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Friday - Shabbat, April 15 - 16 Parshat Acharei 

Torah Reading: Acharei (Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30)
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Shabbat ends 8:19 PM

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In this week’s parsha the Torah details the manner in which Aaron—and all subsequent High Priests—were to perform the service on Yom Kippur. Normally the Kohain Gadol-High Priest - would wear golden vestments. However for the special service that involved his entry into the Holy of Holies (the inner precinct of the Sanctuary) on Yom Kippur he would wear simple white linen garments.

One would have imagined that precisely when the holiest Jew (the Kohain Gadol) enters into the holiest place on earth (the Holy of Holies) on the holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur) that he should wear the most precious and ornate garments. Why then was he commanded to remove them and, instead, only to wear the plain white linen garments?

The Talmud and Midrash anticipated this question and responded to it in two ways. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 26a) invokes the legal principle: “Ain kateigor na’aseh saneigor-a prosecutor cannot become a defender.” In other words the Kohain Gadol’s service was to atone for the sin of the golden calf in addition to other sins. Vestiges of that sin still continue centuries after the original incident of the golden calf and, in fact, will only be removed with the coming of Moshiach in the era of the final Redemption. And since gold was the source of their transgression, wearing golden vestments would have aroused the incriminating memory of that tragic sin. Gold is compared to a prosecutor because it is what caused this most heinous transgression. It could therefore not serve as a source of atonement for that very sin; it cannot become the “defender.”

 The Midrash adds another answer to this question as to why the Kohain Gadol would not wear his golden vestments when entering the holy of holies: “The Torah has pity on the money of the Jewish people.”

This answer is puzzling. Using the logic of “the Torah having pity for the money of the Jewish people” one might have argued that it should not have been worn at all throughout the year. So why is it that on the one day when it would seem most appropriate to use the most exquisite of the garments was it denied? Furthermore the Kohain Gadol did, in fact, wear the golden vestments on Yom Kippur. Only when he entered the Holy of Holies he was required to remove the golden ones and don the plain linen garments.

Commentators explain that there is a law that prohibits the use of the garments used in his entry into the Holy of Holies for any other occasion; even for the next year’s service. Hence if he were to wear his golden vestments, he would have had to purchase new ones every year. This would have constituted an extraordinary expense of the Jewish people's money.

However, it is clear that the golden vestments were not just for decoration. They were the physical manifestation of spiritual adornment and richness. And if wearing golden vestments meant that he would now be equipped with the most effective means of enhancing his spiritual stature, why was he to be denied that power when it would have seemed most needed?
To answer this question we must delve more deeply into the Talmudic principle that “the Torah has pity on the money of the Jewish people.” This principle is often substituted in the Talmud (Menachot 89) for the opposite rule: “There is no place for poverty in a place of wealth.” This means that in the Temple they were not to skimp on the things that were necessary for the sacrifices and other services. Why is it then that in some instances they valued and incorporated gold and other signs of affluence because they reflected a parallel dimension of spiritual wealth, while in other instances they would avoid incurring such extra expenses?

To answer this question we must examine the use of the word “pity” employed by the Talmud and Midrash in this regard. Where else do we find the concept of “pity” in our tradition?

The answer to this question can be found in the order of Passover Seder when we eat the Romaine Lettuce as one of the forms—and indeed the most preferred form—of bitter herbs. The Aramaic word for Romaine Lettuce is chasa which the Talmud (Pesachim 39a) translates as “G‑d has pity.”
 Moreover the very name for this Holiday of Passover in Hebrew is Pesach. One of the translations of Pesach, as rendered by the classical Aramaic translator Onkeles as well as Rashi, is “G‑d had pity.” 
 At this point we should pause to better understand of the dynamics of pity, or mercy, and how it ties in with the more basic translation of Pesach—also rendered by Rashi—as Passover.

When a person is deserving of assistance the helper does so not out of pity or compassion but out of a feeling of doing what is right. When however someone does not deserve to be helped, and despite of that we do help this person, we call this act pity or compassion. The act of compassion is to pass over and ignore the arguments that favor our not helping that person. Compassion involves passing over and circumventing one’s own sense of justice and fairness.

In theological terms, G‑dly compassion involves revealing a dimension of G‑d that transcends the parameters that He Himself created and made part of the operating system of the universe. Such compassion is an expression of the ultimate miracle. In fact the greatest part of the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea was not the suspension of the natural law that governs the flow of water. Rather, the greatest part of the miracle was that G‑d ignored the argument of the angels who declared: “Both of these groups are idolaters; what distinguishes one from the other?” To save the Israelites G‑d had to overrule the angels who are the representatives and advocates of the very system that G‑d Himself put into place. 

 We can now understand the concept that “the Torah has pity on the money of the Jewish people” also on a higher level. It does not just mean that we try to save money to avoid impoverishing the community. It also may mean that there are times that G‑d overrides the system of money and articles of value such as gold, and renders the benefits that accrue from, unnecessary. 

 Gold, money, and all of our material resources are part of G‑d’s creation which provide us with the means to serve G‑d. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that G‑d created gold specifically for the construction of the Mishkan, the Holy Temple in the desert, as well as subsequent sanctuaries. Out of sheer benevolence, G‑d allows us to enjoy the use of gold as well. But we must always remember that gold and, by extension, all material goods are intended for a higher purpose.

How do we prove our worthiness to G‑d? One measure of our relationship with G‑d is determined by the way we utilize our resources—particularly our most precious resources—to serve Him. The more we are willing to spend on helping the needy, supporting Jewish education, purchasing supplies for the Shabbat and Jewish Holidays, et al, the more we show how much we appreciate the real reason we have been given all of these possessions. This is the mode of serving G‑d in a state of wealth.

However on Yom Kippur the Kohain Gadol, when he entered into the Holy of Holies, did not wear his golden vestments because he did not need them; he transcended them. As he entered this holiest place on earth he touched the Essence of the Divine which was far beyond gold and every other expression of sophistication. He overrode the system in the same manner that G‑d overrode His own system by taking us out of the Egyptian exile. Thus on Yom Kippur when in the Holy of Holies, the Kohain Gadol no longer needed to prove his/our spiritual worthiness. He/we no longer need the gold to serve G‑d. He/we can serve Him with the simplest of garments, with the simple, sincere and pure expression of our souls. At this juncture G‑d does not need our sophistication; He wants simplicity.

And here we see the connection between the Torah reading—which discusses the Yom Kippur service—and the upcoming Passover Holiday. Both of these holy days have the twin elements of compassion and passing over. On Yom Kippur the Kohain Gadol divests himself of and “passes over” the conventional use of gold and glitter—“the Torah has pity on (i.e. empowers us to override the need for) the money of Israel.” Similarly, on Passover G‑d has pity on the Jewish nation and overrides His system of justice to liberate them from Egypt as they were, unadorned. (Indeed, there is a custom in some communities to wear a kittel—the white garment that is worn on Yom Kippur—at the Seder. Both days express the idea of G‑d not looking for wealth but preferring our simple devotion that emanates from the soul.)

The Shabbat before Passover is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Sabbath. Countless reasons have been given for the distinction this Shabbat enjoys in being so named. This year’s reading of the parsha, which best highlights the role of the Kohain Gadol, ties in with Shabbat HaGadol. Both feature the idea of “gadol” which means "great". Shabbat is the day which provides is with the inspiration and power we need for the events of the forthcoming week. Hence it is this Shabbat that endows Passover with the power of Divine mercy which enables us to pass over all the obstacles to Redemption.   
The final Redemption is modeled after the first liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt. However there is one significant difference between them. Whereas the Exodus from Egypt required an act of Divine compassion because they did not yet earn their worthiness, but the final Redemption is different. The thousands of years of dedication and sacrifice for G‑d, His Torah, and His people have made us the most spiritually wealthy and deserving people. However, the idea of simplicity acquires a new meaning. For despite our wealth, i.e., our worthiness, and notwithstanding all of our investments into the ultimate Redemption, we will reap much more. We will then discover infinitely more than however much we have put into it. Our incredible efforts and accumulation of wealth today are really rather poor and minuscule relative to the wealth which we will receive in the future. 

This is how Chassidic thought interprets the enigmatic words of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) that Moshiach will come when we are distracted from his coming. The original Hebrew words hesech ha’da’at, however, convey a far different meaning: Moshiach’s coming will reveal such glory and grandeur that they will exceed our wildest imagination. May we see the complete fulfillment of this promise, Now!  

Moshiach Matters       
The yearning for Moshiach alone is enough to bring about his revelation, as it says in the Midrash: "A generation that searches for my sovereignty will be immediately redeemed." (Yalkut Shimoni)

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