This week's Torah Reading:
- Leviticus 16:1 -18:30
begins by describing the ancient rituals our ancestors performed on
. After both the
and the sanctuary have been made pure, two goats are chosen. One goat is designated "for
" and the other marked "for
" (the wilderness). The goat marked "for
" is offered as a purification offering, while the other goat is left alive. The
"shall lay both hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites...and it shall be sent off to the wilderness..." (Lev 16:21). We are then told that this day, through all time, will be a day of forgiveness and expiation of sin, a day to purify ourselves before God, a day of self-denial (i.e. fasting).
finishes with a long list of those who we are permitted and those who we are forbidden (i.e. certain relatives) to marry.
If it seems like we have been stuck on
for a long time, we have! We first began reading it on April 13 (
fternoon)) as each week we anticipate the coming week's portion by reading a small section of the next
on Shabbat afternoons and Monday and Thursday mornings. But, since then we have had two Saturdays when a special portion for
was read and only now, May 4, do we return to the regular portion!
comes at a particularly poignant time on the calendar. The title refers back to the Torah portion
(Lev. 9:1-11:47) when two of Aaron's sons died (
means after the death of...) in a "holy fire" sent by God. The Torah wants to tell us that the catastrophe of the death of Aaron's sons is followed by a description of the holiest day of the year,
. Perhaps it is saying that as tragic as their death was, life continues on. Tragedy is always difficult to overcome, but at some point it begins to recede and holiness and even celebration can follow.
That is exactly what happens on the Jewish calendar this year. This past Wednesday night we commemorated
(Holocaust Memorial Day) with our annual service and a moving talk by survivor and author Lore Segal. This coming Wednesday night the Jewish community will remember those who have fallen in defense of the State of Israel, followed by the celebration of
, Israel Independence Day. After the death of so many, both heroes and martyrs, we turn our attention to the fact that we live in a holy time, when once again there is a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. Our final reading in the
quotes Merka Shevach, a survivor of Auschwitz, who said at the 2005 memorial service commemorating the 60th anniversary of its liberation, "I was naked as a young girl. I was 16. They brought my family here and burnt them. They stole my name and gave me a number - tattoo 15755. Now, I have a country. I have an army. I have a president. I have a flag. And this will never happen again." As in our Torah portion, history too records that after tragedy, there is mourning and sadness, but ultimately holiness and celebration of life returns.