Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bellows
The second shlish of Acharei Mot – Kedoshim is Leviticus 17:8-19:14.
You may hear the United Hebrew clergy referring to “The Rabbis” or “The Sages” a lot when we offer you Torah. When we do so, we are usually referring to rabbis who lived 1500 to 2000 years ago, but we could also be referring to even more recent ones. Our ancient rabbis gave us the wealth of knowledge and interpretation on which we base our teachings, practices, and rituals.
Perhaps the greatest of the ancient rabbis was Hillel who lived around 100 BCE. Many know of Hillel as a halakhic (“pertaining to Jewish law”) rival to Shammai. Both presided over the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, Shammai as the Av Beit Din (“Head of the body that decreed Jewish law”) and Hillel as the Nasi (“Prince” or “President”). There were many such pairings for a period, but the legal banter of Hillel and Shammai remain the most referenced.
Hillel’s teachings were easily acceptable, short, and precise. Hillel is the one who gave Judaism the Golden Rule, “Do not do unto others what you would not want done unto you” (Shabbat 31a). In Pirkei Avot, Hillel famously stated three lines which would forever define how the Jewish people strived to act.
Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? Yet, if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14). In other words, it is alright if I stand up for myself. It’s necessary. However, I must also think of others. And I must act now. I cannot wait.
In this week’s Torah portion, God teaches us a similar message. We read that when we offer a sacrifice, we must eat of the animal that very day, or the next day if needed. However, it must not be eaten on the third day. God says, “וְאִ֛ם הֵאָכֹ֥ל יֵאָכֵ֖ל בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֑י פִּגּ֥וּל ה֖וּא לֹ֥א יֵרָצֶֽה׃”, “If it should be eaten on the third day, it is an offensive thing, it will not be acceptable” (Leviticus 19:7). In fact, God goes on to warn, “And he who eats of it shall bear his guilt, for he has profaned what is sacred to the LORD; that person shall be cut off from his kin” (ibid. 19:8).
Why is it profane to eat the meat of a sacrifice for God on the third day after slaughter? Because there was no refrigeration back then and three-day-old meat was less than choice. By eating the meat on the first day, you are offering up the freshest and best offering. By waiting and delaying, you are eating lower-quality meat. Additionally, if you waited three days to do your duty of consuming the meat, you are also delaying the mitzvah you were meant to do earlier, thus profaning it.
As we do not have a Temple in Jerusalem these day, what can we learn from this commandment? We combine this mitzvah with Hillel’s words. Hillel reminded us that we must offer our best, not only to ourselves, but to others. His first two lines could be good enough for us, but what if we delay? What if we delay taking care of ourselves when needed? What if we delay taking care of others? Hillel’s third line is crucial: Do it now! Do what you need now. Do not delay. Do what others need now. Because if you wait, it may be too late. Your or others’ circumstance may have “spoiled”.
On the other hand, God says if you wait to eat your sacrifice until the third day, it is an offense. When it comes to helping yourself or others, it is never too late. Maybe you delayed, and it made things worse or more complicated, but it is not too late. Normally I would charge you by saying, “Go out, this Shabbat, and help others,” and, “Stay home, this Shabbat, to help yourself.” In this day and age, though, you can stay home and accomplish both. Do not delay. Do not let the meat go bad. Act now.
This Shabbat is full of celebration. Not only can we come together for “Nosh” and services this evening, but we are celebrating as Jacob Pokress and Becca Kahn become Bar and Bat Mitzvah. We also have plenty of learning and worship opportunities for everyone, so please check out our virtual schedule.