Achrei Mot, Leviticus 16:1-18:30; Parashat HaShavua for Shabbat, May 4, 2024

Pesach comes six months before (or after, depending on your point of view) Yom Kippur. This week’s Torah portion, Achrei Mot, suggests there is a clear connection between the two. 

In our Torah portion we read about the Yom Kippur atonement sacrifice: Aaron designates two goats: one for sacrifice as a sin offering and one as a scapegoat to carry the collective sins of the Israelites to a place in the wilderness called Azazel. (Leviticus 16:8-10) This ritual is to be “a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins; you shall be pure before Adonai.” 

The high holy days are our time of self-reflection, fearless assessment of our rights and wrongs, and our commitment to become better people. Our sincerity is real, but our ego driven willingness to justify our behavior often stands in the way of genuine, on-going change. 

Six months later, Pesach gives us an opportunity to recommit, particularly regarding our egos. We are commanded to remove all leaven from our homes. To our sages leaven, with its ability to grow in size, to puff up, is symbolic of our egos which puff us up with our own self-importance. Cleaning out our leaven can remind us we are not as important as we think we are, that we can cultivate a more realistic picture of ourselves and our place in the world. 

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Let’s recommit to our Yom Kippur vows of change, turn outward into the world, and be of service.