Rabbi Goldschmidt

Parshat Acheri Mot

The day Moses descended the mountain with the second Tablets became the holiest of days, Yom Kippur:

This time, though, the key figure would not be Moses but Aaron, not the Prophet but the High Priest – this represents a significant shift in the narrative of the Torah and is a profound reminder: the Torah cannot be entirely fulfilled by the greatest amongst us, even the role of Moshe, our greatest prophet[1], has limitations, rather Hashem desires from each of us our service, that is to serve Hashem using the unique gifts and skills that He has granted us.

Our Parsha[2] details the procedures for Yom Kippur and addresses various sexual taboos.

One of the key themes in Acheri Mot is the concept of atonement. The High Priest is instructed to perform various rituals to atone for the sins of the people. This concept of atonement is further explored in the Talmud[3]:

“Rabbi Yochanan said: The day of Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God, but for sins between man and his fellow, Yom Kippur does not atone until one appeases his fellow.”

What we learn from this passage is that while the rituals of Yom Kippur can bring atonement for our sins against God, we must also take responsibility for our actions and seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. This is a powerful message that reminds us of the importance of accountability and the need to repair relationships that have been damaged.

With regard to repentance, the Talmud asks: What are the circumstances that demonstrate that one has completely repented?

Rav Yehuda said: For example, the prohibited matter came to his hand a first time and a second time, and he was saved from it, thereby proving that he has completely repented.

Rav Yehuda demonstrated what he meant: If one has the opportunity to sin with the same woman he sinned with previously, at the same time and the same place, and everything is aligned as it was that first time when he sinned, but this time he overcomes his inclination, it proves his repentance is complete, and he is forgiven – it is noticeable that the example given mirrors the variety of forbidden relationship (boundaries) mentioned within our Parsha, this powerful idea is also considered the actual Halacha of repentance itself[4]:

Towards the bottom of this page of Talmud details the mechanism of Teshuvah – confessing and being humbled by articulating the sins/mistakes we have committed against Hashem and allowing the power of Yom Kippur which is a day of profound introspection to affect us.

Narrative therapy was developed in the 1980s by psychotherapists Michael White and David Epston, they are famously quoted with: “The problem is the problem, the person is not the problem.”

This model of approach understands therapy as a conversational process, where clients and therapists co-construct new meanings, histories, possibilities, and possible solutions to a problem – it is hard not to see this reflected in the Jewish tradition of confessional Teshuvah in which the individual speaks to Hashem until the ability to separate oneself as someone who will no longer do such an act is achieved.

Isaac Babel [5] was a Jewish Russian writer, journalist, playwright, and literary translator. He is best known as the author of Red Cavalry and the Odessa Stories and has been acclaimed as “the greatest prose writer of Russian Jewry”, he once said:

“A well-thought-out story doesn’t need to resemble real life. Life itself tries with all its might to resemble a well-crafted story.”

Our Judaism, our spiritual relationship with Hashem, our Torah and our People depends largely on the narrative that we ascribe to our experience of it – we are not involved in the writing only of our own narrative and journey but we express a collective consciousness: ultimately a community is only as strong as the way it treats its most distant member, although Teshuvah culminates on Yom Kippur, in a single day and at a specific time to wipe the slate clean with Hashem, it can only have personal meaning based on a year of inner work and building a positive narrative with ourselves, our community and Hashem.

This week we move into the Seferiah of Netzach (success) we remind ourselves that success is not achieved in a single day or battle, but ultimately by achieving the long-term victory of becoming who we desire to be and feeling good about who we are.

We remind ourselves of Yom Kippur now as we move towards Lag B’Omer signaling our movement towards Shavuot and the end of many of the mourning customs in Israel and by being focused on Teshuvah as a positive and empowering celebration of drawing closer to Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2023 ©

[1] Derech Hashem 3:5:1-3:5:7

[2] Leviticus 16:1-18:30

[3] Yoma 86b

[4] Mishneh Torah: Teshuvah 2:1

[5] 1 July 1894 – executed 27 January 1940