Parashat Achrei Mot- Kedoshim 5780
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
I have never been more depressed to read the JC.
For years I have read the paper and have sometimes been upset about some of their pieces which can be perceived as anti-Orthodox. Yet their editorial this week which completely attacked part of the strictly Orthodox community in Golders Green, Stamford Hill and Williamsburg – was spot on, and that was why it was so depressing.
The Chief Rabbi this week correctly said about these incidents ‘they are endangering their lives, they are endangering the lives of others and they are causing a tremendous Chillul Hashem – it is indefensible and it is disgraceful.’
The question we must ask ourselves is how can this be happening!
As the JC reminds us, the Torah commands us to go to extreme length for Pikuach Nefesh. We learn ‘V Chai Bahem’ – and you shall live by them in this week’s Parsha, which the Gemara in Sanhedrin makes very clear that the need to preserve life supersedes the observance of all mitzvot save for the three cardinal sins.
So what is going on? How are secret minyanim, hidden weddings and large public funerals still happening? And how are they being performed by learned, religious, passionate Jews?
I want to look at the start of the parsha for an answer.
‘And Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aaron after the deaths of Aarons two sons when they approached before Hashem and died’ (Vayikra 16:1).
Here, it seems to say that the reason they died is because they approached Hashem, yet Onkelos in his commentary interprets according to Rabbi Akiva who says based on Bamidbar 26:61 – that the issue was the ‘Aish Zara’ a strange fire that Hashem had not commanded, which also appeared in Vayikra 10:1 – and that was the reason for their death, not simply their appearance in the Mishkan.
Nadav and Avihu were outstanding leaders of the generation. They were going to succeed Moshe and Aaron. When they died, Moshe said to Aaron ‘Hashem will be sanctified through those who are nearest Him’. Rashi explains that Moshe explained to Aaron that ‘Now I know that they were greater than either of us.’
So what went wrong? How did these learned, religious, passionate Jews get it so wrong – they brought ‘Aish Zara asher lo tziva otam’ – ‘Alien fire that Hashem has not commanded.
I believe that is what is happening today.
As Rabbi Pini Dunner wrote this week, ‘This Shabbat we will read (at home, on our own) the portion of Kedoshim, which begins with an exhortation for us to “be holy” (Lev. 19:2). In the wake of this declaration one expects a series of ritual laws and esoteric spiritual edicts that align with our understanding of the word “holy.” But what we actually get are laws which insist that we take care of the poor and underprivileged, be honest in business, be considerate and fair to others, and so on – remarkably there is nothing about davening with a minyan or attending public gatherings that might endanger others.’
Tragically certain ‘religious’ people have brought an ‘aish zara’ into the ‘Sanctuary’ and are jeopardising the sanctity of life – which Hashem and the Torah commands is our highest value.
We all should be hurting that we can no longer go to shul, visit the sick, attend shiurim, be present at funerals – but we understand that at the moment that is what Halacha demands of us – as understood by the vast majority of Orthodox Rabbis across the planet.
However, what for me is the most tragic is the following, again from Rabbi Dunner. ‘I am informed on good authority that at least one senior rabbinic authority has permitted rabbis to host prayers in their basements, as long as prayers are not held at their synagogues so as to avoid official interference, and many such clandestine gatherings meet daily.’
There were times, not so long ago and not so far away where Jews prayed in secret minyanim, or held a secret brit, or shiurim – sometimes at great risk to themselves, because if the Communists or Nazis discovered them, there could be arrests, punishments or far far worse. I have read so many of these inspiring stories of our ancestors, who were willing to die for the sanctification of Hashem’s name – al Kiddush Hashem.
However, in a sickening inversion – we now have Jews praying in clandestine minyanim in order that they are not found out by the government of the day – WHO ARE TRYING TO SAVE LIVES. These people are actually risking their lives and the lives of others to perform ……a chilul Hashem – a desecration of God’s name.
Never has the ‘Aish Zara’ been more clear.
Yet so much of the Orthodox world has been a light in this darkness, the incredible chesed by shuls, the plethora of shiurim, the commemorations and celebrations of Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. We should be rightly proud of our leadership from the Chief Rabbi here in the UK to thousands of others across the world giving strength and hope to individuals and communities and making sure that despite our current reality we are still trying to emulate Hashem by ‘Kedoshim Tihiyu’ – by being holy – looking after each other, learning Torah and davening at home – where Hashem wishes us to be – for now.
Refuah Sheleimah to all