After Death, Holy

We always have the opportunity to rise above our human flaws.


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Ahare Mot, Kedoshim. After Death, Holy. The mysterious yet evocative sound of the titles of this double parashah uttered together hints at the relationship between darkness and luminescence. It reveals a tension between two dimensions of the human experience: our potential for fallibility and distance from divinity, and our potential for virtue and closeness to divinity.

AJWS logoThe opening passages of these parshiyot accentuate this provocative dissonance. Parashat Ahare Mot begins: “God spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew too close to the presence of God and died. God said to Moses: Tell your brother 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.” (Leviticus 16:1-2)

We immediately confront death, tied to a realization that we are not godly. In contrast, Parashat Kedoshim opens: “God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1-2) We can be holy like the Divine.

These portrayals of humanity seem utterly contradictory, but from the depths of these contradictions there emerges a clear path of personal growth. When we open ourselves to darkness–when we honestly look upon mortality, suffering, and failure, in ourselves and in our world–we can elevate ourselves to higher planes. After Death, Holy.

Yom Kippur & Always

Yom Kippur, a main focus of Parashat Ahare Mot, beckons us to face the existential truth of our mortality and estrangement from divinity. The very concept of an annual Day of Atonement exposes us to sobering mirrors.

It reminds us that we quite helplessly slip into carelessness, corruption, and insensitivity, separating us further from the Divine. We are commanded to practice “self denial” on this day, and our consequent waves of humbling hunger remind us just how human and near to death we are.

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Sam Berrin Shonkoff is currently the Jewish student life coordinator at Stanford Hillel. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Brown University and has also studied in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, Pardes Institute, and The Conservative Yeshiva.

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