The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is called Acharei-Mot-Kedoshim and is found in Leviticus 16:1-20:27. The parasha begins with a detailed description of the Yom Kippur ritual conducted by the high priest. The sanctuary is purified, and the priest in his elaborate vestments atones for himself, his household, and the community of Israel by means of special sacrifices. In this parasha, we also read: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Many of the Torah’s basic teachings are to be found in these two chapters. Among the wide-ranging commandments are reverence for parents, observance of the Sabbath, and the prohibitions against idolatry and false oaths. Also included are laws about the requirement to leave gleanings and designated areas of fields unharvested for the hungry poor. Various forms of deception and fraud are prohibited, as well as withholding a worker’s wages. Exploiting the vulnerable is prohibited, specifically cursing the deaf and placing a stumbling block before the blind. Various aspects of justice are explored, including the requirement to favor neither the poor (out of sympathy) nor the rich (to curry favor), but to show deference to the elderly. The fundamental Jewish value of relating to the stranger with love and fairness is prescribed and linked to the Jewish national experience of being strangers in Egypt. The obligation for honest business practices, especially honest weights and measures, is also provided.
The fundamental theme of the parasha is living a life of holiness, both as individuals and as a people. The ability to be holy is often found in our ability to see holiness and worth in others, knowing that all are created in the image of God. This week, may we be sensitive to those around us, work for justice, treat others fairly, live honestly, and strive to make this world a better place.