Shabbat Parashat Aharei Mot-K’doshim

Boston: April 15, 2013.

I remember the first time I had to re-write a sermon at the last minute. It was, of course, Rosh Hashanah 2001, just days after the tragedy of 9/11. Sadly, once again, our daily routines are shattered. Our hearts are broken and our minds are a storm of questions: How? Why? Who? Suddenly, what I had written for this week’s e-mail D’var Torah on our double Torah portion, Acharei Mot-K’doshim, hardly seemed adequate. Are there any words, though, that are truly adequate?

Our nation has once again been rocked by terror. Whether that terror is the result of foreign or domestic evil-doers has not yet, at the time I write this, been determined. But we are a nation wounded: in 2013 alone we have experienced Sandy Hook and now, Boston; add, in the last decade alone, Columbine and 9/11; wars abroad; countless other national tragedies. Will there be no end?

In our Torah portion this week, as He does throughout Leviticus, God continues to instruct our ancestors how to be holy. Revere your mother and father; keep Shabbat; do not engage in idolatry; care for those in need; don’t steal, lie or cheat; be honest in your business practices; do not insult the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind; be fair in judgment; and love your fellow as yourself. This holiness code is given following the death of Aaron’s sons who, in last week’s Torah portion, offered “strange fire” to the LORD.

But if you take the names of our portions this week, Acharei Mot-K’doshim, you have in essence, “After the death … holiness.” Sadly, the tragedy of Boston fell on Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, just one week after the Day of Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance, Yom HaShoah. But, as it does every year, Yom HaZikaron was immediately followed by Yom Ha-atzmaut, Israel’s Day of Independence. Tragedy upon tragedy, then peace. Death after death … then holiness. But this is the history of the Jewish people, I suppose, as we learned just a few weeks ago on Passover: We Jews suffer oppression upon slavery and then … redemption.

Like you, I pray that after such tragedy we once again will know peace and even redemption. But more than that, I pray that in response to tragedy we should–as our Torah portion commands us–seek to be holy. We must strive for goodness in a world shattered by evil. We must follow the words of our Sacred Scripture that remind us not to hate other human beings but to love our neighbors as ourselves. Then and only then will those who seek to bring terror be turned back and we shall all become like the disciples of Aaron: lovers of peace and pursuers of peace.

May those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy find peace in life-eternal. May the survivors and mourners find comfort and healing. May those who seek holiness be given strength and may we all be blessed with peace.

– Rabbi Aaron L. Starr

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