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אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם

Which man shall carry out and by which he shall live. (18:5)

The mitzvos were given to us for the sake of life and living. Therefore, if the performance of a mitzvah may endanger life – the need to maintain one’s life supersedes his observance of the mitzvah. The exceptions to this rule are the three cardinal sins: murder; idol worship; and adultery. A life in which these mitzvos are not observed is no life at all. The Chassidic Masters derive from this pasuk the requirement to observe mitzvos with “life” – not apathetically. One should throw all of himself into his mitzvah observance. Indeed, it should be the source, the raison…

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כמעשה ארץ מצרים אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו

Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled. (18:3)

The holy Peshischa, Horav Bunim, zl, renders this pasuk homiletically, deriving from the ensuing exegesis an important lesson for Jewish living. On an almost constant basis we are confronted with challenges to our spiritual well-being. These challenges come in the context of our base desires. We must exert extreme effort to overcome these physical passions, which scream out to us: “Why not be like everybody else?” Obviously, the optimum defense to triumph over the yetzer hora, evil inclination, and its wiles is to circumvent a confrontation between the provocation of physical desire and spiritual ascendancy. By providing ourselves with a…

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ושפך את דמו וכסהו בעפר

He shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. (17:13)

The Torah commands us to cover part of the blood of the kosher birds or non-domesticated kosher animals that he slaughters. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the shoresh, root, of this mitzvah is in the relationship between the soul of the slaughtered animal or fowl and its blood. Blood is the life source of the living animal, thus, it is fitting for us to cover the soul and hide it from the eye prior to consuming its meat. When we eat the meat with the blood exposed, we acquire a tinge of cruelty in our souls. In other words, to…

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ונתן אהרן על שני השעירים גרלות גורל אחד לד' וגורל אחד לעזאזל

Aharon shall place lots upon the two he-goats: one lot “for Hashem”; and one lot “for Azazel.” (16:8)

The two goats are identical in every way; yet, one becomes a korban, sacrifice, to Hashem, while the other is sent to Azazel. Apparently, the goats had no say in the matter. We assume that this also happens to people. Two people both do all of the right things (or at least they thought so), but one makes it, while the other does not fare as well. What happened? What about bechirah chafshis, freedom of choice? It almost seems that regardless of past choices, one’s future is determined for him. Clearly, this is not true. If we are taught that…

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ולקח מלא המחתה גחלי אש מעל המזבח מלפני ד' ומלא חפניו קטרת סמים דקה והביא מבית לפרכת

He shall take a shovelful of fiery coals from atop the Altar that is before Hashem, and his cupped handful of fiery ground incense-spices, and bring it within the Curtain. (16:12)

The Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakodshim, Holy of Holies, four times on Yom Kippur. The first time was to burn incense. This was followed by sprinkling the blood of the bull between the Badim, Poles, of the Aron Kodesh. The third time, he entered with the blood of the sa’ir, he-goat, that was slaughtered l’Hashem. This blood was also sprinkled. Each time the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakodshim, he immersed himself in the mikveh. He also changed the vestments, since the Kohen Gadol was not permitted to enter the Holy of Holies while wearing gold vestments. He performed…

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ושמרתם את חקתי ואת משפטי אשר יעשה אתם האדם וחי בהם

You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live. (18:5)

The Talmud (Yoma 85B) expounds on the words, v’chai bahem, “and live by them,” that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, takes precedence over all mitzvos, except for the three cardinal sins: murder; idolworship; adultery (and shmad, when gentiles force a Jew to choose between Hashem and his own life). Under such circumstances, one forfeits his life. Rashi interprets v’chai bahem to mean that, as a result of one’s adherence to mitzvos, he will achieve eternal life in Olam Habba, the World to Come. Horav Hillel Vitkind, zl, explains v’chai bahem homiletically as applying a mussar, character refinement, approach. A person…

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אחרי מות שני בני אהרן בקרבתם לפני ד' וימותו

After the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they approached before Hashem, and they died. (16:1)

The Midrash (quoted by the Chida in Nachal Kedumim) relates that when Iyov heard of the incident concerning the tragic passing of Nadav and Avihu, he said, Af l’zos yecherad libi, “Even for this my heart trembles.” The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 20) elaborates concerning Iyov’s trembling: (Iyov said to himself) “Titus the wicked had the audacity to enter the Kodesh HaKedoshim, Holy of Holies (a place where only the Kohen Gadol entered on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur), brandishing a sword. He pierced the Paroches, Curtain, and his sword emerged blood-soaked. Yet, he went in peacefully (unharmed)…

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אשר יעשה אתם האדם וחי בהם

Which man shall carry out and by which he shall live. (18:5)

V’chai bahem – “By which he shall live (by them)” is an enjoinment to us that mitzvos, commandments, are not to come in contradistinction to life. Thus, if performing a mitzvah endangers one’s well-being, his life supersedes the mitzvah, except for the three cardinal sins of idolatry, murder and forbidden relationships. Furthermore, if violating a mitzvah is under such circumstances which would bring about a chillul, desecration, of Hashem’s Name, his life takes second place to the mitzvah. The Chiddushei HaRim views the words, v’chai bahem, as setting the standard for mitzvah performance. We are exhorted to perform mitzvos in…

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ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש

He shall not come at all times into the sanctuary. (16:2)

The parsha begins by reiterating the tragic deaths of Aharon HaKohen’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu; then it continues with its explanation of the Yom Kippur service. Yom Kippur was the only day of the year that the Kohen Gadol was permitted to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, Holy of Holies. Chazal point out that two instances of misas tzaddikim, deaths of the righteous, are juxtaposed on issues that deal with kapparah, atonement: Parah Adumah and Yom Kippur. The death of Miriam HaNeviyah is juxtaposed upon the laws of Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer; and the laws of Yom Kippur are…

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ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש

He shall not enter at all times into the sanctuary. (16:2)

The only time that the Kohen Gadol was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies was on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year – the day set aside for spiritual atonement. Our parsha begins with the mention of the deaths of the two righteous sons of Aharon HaKohen and follows with the laws concerning the Yom Kippur service in the Temple. Chazal derive from this juxtaposition that the deaths of the righteous have an atoning effect similar to that of Yom Kippur. Likewise, we find a similar statement made by Chazal, noting that the mention of the…

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