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    What happens after death? – Acharei Mot

    April 18th, 2021

    The sidra of Acharei Mot deals with “after death”, but it does not ask what happens to the person or persons who have died.

    Its theme is what happens in earthly history after someone has concluded their lifetime. It is an important issue, since we all hope that we have made such an impact on other people that we have changed the course of history.

    As for the person who has died, Kohelet confesses his puzzlement. Mi Yode’a, he says in his final chapter, “Who knows what happens?”

    Later on the Tanach expresses firm, strong belief that there is life after death, and clues were found in the Torah to verify that the soul is immortal. That is why Maimonides inserts the doctrine of the afterlife and the resurrection of the dead in his thirteen principles of Judaism.


    Having a holiday – K’doshim

    April 18th, 2021

    The English word “holiday” was originally “holyday”.

    In Judaism every day is or ought to be a holyday. Not in the sense of a day off, but in the sense of devoting the day to holiness, everyday holiness in which whatever we do, say or think is in accord with the teaching of the Torah.

    Holiness is being thoughtful to others and enriching their lives, not exploiting or cheating them. For details consult the sidra K’doshim, with its rule, “You shall be holy people”.

    There is a commentary on K’doshim which I am fond of quoting: Kaddesh atzm’cha b’muttar lach, “Make yourself holy in everything that is permitted to you”.

    You can eat and drink, but do it in a holy fashion, not like a ravening beast. Walk, sit and stand – but do it with dignity, not in a sloppy fashion. Practice a trade, but do so with honesty and honour. Speak, but not with vulgarity or venom.


    Sabbaths & sanctuary – K’doshim

    April 18th, 2021

    Vayikra 19:30 tells us, “Keep My Sabbaths and respect My sanctuary”.

    Sabbaths are times; sanctuaries are places. The Torah wants high standards in both space and time, places and occasions.

    If you wonder which is more important, the answer is “both”. Jewish life has its holy places and it has its holy days. Hallowing places is no more important than hallowing occasions – and vice-versa.

    The Ramban asks why it is wrong to desecrate them. He answers that transgressing the holy days is an insult to God who gave them. Similarly, the rule against desecrating holy places is a denial of God’s Creation of the world.

    We can also add the rabbinic idea that God endowed certain people with an extra dimension of holiness and decided to place them in the generation that needed them – and treating them without respect is an insult to the Almighty due to whom they live in our age.


    Talking about talk – M’ztora

    April 11th, 2021

    It’s strange to have a Torah portion that most people take metaphorically, but that’s what happens with M’tzora.

    Though the actual theme is leprosy, and the medical science of the Torah is interesting in itself, the sages said that its purpose is to warn us of the unpleasant consequences of evil talk, which harms the one who says it, the one that hears it and the one about whom they are speaking.

    It reminds me of a veteran rabbi who said that one of the best ways to prevent evil talk is to go to shule on Shabbat. Not just because people who know how to behave in shule stop themselves chatting with their neighbours, but not merely because it’s inappropriate but because when you’re busy listening to the Torah reading you have no time to get into conversations which tend to turn into exchanges of gossip.

    The Midrash says about the laws of leprosy that they are more of a blessing than a curse. The explanation might be that it does everyone good to have a warning about using the gift of speech wisely.

    M’tzora is a blessing in that it encourages us to weigh our words and find nice things to say about everyone.


    Rich & poor – M’tzora

    April 11th, 2021

    The Torah is worried about people who cannot afford to bring offerings to the altar (Lev. 14:21) and offers a more economical way for poor people to fulfil their obligation.

    The Chafetz Chayyim says that the terms rich and poor can be understood as referring to people who have or lack a record of Torah learning. No matter how much you have studied (or have not studied) you can still serve God.

    This applies to communal service in a wider sense. Whoever you are there are still many ways in which you can bring strength to the community. You can give time, you can give talents, you can encourage other people to join you in davening, studying and keeping the mitzvot.