Incongruence in Incest by Benjy Koslowe


Acharei Mot and Kedoshim parallel each other in several ways. For example, Acharei Mot teaches to observe the “Shabbat Shabbaton” (VaYikra 16:31), which is Yom Kippur, and Kedoshim teaches to observe “Shabbetotai” (19:3), which include the weekly Shabbatot and possibly the Yamim Tovim. Looking at the Mitzvot of each Parashah according to Sefer HaChinuch, though, one particular parallel stands out: The many forbidden relationships. Both Parashiyot dedicate an entire Aliyah to the topic (in both, in fact, it is the sixth Aliyah), amounting to at least 23 forbidden relationships between the two.

Within this parallel, though, are significant differences. When the sixth Aliyah of Acharei Mot relates the negative commandments, the Pesukim begin with “Ervat,” “the nakedness of;” in Kedoshim, the Pesukim start “VeIsh Asher,” “a man who will...” Additionally, while the former Parashah introduces the section by stating twice “Ani Hashem Elokeichem,” “I am Hashem, your God” (18:2, 4) and “Ani Hashem” once (18:5); the latter introduces the section by reminding Bnei Yisrael that cursing one’s parent is an Aveirah punishable by death (20:9). A logical inference from these discrepancies is that the Parashiyot intend to convey dissimilar messages – without this assumption we are left with the uncomfortable conclusion that the Torah is simply repeating itself for no reason.

Delving deeper into our sixth Aliyot we find another point of dichotomy that may shed light on the Torah’s repetitiveness. When Acharei Mot outlaws a relationship it does so with a simple and mild phrase: “Lo Tegaleih,” “you shall not uncover.” This stands in contrast with Kedoshim, which consistently gives a strong threat: “Mot Yumat,” “he shall be put to death.” Why does Hashem seem to sometimes only discourage these sins and at other times take such high offense from them that He will take the malefactor’s life?

Perhaps all of our instances of disparity relate to one key difference: whether the sin is directed against God or against another human being. Acharei Mot spends much of its first half instructing how to observe Yom Kippur, a day on which man atones for his sins done unto God. The sixth Aliyah, then, seems to be a list of relationships that are forbidden because they are disgusting to God. As we see both from His willingness to forgive on Yom Kippur and His mild phrasing of the sins, Hashem is relatively mild and understanding with sins that are Bein Adam LaMakom.

This being the case, Kedoshim must describe the forbidden relationships as Mitzvot Bein Adam LaChaveiro. Hashem is teaching us that man deserves to be in a state of honorificabilitudinitas only when he honors his fellow human beings. Thus, by teaching again the forbidden relationships, Hashem is showing that these Aveirot are not only despised by Him but that they lead to dysfunction between humans. This is why the punishment for violation is absolute and final: Death.

When the Torah introduces the list of illicit relationships in Acharei Mot, the name “Hashem,” which connotes compassion, is used several times. Hashem is awesomely forgiving for even the most egregious sins. In contrast, Kedoshim introduces the section by prohibiting cursing one’s parents, a prohibition that even young children can accept as a basic tenet for a healthy relationship. Most children wouldn’t dare curse their parents even if the parents are known to be very forgiving in nature; unlike God, even the best of humans find forgiving others challenging at times. Then, Hashem proceeds to prohibit relationships – however, not so that we will better our bond with God; rather, so that we will better our bonds with each other. The Torah is not simply repeating itself. It is independently developing man’s relationship with God and man’s relationship with other humans.

There is a great lesson we can learn from the parallel sixth Aliyot in this week’s double Parashah. Our relationship with Hashem is crucially important and we should make sure to not take the gift of Teshuvah for granted. Yet, as we see from Kedoshim’s harsh punishment connected with the forbidden relationships, sins against our fellows are often worse than sins against God. It may be relatively easy to avoid the damaging sins described in the sixth Aliyah of Kedoshim. The challenge we have is to avoid seemingly lesser sins between man and his fellow, which, unfortunately, may be more damaging, more painful, more difficult to move past.

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