Holiness is destination at end of life’s road

RABBI JIM BENNETT

After death, what then? We often ask this very question, in one form or another. In the pain of our loss, out of the depths of our grief, we wonder what lies ahead for our loved ones who have died. Similarly, in anticipation of our own mortality, particularly when we are plagued by illness and pain, we wonder about the road that we are yet to trod. The question of what comes after death has a central place in the faith dialogue of most religions, including our own Jewish tradition. We discover from the essential longings of our faith that death is not the end. Rather, death leads us into a sacred and holy place, the greatest mystery of all.

The very names of the Torah portions here in the midst of the book of Leviticus hint at this message. We move for the parsha called “Acharei Mot (After Death)” to the next, called “Kedoshim (Holiness).” What a comforting thought! Is it possible to move from the pain of death to the beauty of holiness? Surely it is.

Acharei Mot begins by recalling the tragic death of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu when they offered an unauthorized sacrifice. But this parsha does not teach us about what happens to our loved ones after their deaths; rather, we discover the responsibility of those who surround others as they mourn their loved ones.

The Torah teaches: “The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord.” (Leviticus 16:1)

In the midst of their mourning, God appears to Moses, the uncle of Nadav and Abihu and the brother of Aaron, the grieving father. The content of this revelation is of far less significance than the fact that it takes place at all. We learn that despite our pain, or even because of it, it is possible to feel God’s presence in the midst of our grief. The death of those we love, even the anticipation of our own death, can indeed lead us to the presence of the Divine.

From Acharei Mot we move to Kedoshim. From death we move to holiness. From the pain of loss we move to a sense of the ultimate sanctity of human life, to our responsibility to care lovingly for each other, for our world, and for God. From the knowledge that we are not immortal, that we will each surely die someday, we move to a sense of urgency that drives us to make each moment holy.

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth provides this week’s Torah Portion.

Sign up for Your Morning Light