Parashat Acharei

Parashat Acharei
Roy da Silva
April 29, 2019

The name of this week’s parashah sets the tone for all that follows.  “After the death of (acharei mot) the two sons of Aaron,” we are drawn to confront our own mortality and to reflect on the direction of our lives.  At the root of the parashah is the question of change.  How is it that a person undergoes transformation?  What does it mean and how does it change one’s orientation to the Divine?

The parashah begins with a reminder about the penalty for the improper execution of ritual and for encroaching on the sanctuary.  The key to understanding the often arcane priestly rituals is the notion of boundaries: Divine and human, Israel and Other, priests and people of Israel.  These distinctions function as homologies in the interlocking system of boundaries: enforcing one boundary in this interconnecting system simultaneously upholds the others.  The conceptual boundaries become real in the social sphere when the people of Israel abide by the laws and perform the rituals.

It appears in this parashah that change comes about through properly performed rituals wherein the body itself is an ongoing process of flux. Both the body and the body politic have the potential to reach purity and optimal holiness.  The converse is also true.  The body can become impure and the community becomes tainted by transgression.  Neither the state of impurity nor the state of purity is permanent.  Both are time-bound and set within a spectrum between purity and impurity wherein the ritual mediates between these states, and it demarcates them so that individual and community alike can know where they stand in relation to G-d and to others.

There is no fault or sin to a person entering the state of impurity, which can be reversed through time and water. However, the states of purity and impurity are broader than the physical body and affected by moral transgressions as well.  Incest laws (Lev. 18), prohibiting people from sexual contact with their closest relatives and underscoring those prohibitions in the strongest terms, are virtually universal in all ancient and modern societies.  Incest laws were meant to make it clear that members of the opposite sex in one’s household are not to be considered as possible sexual partners.  As time went on, these laws and analogies came to be influential in all medieval and modern societies. Once we begin to experience and sanctify moments that start with our bodies, we can begin to sanctify other moments in our lives.

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] One of Blessed John Henry Newman’s great adages is “to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Discuss in Havrutah. [2] How have you experienced in your own life, the dilemma of the Israelites as they left one form of slavery only to be tempted by another? [3] What kinds of entrapment are you aware of in the world around you? In what way are you contributing to the work of change and liberation?

Bibliography:  Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001), The Torah, A Women’s Commentary (New York, 2008), Plaut, The Torah, Modern Commentary (New York, 1981),, Class notes from Bat Kol study sessions.

by Chris Lawton at


This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
Roy da Silva,
MTh [Biblical Theology], Chandigarh, India.
Bat Kol alumnus, 2002 – 2006, 2015

PLEASE NOTE: The weekly Parashah commentaries represent the research and creative thought of their authors, and are meant to stimulate deeper thinking about the meaning of the Scriptures. While they draw upon the study methods and sources employed by the ISPS-Ratisbonne, the views and conclusions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of ISPS-Ratisbonne. The commentaries, along with all materials published on the ISPS-Ratisbonne website, are copyrighted by the writers, and are made available for personal and group study, and local church purposes. Permission needed for other purposes.  Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.

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