches us (Laws of the Sabbatical Year, Chapter 13, 13) that the laws of priesthood apply “not only the tribe of Levi but to anyone whose spirit generously motivates him. It applies to one who understands on his own to set himself aside and stand before G-d. He serves Him, ministers to Him and knows Him. If he proceeds justly as Hashem made him and removes from his neck the yoke of worldly things which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies.” We see that all of us can attain the status of a High Priest. We each have this burning desire to cleave to G-d. Thus we all need the warning which was given to Aharon. We were created to serve Hashem in this world.

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos and a happy and healthy summer!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

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