Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) What Hides Behind Our Curtain?

people in concert
Photo by Sebastian Ervi on

There are many layers to this week’s portion. We are steeped in ritual instructions from sacrifices to Yom Kippur and we end with a very challenging chapter that details a variety of prohibitions that often speak to sexual taboos. But I wanted to raise one small item that appears at the very beginning of the portion. In Leviticus 16:2 we read: “God spoke to Moses: Tell Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die, for I appear in the cloud over the cover”. The context of the verse is that it follows the death of Aaron’s sons who brought, several portions ago, “alien fire” and were killed.
The curtain! Aaron cannot just access this special area when he feels like it. There is this curtain. A while ago we read that Moses was prohibited from seeing God’s face as God placed a hand to block the view and we also see other instances of coverings being used to hinder the view of God. Why? One can reflect on the Wizard of Oz and the curtain that hid the reality of who the wizard was. What hinders us from “seeing” the sacred? Is it a message that to truly embrace God or the sacred in life we must pull back that which prohibits us?
In a collection of comments by Martin Buber, Rabbi Dennis Ross writes” “On the significance of the curtain that blocks admission to the sacred, Buber relates how Rabbi Eliezer of Koznitz teaches that when a window curtain is closed, there is nothing to see. But when a person draws open a curtain, a beloved can gaze in. The physical and spiritual curtains of daily life allow or shut of access.”* I ask you to think about this image as it may relate to our lives now. Watching the news shakes us. There are, it seems, so many “curtains” that are preventing so many from honest discussion of issues. There is a paucity of wisdom amid a sea of information. Likewise, so many of us, in our personal lives, stay impacted by the curtains of issues and beliefs that we keep shut, not allowing other ideas or opportunities for understanding to enter. Are so many imprisoned by the curtains of belief or ideology?
Can members of our generation, possessing a wealth of life experience, who have lived through times of tumult, can we have the courage to pull back the curtains and engage in honest conversations? As you engage the study of Torah this Shabbat, maybe we can ask what barriers, curtains, veils, masks hold us back from seeing the sacred, in each other, in life, in opportunities for understanding. Many things can be true at once. The curtains of ignorance keep the light of understanding out. We cannot afford this. Just read history!
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address
• “A Year with Martin Buber”. Rabbi Dennis S. Ross. JPS p.125

Be the first to comment

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.