Commentary for Acharei Mot

6 May

Every parshah in the Torah are labeled by its incipit, a word or two from the first verse or two of the parshah that serves as a header for at least the first section of the parshah (if not the entire parshah), to make it easy to identify which section we are talking about, with each parshah being given a unique incipit to avoid confusion. This week’s parshah is named “Acharei Mot,” meaning “after the death [of Aaron’s two sons].”

Contrary to what one would expect with a title like this, the subject of Aaron’s sons is never brought up again in this parshah. After this phrase in Lev. 16:2, the second verse of the parshah, the Torah launches into a detailed explanation of the Yom Kippur sacrifice and its ceremony. The title “Acharei Mot,” also doesn’t seem to hold up as chronological transition, as Aaron’s sons died three parshahs ago, and their death has not been mentioned since the end of that section.

While neither the subject matter of the parshah nor its chronological position seem to have any relevance to the parshah’s title to the average reader at first glance, the reason for that is simple: We are not Aaron. Since the deaths of Aaron’s sons, all of the laws given have been given to both Moses and Aaron to disseminate to the people, or laws given to Moses himself to disseminate. Any time a priest has been required, it has been specified that the job can be done by any of the priests. Now it is time for the Yom Kippur sacrifice and ceremony, a job that can only be done by the High Priest: Aaron himself. The words “acharei mot” are a wake-up call to Aaron. He has suffered a terrible, painful loss, and he has grieved, but he cannot grieve forever. He has responsibilities to his community that he must attend to. While it is impossible to ignore that his life will never be the same as it was before his sons died, he must accept the new status quo and move on into this new normal for the sake of those who are counting on him who are still living.

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