Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Muse: Acharei Mot – Kedoshim 2009

Acharei Mot is a portion of Torah that focuses almost entirely on Nation building. There are a host of detailed commandments ranging from the role of the high priest on Yom Kippur to acceptable sexual behavior.

The Torah was concerned with the detailed elaboration of those mitzvoth because they were to be practiced in such a way that would set them off from the other nations of the world. While the Egyptians and others had similar practices and codes, ours was purposely different in order that we would distinguish ourselves from ‘them”.

In the process of delineating the method of sacrifice and venue, we discover two messages that become central to the formation of our peoplehood and nationhood: sacrificial worship was to be centralized in order to discourage a return to pagan worship ( Leviticus 17:7) and blood was forbidden for human consumption (Leviticus 17:10). Both of these laws were aimed not so much as rules unto themselves but with another purpose in mind: to set us apart from the neighboring people and thus create a national character.

Similarly the Torah portion deals with sexual mores such as incest with the same thing in mind: adopting uniquely different sexual mores that would set us apart from the others. Setting us apart was imperative if Moshe was to succeed in the enterprise of nation building and ultimately bringing us to Israel

The purpose of all these mitzvoth while intended for nation building was ultimately introduced in order to prepare the people for their land. Settling this land and living on it successfully wasn’t guaranteed but conditional on our behavior and relationship with God. Towards the end of Acharei Mot we read “so let not the land spew you out for defiling it as it spewed out the nation that came before you”(Leviticus 18:28).

It would appear that our mitzvoth, designed to not only condition us for ethical and moral lives was designed for a higher purpose: to merit living on the land. Should the forced exile that we endured for two thousand years be understood in light of this verse (Leviticus 18:28)? What of the converse?