I’d like to come up with some really interesting and deep commentary on Acharei Mot¸ a really fascinating chapter, but frankly I’m just too swamped with PP (Passover Prep). And isn’t it just a bit ironic that, in and amongst the shopping and the cleaning and the cleaning and the cleaning, and the cabinets and the cooking, and oh yes, some more cleaning (ok, maybe you don’t have to do as much cleaning as I do….I need to get the topsoil off before I can even get to the Passover layer), we get to read about lots and lots of sex? Who’s got that kind of time, the week before Passover?
Ok, it’s not just about sex qua sex, it’s about who you can and can’t have sex with. Like most of us have that many choices. And there’s so much other important stuff in this parasha, too, like “Don’t lie with a male as with a woman” (Lev. 18:22) which begs for denouncement of the prevalent hateful interpretation. But I’ve got to finish clearing that shelf. Then there’s all these truly inappropriate liaisons , like fathers and granddaughters, nephews and aunts, sons and sisters, and any hook up with beasts (you get the idea), that were apparently happening all over Egypt, where we used to live, “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt…” (Lev. 18:3) No wonder we wanted to get out of there, which brings us back to Passover and the holy Prep. Then there’s all this great text about what can and can’t be eaten, as it pertains to dead things – blood, animals that have been torn by beasts – more blurring of the lines between life and death, kind of how I feel after I finish the refrigerator, freezer, stove, and oven – somewhere between life and collapse.
And here I sit writing this, with my Torah text open, and the cabinets are crying out to me, like the Israelites did to God, asking God to get them out of slavery. (Irony #2 – I’m cooking and cleaning, for days on end, preparing for a holiday that celebrates not being a slave anymore…hmmm.)
So, instead I notice the phrase, “Thus he (Aaron) shall purge the Shrine of the uncleanness and transgression of the Israelites, whatever their sins…..and consecrate it” (Lev. 16:16…18). The text may be referring to Yom Kippur, but I’m thinking Passover. (Besides, I can’t think about another big holiday season just yet.) Aaron is getting instructions on how to clean (again, that word!) the Mishkan, (Tabernacle), so he can begin acting on behalf of the community, removing the stains of inappropriate behavior through the transformative power of water, washing body and clothes, so the community can begin anew. Renewed. Like spring again. Like Passover.
And we’re back.
Maybe that’s what I love so much about Torah. Here I am, completely focused on PP, yet curious to see if I can find something relevant in this week’s parasha, and there it is: cleansing and renewing. Starting over and starting free. Aaron stands up in front of the community, and sends their mistakes off into the wilderness, so the people’s relationship with God can be re-set. We enter that same wilderness generations later, to begin again as a renewed people, with another relationship with God, a deeper, redemptive one. In Acharei Mot, we shake off what’s been holding us back from God-closeness; that is, not paying attention to the distinctions in life and making poor choices in our core behavior of where we’re putting our bodies, and what we’re putting into them. Being so puffed up with chametz (leavening), we can’t see clearly that some things one just doesn’t do, and we need to purge that behavior out of our environment. Sometimes it’s about illicit affairs, sometimes it’s about eating torn-apart animals, and sometimes it’s just about too much puffed-up-ness in our kitchens and in our lives.
Back to the cabinets. If you’re deep into PP too, thanks for reading this far. Now get back to it. Have a great Pesach, one in which you find yourself truly liberated from the “narrows”, the mitzrayim¸(Egypt – but also from the word, metzar, which means narrow). May you come through the narrow places in your life, cross the transformative waters, and begin your journey, renewed and free.