Parshat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim: when the ‘mundane’ choice is the spiritual choice

Is it ever appropriate to forego spiritual opportunities?

Surprisingly, yes!

In this week’s Parashah, we learn about the service of the Kohen Godol on Yom Kippur. Part of it includes selecting two goats, one which is offered as a sacrifice while the other is thrown off a mountaintop in a desert (La’azazel) as an atonement.

The Mishnah in Yoma mentions that the person to deal with the goat designated for the ‘azazel’ is escorted by the ‘Yakirei Yerushalayim’- the ‘dear ones of Jerusalem’. The Bartenura explains that these people were stationed at the 10 posts between Jerusalem and the cliff so that there will always be someone to accompany the goat. He calls them the ‘chashuvei Yerushalayim’- the ‘important ones’ of Jerusalem.

Interestingly, as the Torah commentary book ‘Kemotzei Shalal Rav’ (literally meaning ‘as someone who finds a great fortune’) explains, there is no explanation as to who these people were. We only know that they were the ones to accompany the goat to the azazel site.

And yet we call them the ‘dear ones’ and the ‘important ones’.

You see, the public gallery in the temple was open to the masses on Yom Kippur. Naturally, everyone took advantage of it and came to be inspired by the services.

And it certainly was a very inspiring experience for everyone.

Yet a group of people chose to forgo the opportunity to accompany someone to throw a goat off a mountaintop.

And they are called ‘precious ones’, ‘important ones’

Presently, we’re in the ‘omer’ period, when it is customary to take on some restrictions, e.g. not shaving, not listening to music, etc. We are taught that 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died suddenly in this period. These were some of the greatest men of their generation. And yet, they were all punished for not considering the feelings of others (on the level of spirituality they were on).

Our job isn’t just to learn Torah, but to give to others. To be there for our fellow Jews, even at the expense of personal spiritual growth.

Because serving others is in itself a form of spiritual growth.

(As heard from Rabbi Daniel Staum. Click here for the original lecture.

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