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D’VAR TORAH BY: RICHARD N. LEVY

Acharei Mot, the first of this week’s two parashiyot, begins on an unsettling note—a reminder of the death of Aaron’s sons and the suggestion that such tragedies might occur again unless the priests take specified steps to prevent them. After the straightforward descriptions of the priests, their duties, and their clothing in the early parts of Leviticus, this reminder of the danger of their work casts the whole book in a different light. The Rabbis capture this by arranging that the portion begin with those two somber words, “After [or “Instead of”] Death.” These are not “customs and ceremonies” (the old Reform description of ritual)—they are the substance of life and death itself. They must be done properly.

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