Aharei Mot

May 29, 2022

Drash by Sandra Z. Armstrong

We were instructed and guided out of Egypt to a new place and now we are to receive the noblest instructions from God. The final separation, death, is confronted in the opening line of Aharei Mot – after death. 16:1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons Aaron…

As most of you know, Don owns Abraham’s Garden in Hawaiian Memorial Park, Kaneʻohe. Who ever thought that we would be in the cemetery business? But the need was great, so we did. In our home, we balance the joy of Sof Ma’arav with the solemnity of Abraham’s Garden.

Something changed last Sunday when a group of UH Hillel students, led by Mason Russo, came to help us prune, weed and replace stones neatly around grave markers. The seriousness of the task evolved into sharing memories and stories of those interred. We chatted while we worked and got to know each other. These wonderful, young and vibrant students gave us hope. The time passed quickly in the two hours with six of us working side by side. Quiet exchanges could be overheard of “where are you from” and “where are you going.” The beauty of youth and the vitality of life against the sorrow of loss impacted us greatly. Don and I walked away renewed on our commitment to the Jewish task of “Aharei Mot” after death.

This parsha, Aharei Mot, is read right in the middle of our Jewish year with 6 months from Yom Kippur 5772 to 6 months towards Yom Kippur 5773. Exactly in the middle of today’s parsha, the 4th reading by Don, The “nots” and “the specific should nots” are summed up with a “chai” chapter 18:1-5:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: speak to the Israelite people and say to them: I the Lord am your God. You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws. My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I the Lord am your God. You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the Lord.

Before we come upon this verse, the Torah describes rules for both the Israelite and the stranger who resides among us. It is here that God states specifically do not become like the strange cultures that surround you. Separate from their ways. The stranger in your midst among you will follow your ways. But you do not follow the ways of immoral cultures as in Egypt and Canaan. Treat strangers among you with kindness but do not take on immoral cults of others.  

Let’s look at what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says about Aharei Mot in his book Studies in Spirituality – A weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible. 

In regard to the observance of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Sacks states that repetitive moments of asking for forgiveness as a whole community changes us. Our role model is Aaron as the high priest. Aaron begins with his own failures and represents confession, atonement and a search for spiritual purification. On Yom Kippur, a community of people come together in awe inspiring moments to ask God for forgiveness while not standing alone. As Rabbi Sacks states, “It is so much easier to admit your sins, failings and mistakes when other people are doing likewise. If a high priest, or other members of our congregation, can admit to sins, so can we.”

That brings us back to Sof Ma’arav. Our congregation began 51 years ago by highly motivated, Jewishly educated, well organized and passionate members including (and along the way) Jordan and Ann Popper, Sally and Joe Morgan, Robert and Bernice Littman, Bob and Judy Goldman. These pioneers established our baseline of changing, growing, adapting and maintaining our goals including reading out of our Torah on Shabbat mornings.

We are facing over 2 years of the Covid pandemic along with the enormous changes and stresses in our lives. In Hawaiʻi, we are free to maintain our Jewish lives, to make Jewish choices, and establish Jewish relationships. We sometimes begin as strangers and end up friends with those we live among here. This diversity in Hawaiʻi is an enormous and positive benefit of living in the middle of the Pacific. At some point, those who moved here were adventurers coming into a new land of hope, love of freedom to “do the right thing.” We offer compassion and mercy for the stranger, the downtrodden and especially now for friends faraway in Ukraine and around the world who suffer. Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine. There are no words for the horror of this invasion.

We, at Sof Ma’arav, gather together each Saturday, not because we have to, but because it is the Jewish way to pray, learn from the Torah and study (including Talmud with Gregg). We have come back “in person” and on Zoom as a hybrid service to joyously dance in the aisles and sing at the top of our lungs, thanking God for our lives, for each other and for the angels who live among us.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Sandra Z. Armstong

Shabbat Times