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Acharei Mot 5784

April 29, 2024

Rabbi Geier


We are currently in the days between Passover and Shavuot: the days of counting the Omer, where we count, every evening in prayer, one more day on the journey toward the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Tradition considers these days a period of mourning due to the death of Rabbi Akiva's students during the revolt against the Romans.

This year, we maintain several parallel counts.

On Shabbat, we will be counting the 11th day of the Omer in a count that, as it increases, mimics how our ancestors brought an offering each day at the Great Temple of Jerusalem, seeking to spiritually elevate themselves one step higher each day until they were prepared and ready for the 50th day, which is the day of Shavuot, the day of the Giving of the Torah.

While we count the Omer, if you visit, you will be able to see another count. This Shabbat, we count the 210 days since October 7th and continue to demand Pidyon Shvuyim, the release of the captives. All of them! The 133 with their names and surnames, who are in darkness at the mercy of the inhumanity, brutality, and permanent barbarism of their captors, Hamas terrorists and their supporters in the Gaza Strip.

We count day by day the number of protests around the world, especially in the USA. Not those that support Palestine. We may disagree about the bases and how peace processes and territorial divisions should develop, but these are disagreements that can reach a point of convergence and negotiation.

I count the number of protests supporting Hamas, a terrorist group that seeks not only the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people but of all the West, starting with the United States. I count the number of protests supporting the disappearance of the state of Israel, which arose from a joint decision of the United Nations.

I count the number of protesters who allow themselves to be swept away by the fervor of protesting against something they don't even know they are protesting about, seeking violence in the ignorance of a conflict they don't even care to understand or learn about.

We count, and we keep counting…

This week's Torah portion, Acharei Mot, is the sixth in the book of Leviticus. It begins with what happens after the sudden death of Aaron HaCohen's two sons after lighting a fire, a ritual that would not have been approved by the Lord.

Acharei Mot, such is the name of the section we fill this Shabbat, also speaks to us about purity and holiness, not only in the ritual sense but in our daily conduct, in how we treat others, and in how we come together in the face of adversity.

Perhaps it is a model of how to rise from and during a crisis and tragedy. Aaron HaCohen, a grieving father, continues to lead, act, and do. He receives new mitzvot and additional instructions, among them, the work to be done by the Kohanim on the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur.

The search for spirituality in times of distress teaches us that it is not against the Lord that we should react to the tragedies that human beings cause. Being responsible for our actions and the actions of others that cause consequences to the world around us is the only way to achieve change and correct or improve what others may have done wrong or incorrectly.

This Sunday night marks the beginning of Yom Hashoa Vehagvura. We live in dark times, where every day we would like to have Aaron HaCohen's strength to move forward even though we may not always be able to.

On this Yom Hashoah, we remember not only the tragedy inflicted by the Nazis but also the unyielding resilience of those who survived and the courage of those who rebelled. The strength of those who transformed suffering and loss and joined the dream of so many Jews around the world that had begun, passing through the First Zionist Congress convened by Herzl in 1897, the different waves of immigration since the late 19th century and during the 20th century, and consolidated in the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

They rebuilt their lives, kept their memories alive, and fought for a better future. Likewise, let us try every day to keep alive the hope that the captives will return home and that peace will prevail over violence.

May their strength and courage inspire us to face current challenges with determination and hope, supporting the State of Israel and its existence, which does not mean supporting any government. The elections of a democratic country help to correct the mistakes and injustices committed by governments. This does not imply condemning an entire state for dissenting from what transpires in some period of its political life.

On this Shabbat, prior to Yom Hashoah, as we continue counting the days of Sefirat Ha'omer with anxiety and anguish, we honor those who have faced darkness and emerged with a light of hope.

May their example guide us toward a future where freedom and dignity are a reality for all. May this Shabbat be a reminder that even in the darkest moments, hope and humanity prevail.

May solidarity and compassion guide us, and may we work together to bring home those who are far away, to combat hatred, receive and embrace our brothers with love, and to find in each Shabbat a refuge of peace amidst the storm, a palace of time in the midst of time.

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