We get the beginnings of what will emerge as the Holiness Code as we exit Acharei Mot. Again, the calendar may be a challenge for some of us, depending on which Torah reading cycle your community is observing this Shabbat. That Shabbat of Pesach has confused some. But we will look at 2 issues of the Acharei Mot this week. The restrictive pronouncements of Leviticus 18, to be placed in historical context, warn the Israelites that they should not follow the customs and practices of the people whose land they will soon inhabit. To do so will bring ruin and allow them to stray from the worship of God who brought them from Egypt. Once again, we encounter texts that speak to staying true to a determined path, a path placed in the context of Divine authorship. As the majority of modern Jewish move from this theological foundation, the challenges of adapting Judaism to modernity ( a challenge now centuries old) become very real. How many of us, in our life, have adapted a custom, a Jewish law or practice to fit in to our life style?
There is another text in the portion, a very famous one at that. It is from the section describing priestly behavior and discusses the ritual for the removal of sins/misdeeds etc. Aaron is seen as making “expiation” for his sins and the we see that he brings a goat and, as the text states, “lays both hands on the head of the goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man” (Leviticus 16:21) This the “scapegoat” is created.
If only it were that easy. This precursor of the Yom Kippur liturgy is easier said than done. We get to our age and often find ourselves reflecting on the past. How many of us carry with us into maturity feelings of “if only”, or I “should have done this”, or “I could have done that”? Letting go of past hurts, decisions that went awry is not easy. Yet, part of our own approach to healthy aging may include the ability to “let go” of that which still hold us, even controls us. This is not easy for these issues may involve relationships, family issues, etc. Some people have actually adapted rituals such as tashlich to “let go” of these past issues. There is some great value in this, I suggest. It is often easier to focus on what was rather than look to an uncertain future. But Judaism looks ahead and, so, we can re-imagine this period between Passover and Shavuot, as we count the omer , as a time that we focus on letting go of that which holds us and inhibits us so that we can embrace our future with health and life.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.