Propriety and Passion

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

Kabbalah teaches that even a lust for the Divine must be implemented appropriately.

The portion of the Torah read this week opens with the description of the rituals of Yom Kippur practiced in the Holy Temple. Usually, G‑d's commandments are prefaced by the introduction, "And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying…." In this instance, however, a time frame is given for this communication:

And G‑d spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they approached G‑d and died. And G‑d said to Moses…." (Lev. 16:1-2)

This refers to the incident described in parashat Shemini (Lev. 10:1-2) in which Nadab and Abihu, the two elder sons of Aaron, were killed by a flame of fire that burst forth from the Holy of Holies and entered their nostrils when they offered incense that G‑d had not commanded. In the following passage, the Arizal discusses why the two sons of Aaron died.

Regarding Nadab and Abihu, let us note that the letters that spell the name "Nadab" [nun-dalet-veit] may be rearranged to spell "four sons" [in Hebrew, "ben dalet", with the letter dalet signifying the number four]. Thus, his name alludes to the "four sons of which the Torah spoke" [as mentioned in the Passover Haggadah]: Adam and his three sons [Cain, Abel, and Seth].

chanoch adds: Did you ever see the nconnection between the Hagadah and the Bible regarding then 4 sons? How would you match up the 4 Biblical personalities to then 4 sons of the Hagadah?

In the course of its discussion of the commandment to retell the story of the Exodus, the Passover Haggadah points out that this commandment in phrased in the Torah four different ways. The four ways are seen as responses to four different types of Jewish children; the story must be retold to each child in accordance with his level of understanding and approach to Judaism.

Instead of rectifying the sin of Adam and his sons, Nadab and Abihu repeated it…..

Here, the Arizal uses the phrase from the Haggadah "The Torah spoke of four sons" to refer to the four male members of Adam's immediate family mentioned in the Torah. (We are told that Adam had more sons besides these three, but they are not mentioned by name and are therefore not considered spiritual archetypes.)

All four were included in Nadab and Abihu, for the two of them were considered one person inasmuch as they were not married.

Since Adam and his sons sinned, their souls needed to be reincarnated so their sins could be rectified in their next lifetime. Nadab and Abihu were the collective embodiment of these four primordial souls. The sages of the Talmud say that an unmarried individual is only half a person, so since these two were not married, they together were counted as one individual.

chanoch adds: Did one of these men have a female soul? It cannot be since Eliyahu is considered as 3 male - ½ souls.

The name Abihu also alludes to Adam, since it may be split into the two words "he is my father" [in Hebrew, "avi- hu", i.e. my first progenitor].

These two committed the same sin that Adam committed. This blemish was that of "strange fire", i.e. a foreign woman. This refers to the first Eve, Lil--, who copulated with Adam before [the real] Eve. This is why Adam said [about Eve], "this one shall be called "woman" (Gen. 2:23): "this one" and not the other one.

Instead of rectifying the sin of Adam and his sons, Nadab and Abihu repeated it. A sin causes a "blemish", or imperfection, in the spiritual worlds. This imperfection has repercussions throughout all Creation and must therefore be rectified.

The Torah refers to the incense that Nadab and Abihu offered as a "strange fire". The linguistic and thematic connected between "fire" and "woman" will be explained presently.

An angel is the personification of some holy emotion, a demon is the personification of some evil emotion….

Lil— is a female demon. (Isaiah 34:14; Eiruvin 100b; Shabbat 151b; Bava Batra 73b; Nidah 24b) Just as an angel is the personification of some holy emotion, a demon is the personification of some evil emotion. In this case, Lil— (whose name is related to the Hebrew word for "night", "lailah") is the personification of man's sexual lust as divorced from any context of true love or desire to increase G‑dliness in this world - in other words: raw, self-indulgent, self-serving sensual pleasure. Man is intended to engage in sexual pleasure as a spiritual pursuit that gives pleasure to his wife, makes him into a more holy person, and increases the Divine Image on earth (ideally by resulting in children). When instead, he engages in sexual release simply for the "high" he enjoys from it, he is said to be copulating with Lil--. Although he does not intend to procreate by this union, he does so anyway, for every act of man has its repercussions on some level. The semen he expels "impregnates" Lil--, and she "bears" for him "demon-children", i.e. negative, abusive, and evil energy, which spreads evil throughout the world.

According to the Midrash (Alfa Beita d'Ben Sira), Lil— was Adam's first wife, created out of the earth just as he was. She insisted on lying on top of Adam during intercourse, and when he refused, insisting that it was more proper for him to lay on her, she left him and was transmuted into a demon.

Sexuality and sexual passion can promote and actualize a man's or woman's innate Divine potential….

We mentioned previously that the dichotomization of mankind into male and female was G‑d's way of assuring proper balance between the male drive to retreat into abstract unity with the Divine and female drive to manifest G‑dliness in this world. The glue which holds these two opposite drives together, enabling them to rectify reality properly, is the attraction or passion they have for each other, each one sensing that the other one is its true complement and completion. Allegorically, then, Lil--'s insistence on lying on top of Adam would be the tendency for this attraction to seek to become an end in itself. Sexuality and sexual passion can promote and actualize a man's or woman's innate Divine potential as nothing else can, but the fascination with its very power can divert a person's focus from its true purpose and cause him to focus instead on the ecstatic experience itself.

Although Lil— is not mentioned explicitly in the Bible, she is alluded to by the way Adam reacts to Eve when he first sees her. Calling Eve "this one" implies that there had been another one who had not been worthy of being called "woman".

Our sages alluded to this when they said that Adam stretched his membrane in order to cover his reproductive organ. (Sanhedrin 38b) This is a euphemism meaning that he copulated with his first "Eve" [i.e. Lil--], and sired many evil spirits and demons through her.

The purpose of circumcision is to reduce the raw, sensual titillation of intercourse and increase the sensitivity to the organ to that of the person's partner. In this way, copulation becomes less of an exercise in self-indulgence and more an expression of true love and bonding (which, of course, serves ultimately to enhance the sensual side of intercourse far beyond what is possible when it is treated as a selfish, epicurean thrill). Stretching the membrane over the glans, then, indicates the individual's rejection of this higher vision of sexual relations in favor of the base, selfish, sensual high it can provide. Again, this is the sort of sexuality symbolized by Lil--.

This was Adam's "strange fire". For both man and woman are essentially fire when they lack the divine name Y-ah [spelled yud-hei].

Man and woman are fully man and woman only when together they manifest the Divine Presence….

"Fire" here means desire or passion. The Hebrew words for "man" (spelled alef-yud-shin) and "woman" (spelled alef-shin-hei) are both grammatically based on the word for "fire" (spelled alef-shin); the word for "man" includes an added yud, and the word for "woman" an added hei. The two added letters, yud and hei, together spell the divine name Y-ah.

In other words, man and woman are fully man and woman only when together they manifest the Divine Presence. Without this, they remain nothing but two separate cauldrons of unbridled passion.

When, however, the divine name Y-ah is amongst them, this is their true union and true fire.

When the G‑d is present in the couple's sexual relations, their union is not superficial, ephemeral, and merely physical, but a true spiritual bond that forges them into one, complete person. As we said, the fire of passion in this proper union between husband and wife enhances their physical passion for each other far beyond what is possible in the lack of this spiritual dimension.

However, when the divine name Y-ah is removed, all that remains is the "strange fire." (Sotah 17a) This is what Adam [originally] preferred.

Nadab and Abihu committed this same error, [and it was very grave] since there were none in their generation that could compare to them.

Witnessing the profound revelations of G‑d that accompanied the dedication rites of the Tabernacle, Nadab and Abihu, like the rest of the Jewish people, were overcome with emotions of holy ecstasy. This is illustrated by the verses:

And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out and blessed the people. And the glory of G‑d appeared to all the people. And a fire went forth from before G‑d and devoured the burnt offering and fat parts that had been placed on the altar, and all the people saw it, and they sang in ecstasy, and fell on their faces. (Lev. 9:23-24)

Inspiration, upliftment, and ecstasy are, of course, essential ingredients in a person's spiritual life. They are, however, only half of the story. Their true fulfillment comes when the person uses his inspiration to make the world a better, holier place. Instead of viewing this ecstasy as only one side of the coin of divine service, however, Nadab and Abihu sought to remain in it. To use the idiom of Ezekiel 1:14, they wanted to "run" but not "return". The sacrifice in which they chose to express this, incense, is the most "spiritual" of all the sacrifices.

On a somewhat more refined level, this is essentially the same mistake (or "sin") that Adam made when he opted originally for Lil--. Self-indulgent sexuality has its own ecstasy, and it could even be called a "spiritual" ecstasy. But because it is ecstasy for its own sake, it is ultimately egocentric and "evil". Therefore, Nadab and Abihu were punished just as Adam was punished. Their punishment, like all divine punishments, was not a mere chastisement or vengeance but a direct result and outcome of their misdeed: They sought the ecstasy of the soul and shunned the experience of life in the body, so their souls left their bodies to rejoin their divine origin, leaving their bodies lifeless corpses.

They also sinned by [offering sacrifices] while drunk.

Immediately after their death, G‑d commanded Aaron not to enter the sanctuary precincts while drunk. (Lev. 10:8-11) This, our sages state, alludes to the fact that his two sons died because they were performing the sanctuary service while drunk.

Adam sinned this way, also, for, as our sages say, Eve squeezed grapes and gave him [the juice] to drink together with its dregs. (Bereishit Rabbah 19:5) [The juice and its dregs] were [the fruit of] the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The primordial sin… is the aggrandizement of the ego….

The primordial sin - partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil - is seen in the eyes of our sages not as one, specific act, but a conglomerate of several. The common denominator of these is the aggrandizement of the ego, the transformation of man from a pure channel of divinity into the world into a self-oriented agent with his own egocentric agenda.

There are four opinions as to what the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was (interestingly, there is no opinion that it was an apple, although the Garden of Eden is spoken of as being an apple orchard). According to one opinion, it was a grape vine, and Eve squeezed wine out of the grapes to give to Adam. The dregs of the wine are the elements of ego within the experience of ecstasy, which poison the experience and make it self-serving. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the admixture of pure experience with that of ego. In everything he does, man may choose either to seek his own self-gratification or selfless dedication to elevating the world. By choosing self-gratification, man increases the opaqueness of the world to G‑dliness; by choosing pure experience, he renders reality more transparent, revealing more of its innate G‑dliness.

He chose not to drink the good wine, which has no dregs, and "gladdens G‑d and man". This wine is spoken of as "gladdening G‑d", for the divine name used here [Elo-him] signifies severe judgment, and [drinking good wine] transforms it into gladness. The other, [impure] wine, is called "a cup…of wine fully mixed…the wicked ones of the world will drink and suck its dregs." (Psalms 75:9)

Choosing to relate to reality not through the clouded lens of ego renders the world more fit to receive divine blessing. It thus figuratively transforms G‑d's attribute of judgment and limitation to that of benevolence and happiness.

Adam sinned additionally in wanting to draw all the nations under the wings of the Divine Presence. This caused all the suffering that befell him and has befallen us throughout our exile. Moses also erred this way, and therefore had to die in the desert. King Solomon also erred by encouraging conversion.

As we have explained previously, the psychology and innate orientation of the non-Jew is that of sustaining perfecting the functioning of the world. This is their role in the big picture of making the world into a home for G‑d. The problem is that they, too, suffered a fall in the wake of the primordial sin, and this altruistic drive is manifest in most people as the drive for a more material and comfortable standard of living.

Adam, Moses, and King Solomon all erred in thinking that if the non-Jews were converted to Judaism, the Jewish drive for spirituality would combine with the non-Jewish drive for physical perfection. This would, they thought, have the double effect of objectifying the Jewish spiritual drive, keeping it from degenerating into egocentric ecstasy, and spiritualizing the non-Jewish physical drive, keeping it from degenerating into egocentric materialism. However, they each erred in their own way, not realizing that for this to work the non-Jew must initiate the process by himself.

Let us return now to our original discussion. As we said, Adam sinned with his "strange fire" and by drinking the wine with the dregs. These dregs were [personified] by the [fallen] non-Jews who sought to cling to him.

As we said, the non-Jewish psyche suffered a fall with the primordial sin as well, becoming overtly egocentric. In this state, they are symbolized by the dregs of egocentricity that spoil the wine of pure experience as well as by Lil--, the demon of egocentric sexual thrill.

Nadab and Abihu were also drunk. These two sins ["strange fire" and inebriation] are alluded to in the first verse of this Torah-reading. The initials of the words for "after the death of the two" [in Hebrew, "acharei mot shnei", alef-mem-shin] may be rearranged to spell "from fire" [in Hebrew, "m'eish", mem-alef-shin]. The final letters of the three words for "the two sons of Aaron" [in Hebrew. "shenei benei Aharon", yud-yud-nun] spell "wine" [in Hebrew, "yayin"]. If the two words for "death of the two" [in Hebrew, "mot shnei"] are read backwards [yud-nun-shin-tav-vav-mem], they contain the word for "they drank" [in Hebrew, "shatu", spelled shin-tav-vav]. This verse thus alludes to both sins.

It follows that they attempted to rectify the sin of Adam, but they instead made the same mistake as he, and therefore died. They were each half of Adam's body, so to speak, and they effectively died two deaths: their own and his [again].

[This, too, is alluded to in the verse:] "…after the death of the two sons of Aaron", which refers to their death in their present incarnation. "…When they approached G‑d…" - i.e. aforetimes, "…and they died" - in the time of Adam.

This is also why Moses comforted Aaron by saying that Nadab and Abihu were greater than either of them. For they were incarnations of the father [Adam], while Moses and Aaron were incarnations of Abel [Adam's son].

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim, parashat Acharei Mot; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Shell Games

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

Evil may act as a husk which protects a fruit until it is ripe.

We are told that as part of the Yom Kippur sacrificial ritual in the Tabernacle/Temple, the High Priest must take two goats:

…and place them before G‑d at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Aaron will place lots on the two goats, one lot "for G‑d" and one lot "for Azazel". Aaron will take the goat on which the lot fell "for G‑d" and make it a sin-offering. The goat on which fell the lot "for Azazel" will be positioned live before G‑d to make atonement on it, to send it to Azazel into the desert. (Lev. 16:7-10)

The plain meaning of "Azazel" is a cliff; the goat sent to Azazel was thrown off a desert cliff to its death. (See Rashi on Lev. 16:8-10)

The mystical significance of Azazel is 'Satan' and the Nukvah of the luminous [shell], to whom the goat is given. They ['Satan' and the evil Nukvah], the male and female [principles of evil], are also called "the depths of the sea" - what remains after the dross of the kings [of Edom] are purified - and "the shadow of death".

As we have seen previously, 'Satan' is the name given to the evil partzuf of Zeir Anpin. Just as the partzufim exist in each of the four holy worlds, so do they exist in each of the four realms of evil. The four realms of evil are called "shells", contrasting with the fruit or meat of the nut within the shell, which signifies the holy realms. The significance of this imagery is that, just as the shell, which obscures the fruit within it, is inedible and must be discarded, so does evil obscure the power of holiness in the world; we must break through it and reject it in order to reveal goodness. On the other hand, just as the shell protects the fruit within it until it is ripe, so does evil (i.e. egocentricity) serve the purpose of protecting the good within it until it is ripe.

The fourth realm…can be absorbed and elevated into holiness…

Three of the four realms of evil are totally unable to be assimilated. The fourth realm is neutral, meaning that although it is a priori evil, meaning that it is evil only insomuch as it is not oriented by nature toward G‑d. If it is used for holy purposes, however, it can be absorbed and elevated into holiness. Conversely, if it is used for evil purposes, it descends into and becomes part of the three unholy realms. This neutral realm of evil is called the "luminous shell".

These four realms of evil are all alluded to in the vision of Ezekiel: "I saw, and behold, there was (1) a stormy wind coming from the north, (2) a great cloud, and (3) a flashing fire, and (4) a luminescence surrounding it…." (Ezekiel 1:4)

The "depths of the sea" refers to the verse, "He will return, He will have mercy on us; He will conquer our iniquities and cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19) The phrase "the shadow of depth" refers (among others) to the verse, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Your rod and Your staff comfort me." (Psalms 23:4) As we will see, the Hebrew for these two phrases consists of the same letters.

The "kings of Edom" refers, as we have seen in other writings of the Ari, to the sefirot of the world of Tohu, which collapsed. The portions of these sefirot that were refined enough to be assimilated into holiness in the subsequently constructed world of Tikun became the sefirot of that world, while those elements that were too crass to be so assimilated became the realms of evil.

[This evil] is transformed into the defending counsel [for the Jews on Yom Kippur] by virtue of the good presented within it, as explained in the Zohar. (III:101)

This process will be explained here shortly.

Now, these two goats are [mystically] the equivalent of the two spies, chochma and bina of the evil Zeir Anpin of Atzilut, as mentioned there. (See also Zohar II:178b and 3:60b.)

The two spies Joshua sent to spy out the land of Israel correspond to chochma and bina of the evil Zeir Anpin (i.e. 'Satan').

The [goat/spy] of chochma is [a priori] more sweetened; this is why one lot is for G‑d. In contrast, the second [goat/spy], which is sent to die, manifests bina of [the evil] Zeir Anpin.

The experience of chochma is selflessness…

Since the experience of chochma is selflessness, there is some good in it even in a non-holy context. For example, if a person is laboring over some mathematical problem and is totally absorbed in thought over it, he is not focused on G‑d, but neither is he focused on himself. The very fact that he is at that moment not focused on himself makes the experience one that can be transformed into holiness, if, say, the individual remembers or realizes that mathematics is, after all, our way of describing G‑d's wisdom as it has been imprinted in nature.

Bina, in contrast, is the experience of self. The insight of chochma is evaluated and analyzed in the context of the individual's personal world-view he has developed during his life. If this is done in an evil context, there is no redeeming element that could make the experience holy.

Azazel signifies 'Satan' and the Nukvah of the luminous [shell], which are positioned opposite Zeir Anpin and Nukvah of the worlds of Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya. Since [they receive the bina-goat] they are happy.

'Satan' and Nukvah of the three lower worlds receive the evil bina of the level of Atzilut.

Since [chochma and bina of the evil Zeir Anpin of Atzilut] are called "goats" - as mentioned in the Zohar. (II:108b) Zeir Anpin and Nukvah of the luminous [shells] of Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya, their children, are called "Aza" and "Azael".

The word for goat is "ez" (spelled ayin-zayin). The "children" of the goats of Atzilut are called "Aza" (spelled ayin-zayin-alef), a derivative, Aramaic form of "goat" and "Azael" (spelled ayin-zayin-alef-lamed), meaning "goat-god".

Together, [these two goat-offspring] are called "Azazel", just like the words for "the shadow of death" and "the depths" comprise both of them, "shadow" referring to the male and "death" to the female.

"Azazel" can thus be seen as a contraction of "Aza" and "Azel".

The word for "the shadow of death" is "tzalmavet", itself a contraction of the words for "shadow" ("tzeil") and "death" ("mavet"). The letters that form this word (tzadik-lamed-mem-vav-tav) can be permuted to spell "depths" (in Hebrew, "metzulot", spelled mem-tzadik-lamed-vav-tav).

The "shadow", or lack of light, is the active side of evil…

The "shadow", or lack of light, is the active side of evil, the obstruction of holy light, and "death" is the result or expression of this evil, i.e. being cut off from holiness, the source of life. Thus it is written, "The feet [of a forbidden woman] descend unto death." (Proverbs 5:5)

Thus, when the goat is sent to Azazel, "[G‑d] casts all their sins into the depths of the sea," (Micah 7:19) as is stated in the Zohar. (III:63)

This is so since Azazel and the "depths of the sea" are mystically synonymous, as stated.

Since these goats derive from the holy Nukvah and her leftovers, they manifest strong judgment, as stated in the Zohar. (III:41)

We have explained previously that Nukvah must evince strict judgment in order to differentiate between holiness and evil. When this judgment is exercised in an entirely evil context, however, it becomes prejudicial judgment.

Now, you know that the "luminous shell" is half good and half evil, and separates the holy realm from the evil realm. When a person transgresses a prohibition, [this neutral realm] serves to complete the three evil shells of his evil inclination, and becomes completely evil itself. This is his punishment for transgressing a prohibition.

When an element of the "luminous" shell is given over to the three completely evil shells, it "completes" them into a unit of four, mirroring the four worlds of holiness. This reinforcement of his inner evil, making it a power more difficult to reckon with, is the truest punishment for evil behavior. As the sages say, "One mitzva leads to another mitzva, and one sin leads to another sin." (Avot 4:2)

'Satan'…has received the divine beneficence…present in the goodness of that goat…

Now, on Yom Kippur, G‑d commanded us and permitted us through His good will to send 'Satan' one goat, which comprises good and bad [elements], as stated above. ['Satan'] then rejoices over the [additional power granted to the] three wholly evil shells, for [by receiving the goat] he has received the divine beneficence and life-force present in the goodness of that goat. As is known, the reason [the forces of evil] pursue holiness is so that they can enliven themselves; without [the life-force siphoned off holiness] they would die. Hence the great joy 'Satan' derives from this goat sent to Azazel, especially in light of the fact that [G‑d] gives it to him knowingly and ['Satan'] does not have to toil or exert himself [for it].

[After casting the lots over the goats] the High Priest would then confess [the sins of the Jewish people] over the goat's head. The power of this repentance would refine the portion of [the goat] associated with the world of Yetzira, separating the good [in it] from the evil. This is necessary for it is impossible for good and evil to be intermixed as they were before the sin, for, through sin, the power of evil increased, and the good would just be subdued before it.

As was stated above, good and evil are mixed together equally in the "luminous shell". Once a person sins, however, the evil is strengthened and the balance is upset. Repentance cannot be merely an attempt to return to the state of affairs that existed before the sin; it is too late.

The only avenue open is to align the potential good with actual good…

The initial innocence has been lost, and the only avenue open is to align the potential good with actual good, i.e. holiness, and let the evil that has been actualized assume its position with true evil.

For example, a kosher chocolate cake is in the realm of the "luminous shell". It is neither holy nor evil; what it will become depends on how it is used. If someone eats it for holy purposes, e.g., to add to the enjoyment of Shabbat, or to give himself a needed, temporary lift, or in order to experience the goodness of G‑d in having made delicious food, then the cake existentially enters the realm of holiness. If it is eaten for coarse purposes, e.g. to indulge in sensual pleasure, it descends into the realm of evil. The person who eats it will most likely be able to measure the purity of his intentions by the way he feels after eating the cake. To the extent that he feels uplifted or holier after eating, he succeeded in keeping his intentions pure. To the extent he feels coarser, he didn't.

This is the meaning of repentance. [Evil and good] are separated through this. Although they existed originally together in the "luminous shell", the evil has now been identified; it clings to the goat and disappears into the [realms of] complete evil. The good, meanwhile, returns to [the realm of] supernal holiness, no longer part of the "luminous shell".

'Satan'…is a fool and makes a mistake…

This is why 'Satan' rejoices. He sees that he has now been fortified [by this additional measure of energy from the "luminous shell"], and he accepts it with full consciousness. But he is a fool and makes a [fatal] mistake, for on the contrary, "he will be heaping coals on his own head" (Proverbs 25:22), meaning that evil was initially intermixed with good in the "luminous shell" and he had a strong foothold. Supernal holiness was forced to grant beneficence to the good with which this evil shared [the "luminous shell"]. This is the mystical significance of Israel's exiles amongst the idolaters.

When evil shares the "luminous shell" with good, it can more easily seduce man into sin, since it does not have to entice him into an explicit prohibition - only into using a neutral aspect of reality for egotistic purposes.

But now that evil has been separated from the good, 'Satan' has lost that portion [of divine beneficence] that was granted [to it] via the good [of the "luminous shell"]. It follows that 'Satan' has been tricked and has suffered a great loss. On the contrary, a situation that was originally complete [for him] is now the opposite. For, [as the verse paraphrased above continues:] "[G‑d] will surely reward you", meaning that the goodness [of the "luminous shell"] connects to and completes the holy soul of the person, while 'Satan' loses this good altogether.

This illustrates the tremendous power of repentance.

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Torah, parashat Acharei Mot.

Smoke of Space, Time and Soul

Nadab and Abihu were able to access the "inner"

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

In this portion we find allusions to the sanctity of time and space, notably the Holy of Holies, also known as the "inner of the inner". This site is accessible only on Yom Kippur, and then only to the High Priest. The report of the death of the two sons of Aaron when entering this part of the Sanctuary is repeated here to stress that their very death was the beginning of their life in the World to Come. Their entry into this sacrosanct area was an expression of their closeness to G‑d.

I have previously mentioned that the word "ashan" [spelled ayin, shin, nun], the smoke of the incense offering, is an acronym for the concepts Space, Time, and Soul - in Hebrew Olam, Shana, Nefesh. The deeper reasons why sacrifices may not be offered outside the holy sites of the Sanctuary, whereas on that day [Yom Kippur] an offering is made to the Azazel [a specific manifestation of spiritual darkness], away from the Sanctuary, are all closely intertwined. Once a year on Yom Kippur we are children of the Lord our G‑d, and our representative, the High Priest, can enter His innermost sanctum. The mystical element of Yom Kippur is intimately bound with the service performed in the Holy of Holies.

Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk. From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

Fragrance of Good Intentions

The holy Altar helps destroy the negative as well as elevate the positive.

from Torat Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Alshich of Tzfat-Safed

"…two male goats as a sin-offering." (Lev 16:5)

The Zohar states that every sin committed by man creates an accusing angel - a negative, destructive spiritual force. On the other hand, performance of positive, constructive deeds creates a sacred constructive force. When, after confession, a person places his hands on the sacrificial animal he offers in expiation of his sin, he transfers the spiritually negative force he has created through his sin to the animal to be slaughtered. The reason why the animal had to be slaughtered immediately after the owner has placed his hands on it was to subdue this spiritually negative force, to neutralize it.

The fire of the Altar acts as the purifying agent…

This is why it has to be burned on the holy Altar. While the animal bears the weight of this spiritually negative force, it is joined by the positive force created by performance of the mitzvah of the owner's penitence and confession (see Lev. 5:5). These two opposing forces are present during the burning of the flesh and the fat parts of the offering. The fire of the Altar therefore accomplishes two tasks: 1) It totally disposes of the spiritually negative force created by sin, and 2) it causes the positive forces created by penitence and confession to ascend heavenwards, purified from all ulterior motives which are sometimes associated with the performance of mitzvot, the Torah's commandments.

The fire of the Altar acts as the purifying agent because of the donor's good intentions. This purity of intention is called "sweet smelling fragrance to G‑d". When a person raises a sweet smelling flower to his nose in order to inhale its fragrance, he is as if absorbing the essence of the flower. G‑d, so to speak, absorbs the pure intention of the person who has offered this sacrifice. It is the presence of this pure intention, that enables the sacrifice and all it stands for to ascend heavenwards.

Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk. from Torat Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Alshich of Tzfat-Safed

Soul Attachments

The enraptured souls of Aaron's sons opted for complete attachment to the Infinite.

By Binyomin Adilman

"G‑d spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons who drew close [brought an unauthorized offering] before G‑d and died." (Lev. 16:1)

This verse is difficult to understand since it doesn't inform us what G‑d told to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons. Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, in the book Ohev Yisroel writes that G‑d cautioned Moses that the Jewish People shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the death of Nadab and Abihu was a simple straightforward punishment the way it seemed to be. Quite the opposite is true; their deaths were an exceptional occurrence, and the reason is not easily comprehended.

They allowed themselves to be drawn into total unity with G‑d….

Therefore we are told that G‑d spoke to Moses after the death of the sons of Aaron. "After" means "distant" or "remote". (Bereishit Rabba 44:5) The verse now reads: "Distant from our understanding and lofty in essence were the deaths of the two sons of Aaron when they drew close to G‑d". They ventured near to the heavens and became drawn in by the incredible sweetness and pleasantness of being close to G‑d. As their rapture increased, they achieved further unity with G‑d, and had to decide whether or not to withdraw. As the verse reads, "And they died": they allowed themselves to be drawn into total unity with G‑d.

This is how Rebbe Simcha Bunem of Peshis'cha returned his soul to G‑d. Everyday, he recited the Shema prayer with such absolute devotion and ecstasy, that his soul was in danger of leaving his body. To prevent this, his disciples appointed special attendants to watch over Rebbe Bunem when he said the Shema. If they detected signs indicating that his soul was struggling to wrest itself free from his body, like the flame of a candle striving upwards, they were to shake him out of his complete attachment to G‑d and bring him back into this world. One day, a tragic mistake occurred and there were no attendants present when Rebbe Bunem began his prayers. That morning, as Rebbe Bunem recited the Shema, he returned his soul to its Creator.

Based on Ohev Yisroel of the Apter Rebbe and other Chasidic sources. First published in B'Ohel Tzadikim, Acharei 5759. By Binyomin Adilman