This week’s reading, Acharei Mot, explains the service of Yom Kippur and this year it is read after the last (Seventh) day of Pesach. The last day of Pesach was when the Jews crossed the ‘Red’ (i.e. Reed) Sea.
Both have something in common: death.
The very first sentence of Acharei Mot mentions death twice; “After the death of Aaron’s two sons when they entered before G-d (in the Holy of Holies) and died.” And Yom Kippur decides who will live etc. And the Splitting of the sea killed all our enemies.
But both also hint at the opposite: The Raising of the Dead.
Yom Kippur removes sins, which are the cause of death, and the song sung by the Jews after crossing the sea hints at Tchiat HaMasim . (see Rashi on Exodus 15:1 “Then Moses and WILL sing”)
What is death? Why did the sons of Aaron die? How will the dead rise? And what does it have to do with the Splitting of the Sea?
Here is a story that I read 20 years ago in a monthly publication from the Israeli city of Baraket that might help explain.
Mrs. G. had been married for twenty years and had yet to be blessed with children.
After trying all treatments available the doctors said there was no hope, she and her husband had been praying, giving charity receiving blessings since their wedding with no results and their hope was fading.
Until a friend of hers invited her to join a group of couples to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York.
Mrs. G had heard a lot about this Rabbi from her Chabad friends but she had never really believed it. In Yemen where she was born, she had been warned about Rabbis that claim to draw powers from the Zohar and other esoteric books. But on the other hand, she had good friends and even some family that were very enthusiastic followers of the Rebbe.
She and her husband talked it over and decided to go. The trip would be a welcome diversion, and as far as the Rebbe goes, they would decide later.
They arrived in New York got settled in the Hotel and after Shabbat, on Sunday morning they went with everyone else to ‘dollars’. (Every Sunday the Rebbe would give out dollar bills (to encourage the giving of charity) accompanied by a short blessing and often advice, to thousands of people.
The lines, one for men another for women, were really long and Mrs. G. had to wait over two hours but the people were in a good mood and the time passed quickly. As she approached the Rebbe she suddenly felt that there was hope. The Rebbe handed her the dollar, she looked at him and said “I’ve been married for twenty years with no children.”
Suddenly twenty years of frustration welled up and she almost broke out in tears but before she did the Rebbe interrupted,
“Did you ever break off an engagement to be married?”
The question caught her by surprise “Yes” she answered.
“And did you ask the forgiveness of the man?” “No” she answered.
“You must ask him to forgive you.”
Her head was swimming but she realized the Rebbe was serious. “But Rebbe, that was over twenty years ago! I hardly knew him. How can I find him now?”
The Rebbe looked at her, “Go to the train station in Rechovot in the morning on such-and-such a date. May you have blessing and success.” The Rebbe turned to the next person in line.
She and her husband returned to Israel a week later, and when the date came, she made her way to the train station. Twenty years was a long time. How would she recognize him after so long? In fact, she hadn’t really known him back then. So she wandered around looking for a sign.
After almost a half hour she noticed a lone man sitting on a bench. She hadn’t noticed him before but it was as though he was waiting for someone or something. She approached him, excused herself and asked if perhaps his name was M. and when he replied to the affirmative and even gave his last name she realized it was him.
“Do you remember me? We were engaged to be married over twenty years ago and I broke off the engagement. Do you remember?”
“Yes, I do remember but I’m not angry, things happen like that.”
“I’m sorry for what happened. I was young then and … well I’m sorry. I’m very sorry that I never apologized. I’m asking you to please forgive me. Do you forgive me?”
“Yes, I forgive you completely. Don’t worry. I forgive you.” was the answer.
She thanked him, blessed him, thanked him again for understanding, and returned home, completely shaken by the strange occurrence.
Three months later she became pregnant and nine months after that she gave birth to a baby boy! An open miracle!
But the story isn’t over.
Eight days after the birth, at the ceremonious meal after the Brit (circumcision) she stood and emotionally told the story to all those present. Exactly how the Rebbe had diagnosed the problem and miraculously told her where to find a man that he had never seen and she hadn’t seen for twenty years. She asked everyone there to bless M… with a good long life wherever he was and they all answered ‘Amen’.
The story had wings; it was a clear miracle. But a few days one of her older relatives, who had not been at the brit, came to visit her at her home. He entered, sat down opposite here in the front room and asked. “Tell me, I heard the story about that fellow that you were engaged to twenty some years ago, his name was M… correct?”
“Yes” she answered.
“Well, you should know that I knew M. well ….. and he isn’t alive. He died ten years ago. I was at his funeral.”
That answers our questions about the death of Aaron’s sons and the Raising of the Dead at the Red Sea.
Our story shows that death is not as final as it seems. In fact, death is the biggest lie possible; Gd is life and Gd is everywhere; there is no room for death……. Unless man sins.
Adam, and all humanity after him, were supposed to live forever but Adam’s sin brought death into the world; opposing Gd’s will is defying life.
That is the connection to Ahron’s two sons; they died because they went against G-d’s will.
Death is separating the soul from the world; and G-d’s will is HERE in this PHYSICAL world. Here the Torah was given, here we can serve the Creator and here will be revealed the truth; that EVERY Jew (and possibly those connected to them i.e. Bnei Noach) have eternal physical bodies ABOVE all spirituality.
(That is possibly what brought Mr. M. in our story back to the world … he had to forgive her so she could have physical children)
That is also what happened at the splitting of the sea. The Torah tells us (Rashi Ex. 14:21) ALL the ‘water’ in creation (even the ShaMAIM spiritual worlds) split to reveal the Creator; the source of life IN this physical world. Exactly what will happen when the dead raise; Eternal Life in Physical bodies.
Indeed, Moshiach himself will be such an ‘eternal’ person. (Like Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Elisha the Prophet; that only appeared to die but really are above death (see Avodat HaKodesh by Rabbi Mair ben Gabbai (Part 2 chapt. 19) where he explains this in great length).
But Moshiach will reveal this in all the Jews i.e. the Raising of the Dead.
That is the message of Shvee Shel Pesach (7th day of Pesach)…. That we should all do all we can to bring Moshiach and end death. And not much is missing. We are standing on thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice. Now it could be that just one more good deed word or even thought can bring Moshiach NOW!!