Transitioning from Death to Life

This week’s Dvar Torah was adapted by Elise Scheck Bonwitt from various articles on Elise has been actively involved in the Greater Miami Jewish Federation for many years and is currently a Vice Chair of the Board. She was chair of the Women’s Impact Initiative and President of Women’s Philanthropy, among other leadership positions. One of her children participated in the Diller Teen Fellows program; three participated in CAJE’s Leo Martin March of the Living, and all have attended or still attend Scheck Hillel Community Day School. 

As a double portion, this parshah opens with Aharei Mot (Vayikra/Leviticus 16:1-18:30) and ends with Kedoshim (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:1- 20:27). In Acharei Mot, G-d tells Aaron how to move from the death of his sons back to the journey of life, how to make the transition from death to life, and how to create rituals that move us through our periods of transitions.

Having a structure and a purpose is one of the ways that helped Aaron make that transition from his own grieving and loss over his sons’ death to getting back to life. Aharei Mot begins with G-d telling Aaron exactly when and how he is to represent the Israelites on the holiest day of the year—Yom Kippur—as his role on this day was crucial to the spiritual wellbeing of the people.

And the message of this parshah applies to us during this pandemic as well. The Torah teaches us how to develop a sense of balance in our lives by mandating that we establish boundaries, structure and rituals to help us in our life journey.

As we move into Kedoshim, we are given further direction on how to create holiness in our lives as part of the process. We are empowered with the ability to transform ourselves ritually to become more holy people.

The parshah dictates dozens of mitzvot/ commandments including --the prohibitions against idolatry, revenge and theft, the mitzvah of charity, the principle of equality before the law, Shabbat, honesty in business, honor and awe of one’s parents, and the sacredness of life.

In our behaviors, we are given examples of G-d’s holiness and told to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. These behaviors and rituals, among many others, make us aware of others and serve as a directive for how to live our lives.

Also in Kedoshim is the dictum which the great sage Rabbi Akiva called the cardinal principle of Torah, and of which Hillel said, “This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary,” namely: “Love your fellow/neighbor as yourself.” What these sages are suggesting is that every single verse in the Torah is meant to teach us how to show love for our fellow human being.

How appropriate to be reading this parshah now while we are all in transition from COVID-19 to hopefully some measure of redemption soon for us individually and as a community! In these days of great transition in America, Israel and around the world, we look to our sacred stories for guidance.

Practically speaking, we can start each morning saying that we will love others like we love ourselves, speak only well of others, and care for the property and possessions of others.

Under these unprecedented times, we should always be on the lookout for opportunities --to do a favor for someone else, bring people together, help others and invite family and friends to share in your mitzvot.

We can look to Kedoshim for ways to enact holiness, to determine for ourselves what we can do to bring holiness into our families, our communities and the world at large.

This is an interesting and important time to stand collectively and individually, reassessing the values that are inherent in just being good. For me personally, I appreciate the opportunity to engage others to get involved, drive by the hospital to cheer on health care workers, donate food to Kosher Food Bank and interview those who are in desperate need through the Hebrew Free Loan Association.

Thank you to our Greater Miami Jewish Federation community for supporting all of us through these difficult times and allowing us the many opportunities to bring holiness into our lives and perform the mitzvah of helping others.

We are a community, which is why when one of us suffers, we all suffer.

In that light, I would like to dedicate this dvar torah to my daughters’ classmate at Scheck Hillel Community Day School – Shalom Benchimol (z”l)-- who was hit by a car while riding his bike and tragically passed away yesterday. May his memory  always be a blessing. 

Shabbat Shalom


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