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Acharei Mot: You Can Be Too At Home by Abe Mezrich

“What you see as your own private grounds is actually a base from which to serve the world.”

It makes sense that Aaron’s sons would bring a strange fire to God in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Aaron their father is the high priest. They are priests themselves. The building and inauguration of the Mishkan, and the sewing of the uniforms and the inauguration of the priests—they all come together. And at their inauguration, Aaron’s sons are to stay in the Mishkan—not stepping out once—for a whole week. Why not, then, see the Mishkan as their home? Why not see it as their own private grounds for their own private flame?

After He strikes Aaron’s sons down, God offers a new set of laws. These laws take Aaron and his remaining family far afield from the Mishkan and the pristine sacrifice. Now the priests are to teach the people the difference between pure and impure, are to help the people navigate the animal kingdom, bodies of water, bodily fluids. The priests are to serve new mothers who come bearing offerings. The priests are to visit lepers’ homes.

After commanding these laws, God teaches Aaron of Yom Kippur. On that day Aaron—and whichever High Priest succeeds him in the role—will enter the Holy of Holies: the most sacred place in the Mishkan, the most sacred place in all the universe. 

Enter shmita: for six years we work the soil for our food and profit. But on the seventh year – the Sabbatical year, shmita – God changes the order. He tells us to let the land fallow, for us to relinquish our crops to “so the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beast of the field shall eat” (Exodus 23:11).

You think of where you are as your own grounds. As the field where your own special saga gets carried out. But to treat it as only this is to defile it. Because what you see as your own special ground is a part of the whole world. That is the world of the animal kingdom, and of the poor just beyond your yard, and of what you owe them. 

What you see as your own private grounds is actually a base from which to serve the world. What you see as your own private grounds holds the soil to nourish the world.


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Abe Mezrich wants to know what our sacred texts say about our world right now. Sometimes he writes down his answers to those questions. His essays and poetry have appeared in outlets including 929, Gesher Journal, Hevria, The Forward, The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Lehrhaus, The New York Jewish Week, Tablet, and Tradition Journal. Abe’s second collection of poetry, Between the Mountain and the Land Lies the Lesson, is available through Ben Yehuda Press.

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