Haftarah Parshat Aharei Mot
April 16, 2011
12 Nisan 5771
By this time we are all deep into our preparations for Pesah – the cleaning, the special food purchases, and the cooking. All of these activities culminate in the seder on the first night of Pesah. The central attraction of the seder is, of course, the matzah – the unleavened bread which is the symbol of the holiday. Matzah once shared its top billing with the Korban Pesah – the lamb which served as the sacrifice which gave this holiday its name. With the destruction of the Temple this offering along with all of the other Temple sacrifices became a thing of the past, lost in far off Jewish memories – a forgotten, remnant of days gone by.
The Korban Pesah shares this obscure status with other ancient rites, like those concerning ritual purity, which for some seem out of step with a more rational outlook. Apparently, modern difficulties with such practices are not new. Already in Talmudic times, some may have found them difficult as we see in the following midrash: “Rabbi Shmuel bar Yitchak [the phrase]: ‘as black as a raven’ (Song of Songs 5:11) as referring to some sections of the Torah which appear to be repulsive and loathsome to speak of them in public, such as laws of [biological] emissions, leprosy, menstruation and birth. The Holy One Blessed be He said: They are pleasing to Me (God), as it is said: ‘The offering of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasant to the Lord.’ (Malachi 3:4)” (Leviticus Rabbah 19:3)
There were those in rabbinic times who thought of certain commandments as being “black as a raven”, namely, not in a positive light. This midrash answers this critique by saying quoting the opening verse from this week’s haftarah: “The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasant to the Lord”. The crux of this message is that the observance and study of these mitzvoth, in particular, are seen by God as an offering before Him which is particularly pleasing, perhaps because they ask of us to abdicate a little of our rationale facilities in His service.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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