Parashat Ahare Mot

The Sanctity Of Elemental Relationships

The juxtaposition of laws about the high priest on Yom Kippur, forbidden sexual relationships and laws about blood teach the sanctity of basic parts of life.

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I think it is important to note that the first and last sections are connected by more than the fact that we read them both on Yom Kippur: The opening section, detailing the Yom Kippur ritual, and, specifically the climactic moment of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies, uses words denoting coming near and entering.

First, we are reminded of how Nadav and Avihu died "b'korvatam lifnay hashem"--"when they came near before God." We are then told how Aaron may enter the sanctuary--"Bezot yavo"--"with this he may enter." The same word that was used regarding Nadav and Avihu's coming near God is used over and over in regards to the sacrifices which must be brought on that day--"V'hikriv Aharon"--"and Aaron shall bring near" (i.e. offer, sacrifice).

Forbidden Relationships

So, too, in the section at the end of the parashah, detailing the forbidden relationships, we see the same key words. The section opens with the following words--"Every man should not come near ("lo tikrevu") to their own flesh [close relatives] to reveal their nakedness." The same root "karov," to be near, is used to describe what happens on Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies, and also to describe the relationships--the "coming near"--which the Torah forbids.

This connection between the ritual of Yom Kippur and the forbidden unions communicates to us a remarkable insight about the nature of intimate relationships. The Torah is clearly paralleling the intimacy one achieves with God in the Holy of Holies with intimate sexual relations. Just as the one must not be promiscuous, casual ("Speak to Aaron your brother that he should not come AT ANY TIME to the Holy [of Holies]…so that he doesn't die."), so too, our sexual relationships must not be that way.

The coming near to, the entering of, the Holy of Holies, God's presence, described in the first section as an act which demands sanctification, ritual, and loyalty (remember the warning afterwards not to go "whoring" after other Gods by making offerings outside the Temple--outside the relationship) is paralleled by a similar view of sexuality. Our intimate relationships must also be sanctified, must be seen as something to be entered into with appropriate ritual, and to the exclusion of other unions.

It is, I think, startling to realize that the Torah, by equating these two things, is saying something radical about the ultimate importance of our intimate personal relationships. Just as our relationship with God is not to be taken lightly, and is of great, even cosmic importance--is, in fact, life-threatening in its significance--so, too, must we understand the nature of our intimate relationships.

The Torah sees human sexuality as something that closely parallels our relationship with God. Just as Eve, upon the birth of her first son, Cain, gave him his name because, as she said "Caniti ish et hashem"--"I have gotten a man, like (or with) God," we, too, are meant to see the procreative act as somehow divine, as linking us with God. Hence the concern, on the part of the Torah, that we approach that act, and the relationship pertaining to that act, with the same care, commitment, seriousness and sense of sanctity with which we approach our intimate moments with God.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.