Acharei Mot/Kedoshim 5783 – Yedid Nefesh
“The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
In this week’s parsha, Acharei Mot, God says to the people of Israel,
כְּמַעֲשֵׂ֧ה אֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַ֛יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּ֖הּ לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֑וּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂ֣ה אֶֽרֶץ־כְּנַ֡עַן אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲנִי֩ מֵבִ֨יא אֶתְכֶ֥ם שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א תֵלֵֽכוּ׃
“Do not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow in their ways.” (Lev. 18:3)
As Nehama Leibowitz writes in her Torah commentary, “The children of Israel, who had left and were about to enter a highly civilized environment after their long wanderings in the desert, were particularly susceptible to the cultural attractions… of their past and future neighbors. We know today, only too well, how the technical achievements of civilization do not always reflect similar advancement in the field of ethics and morality.”
Instead of assimilating and becoming like their neighbors, God says,
“וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם הָאָדָ֖ם וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י ה'”
You shall keep My laws and My rules, and in doing them you shall live: I am Adonai.” (Lev. 18:4)
Judaism is a counter-cultural religion. In a society where prosperity and work are paramount, Judaism reminds us to take care of those who are vulnerable and to take time to rest and gather in community. These instructions, these ways, allow us to truly “live” as opposed to just racing through life.
And so we can reread another verse earlier in the parsha in this lens as well:
וְאַל־יָבֹ֤א בְכל־עֵת֙ אֶל־הַקֹּ֔דֶשׁ
God said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at all times into the “Holiness.” (Lev. 16:2)
Don’t come at all times to the Holy of Holies. Too much of anything is not a good thing. This goes both ways. It goes for the true holiness of the Kodesh Kodashim, and it goes for anything else we might call holy, or hold as holy in our minds. If work, for us, is holy, and we are working all the time and claiming its importance, that’s problematic too. That’s what Shabbat does for us. It’s a pause. A gift of presence. A moment in time. And it’s a moment where we come running to be together with our beloved, with God and with family and friends.
That’s what Yedid Nefesh is all about. Yarutz Avdach kmo ayal…like a deer we come running. Nafshi cholat Ahavatach…my soul is sick with longing for you. Even when we’re hurting, especially when we’re hurting… Az titchazek v’titrapeh, in coming together we will be strengthened. We will be healed. This intense emotion that we’re feeling needs a place of release. This can’t be our normal. וְאַל־יָבֹא בְכל־עֵת, V’al yavo b’chol eit, don’t let this be our every moment. Don’t be susceptible to the rat race around you, but rather let this Shabbat serve as our eit kodesh, our momentary, fleeting holiness.