Acharei-Mot - My Birthday Parsha

by Barbara Diamond Goldin

I was born at 5:16 PM on the day of Erev Yom Kippur, October 4, 1946.

The parsha for that Shabbat, Achare Mot, comes after the death of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu “who drew too close to God’s presence.” The parsha talks of the duties of Aaron the High Priest on the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, of how he should dress and wash himself; of the offerings he is to make to God, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the Jewish people. It talks of offerings of incense, choice flour mixed with oil, of bulls and the sprinkling of the blood in the Shrine where the ark is and in the Tent of Meeting. It describes the ceremony of the two goats where one is chosen by lots to be sacrificed to God, and the other is to be sent out into the wilderness carrying all the sins of the people with it.

When I first read over the parsha, I had no idea how to relate it to my life. All this priestly stuff and the scapegoat? I seemed to have more questions than comments, let alone any “answers.”

Could it relate somehow to the fact that there were Cohanim in my family, I wondered? My great grandfather was a Cohen who served as a leader in his community in Eastern Europe. Was this to be my connection to the parsha?

And there was that message to be careful when approaching God. To prepare and perform certain rituals beforehand. To have a sense of how to go about approaching God. I wondered about Aaron’s two sons. Did they not prepare to step into God’s presence? Did they not know how? Were they rash and presumptuous, uneducated?

And now their father Aaron in his pain is guided exactly on how to take his steps into the Divine Light, what to wear and how to do it so he doesn’t get burned. The parsha seems to be saying to me that there are instructions for doing this. I wondered if this was part of the lesson of this parsha for me now because for a long time I have had a yearning to draw closer to God, to be in the Presence, God’s Holy Light.

I have been cautious and gone about approaching God slowly, searching, investigating. Sometimes it just happens to me, and I feel the light and warmth of the Holy One easily. While there are other times I look and can’t find It. It would be nice to have a guidebook.
I thought about the fact that Aaron was a priest. He served God and the people.

How can I do that in my life?
What does it mean to serve the people?
The community? Do I have any idea?
What “garments” do I need to wear?
What coverings?
What rituals do I need to do?
What goat do I need to let go of and send into the wilderness?
What offerings do I need to make?

I find these questions helpful to me right now and a focus for myself in mid-life. They are questions that might be useful to re-ask at other points in my life, too. Just recently I joined the steering committee of a Jewish Renewal group in my community that’s suddenly growing. That’s one way perhaps that I am “serving” people.

I also write and try to make sense of things through the filter of my eyes, head, hands, soul, and to reflect it back in my writing. I try to see the humor in life’s events, the magic, the wisdom, the poignancy.

I’m looking at all my questions about the parsha not so much to find answers, but to explore what process I’m in the middle of, and what my focus could be at this time in my life.
By looking at the parsha and asking these kinds of questions, I realize that I AM serving the community in my own way through my writing and by helping to build a spiritual community where I live.

There’s also another theme in this parsha, the letting go of the goat into the wilderness. Letting go of sins, of past garbage that ties me down. In the days of the Temple, we put our sins onto a goat and released him into the desert. Now we float them down the river on crumbs of bread at tashlikh on Rosh Hashanah. I like that idea of putting my sins onto crumbs and watching them float away and starting over. Every year starting over with new questions, or maybe the same ones, but with a new look at them. I think that next year on my Hebrew birthday, I want to take this out, and look at the parsha and my questions again and see what new meaning I can find.

I can’t believe that I’m 55 years old and have never “looked” at my birthday parsha or even realized I had one. Thanks to you Reb Goldie for this chance to explore it!