IT ALL ADDS UP
A major portion of this week’s sidra recurs in the Torah readings on Yom Kippur morning and afternoon since it describes the atonement procedure in the Temple in ancient days.
A second link with the High Holydays comes with a piece of rabbinic mathematics. The solemn “Un’tanneh Tokef” concludes with the proclamation of the three principles of atonement – “t’shuvah”, “t’fillah” and “t’zdakah”, penitence, prayer and charity.
In some Machzorim three other Hebrew words appear in small print above these three principles. The additional words are “tzom”, “kol” and “mamon” – “fasting”, “voice” (i.e. prayer) and “money”. Each of these three words has the same numerical value according to gematria – 136. Three times 136 is 408.
A rabbinic work entitled Tzemach Tzaddik points to the verse in the sidra, “B’zot yavo Aharon el hakodesh” – “With this shall Aaron enter the sanctuary” (Lev. 16:3). The numerical value of “zot”, “this”, is 408.
The lesson we learn from this calculation is that a high priest, or for that matter a religious leader of any kind, has no automatic claim on God’s favours. Just because a person is a high priest does not of itself dispose the Almighty towards him.
His acts of office have to be accompanied in his personal life by the appropriate attitudes of humility, reverence for God and blameless living.
THE STRANGE FIRE OF AARON’S SONS
Aaron’s sons were struck dead because they brought “strange fire” to the altar.
Most people read the story to the discredit of the two sons but there is a way of explaining it in a positive sense – they didn’t wish to defy God but they wanted to show their love for Him.
This is what is implied in an old Targum that says they were so suffused with love of God that they brought an additional sacrifice to the altar.
Their sin was to imply that there was something lacking in the Torah, that the Torah did not go far enough when it prescribed the way in which one should serve the Creator.
Being Aaron’s sons, public figures, leadership figures, they should not have given the impression that theirs was a valid example for people to follow.
In our generation there are people who undertake extra stringencies but they should never let themselves be perceived as better or holier than the rest of us.
The Torah doesn’t say that any Jew should seem to be showing off how really froom they are, implying that the regular pattern of Torah Judaism has something missing.
WHAT TO BRING TO SHULE
This could be a plea to congregants and visitors not to bring mobile phones to shule.
Can’t you live without your mobile? Are you afraid that the world will come to an end if you can’t remain in touch?
As I say, this could have been a plea to leave mobiles at home. But that is not quite the point I want to make.
Instead I want to comment on a verse in the sidra. “With this shall Aaron come into the sanctuary,” says the Torah (Lev. 16:3).
The Hebrew “b’zot” – “with this” – has an interesting g’matria; the letters “zot” add up to 408, which in turn is the total of three other words, “tzom, kol, mamon” – “fasting, prayer and charity”, each of which adds up to 136.
Those who worked this out had a message for the people of Aaron in every generation, that what they should bring to the sanctuary was a sincere, repentant and generous heart (not a word about mobile phones!).
Very interesting. You cannot come to shule empty-handed.
But it is not material things you should bring. What you should bring is genuine spiritual preparation.
“Prepare to meet your God, O Israel,” says Amos (4:12). Every special occasion requires preparation – Shabbat, Pesach, Rosh HaShanah, Bar-Mitzvah, marriage, death… and so does prayer.
The Psalmist asks (Psalm 24), “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord and who may stand in His holy place? He that has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his desire upon vanity or sworn deceitfully”.
But what do you do if you have a mountain of mistakes on your back and are not sure God will accept your prayers?
Pray… that you may be able to pray, and that God may hearken to and help you.
By Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com