This week we read from the double portion Acharei Mot/K’doshim.
I chose to write about this portion because Acharei Mot was the portion of the week of my adult Bat Mitzvah in 1995. Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) continues to focus in detail on laws and ritual and especially the practices for the Day of Atonement. As summarized in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, (p. 680), it begins with a discussion of expiation of sins and purification of the Shrine. It continues in discussing laws about eating meat and finishes with laws about sexual limits.
The next portion for this week, K’doshim (Leviticus 19:1-20-27) shifts as a “Call to Holiness” and S. Tamar Kamionkowski points out that the portion “stands at the physical center of the Torah” (p. 701).
At my Bat Mitzvah, in a class of 7 at Temple B’nai Torah, I chanted the verses Lev. 16:20-25, which focus on the expiation of sins by transferring them to the scapegoat and sending them off into the wilderness (Azazel). Aaron transfers the sins by placing his hands on the head of the live goat and confessing them. I reread the D’var Torah that I wrote for that day and share an excerpt with you here.
“A parallel between the observance of Yom Kippur in ancient days and today is the communal nature of the ceremony. The confession of sins is not meant to be a public humiliation for any one person, but an insightful time for each individual. By mentioning all of these sins as a group, people are free to reflect on them in a personal way, but it is a process that we go through together. I know that as we recite “Al Chet…” during the Vidui certain parts have a deeper meaning for me and that changes over time. I would guess that is true for most people in our congregation. We continue to practice this as a community in order to share in the experience and provide support for each other.
I also found it interesting that on this day, the priests were to make the normal ritual sacrifices, but they also made special sacrifices that were reserved only for this day of the year. In the same way today, much of our Yom Kippur service contains prayers that we recite regularly throughout the year, keeping some sense of familiarity, but we also add to it special prayers that are only heard on Yom Kippur to point out that this day is a special and unique one.
Those words still resonate with me, especially “share in the experience and provide support for each other.” This is at the heart of what we do in our sisterhoods, women’s groups, and WRJ as we do the work of repairing the world. The friendships we form and the experiences we share are much of why we come back together to work, pray and play.
Of the many, many experiences I’ve shared with my sisterhood, one still stands out as a highlight and has a direct connection to this Torah portion. In 2006, 15 women from our sisterhood traveled to Israel together for 12 days. For me and many on the trip, it was the first time to visit Israel. The chance to see, learn and feel the emotions together formed a bond we all still share. And as our bus drove from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea (yes, a spa day!), I saw a sign in the desert that pointed to Azazel, the spot the goat went into the wilderness. I was in awe! This was one of the verses I had chanted. For me, the first time I saw places I’ve read about in the Torah helped me approach the stories in new and vivid ways.
For those of you who haven’t visited Israel yet, I recommend planning your trip soon. Even if you’ve been to Israel before, joining a trip with your sisterhood or a WRJ mission will enhance your experience, your friendships and your connection to WRJ. Being in an ever-expanding community of WRJ friends and having new experiences together is what keeps me involved.
I wish you a Shabbat of peace and wonderful connections.
Robin Plotnik is a past president of Sisterhood of Temple B’nai Torah, Bellevue, WA, and also a past congregational president. She serves on the WRJ Board of Directors and is Membership Chair of the Pacific District.