27 Apr 2023 Parshas Achrei Mos: To Live By Them
This week we read the double sedra of Achrei Mos-Kedoshim. Included are the mitzvos and halachos regarding the avodah of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, forbidden physical relationships, the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, and the myriad of mitzvos bein adam la’chavairo (mitzvos that govern inter-personal relationships) detailed in Parshas Kedoshim.
In Parshas Achrei Mos we are instructed regarding the famous dictum to live by the mitzvos, and as Chazal interpret: to live by them, and not to die by them.
The pasuk tells us: וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם הָאָדָ֖ם וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י ה – and you shall guard My decrees and My laws, that a person shall do them, and he shall live by them, I am Hashem (Vayikra 18:5). Rashi comments: וחי בהם. לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, שֶׁאִם תֹּאמַר בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וַהֲלֹא סוֹפוֹ הוּא מֵת – and he shall live by them: this refers to eternal life in the World to Come, for if you will say it refers to life in this world, is it not the fate of all that in the end, man dies?
And the Sages teach (Sanhedrin 74a): וחי בהם ולא שימות בהם – ‘that he shall live by them’, and not that he shall die by them.
The sole purpose of man in this world is to live to serve his Creator. And it is only through Torah and mitzvos that we live, in as much as they sustain us in this world, and give eternal life to our neshamos in the Next World.
Rabbi Yissocher Frand quotes a beautiful interpretation of this mitzvah, ‘to live by them’, from the Gerrer Rebbe. Rabbi Frand writes, “The Gerrer Rebber offers a chassidishe interpretation of this phrase ‘וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם, and you shall live by them’. What do we call ‘living by them’?
“In the yeshivah world, one often hears the question, ‘Where do you get your chiyus?’ Literally, this means ‘Where do you get your life?’ The question touches on a profound issue. Where do you find the spark of your life? What brightens up your day when you get out of bed in the morning? What excites you? What gives you the zest of life? For some people, it is the prospect of learning Torah. For others, it is the opportunity to do some good work in Jewish outreach. And for others, it is the prospect of a good steak or a good game of baseball or football.
“This, says the Gerrer Rebbe, is what the Torah is telling us. A person should ‘live by the mitzvos.’ His chiyus, his zest for life, should derive from the prospect of doing mitzvos. These should be the entire raison d’ètre for his existence in this fleeting, material world.
“Before you turn around, your life in this world is over, even if you were blessed with a ripe old age. It seems that all of life is all but a dream, an illusion. You cannot look for the meaning of life in this world, only in the Eternal World of Truth, and only Torah and mitzvos will take you there. Only mitzvos will give you an everlasting, meaningful life.”
One must consider the pursuit of material goods and wealth. “One should never seek to accumulate money for its own sake. What will it get you? A little extra pleasure in this world? Is that life? Is that where you are expecting to find your chiyus? True, one must work as much as is necessary in order to provide a livelihood and sustenance for his family, but after that, he should seek chiyus from doing mitzvos and chessed with one’s wife and children, with one’s family, community, with the Jewish people.
“You should seek your chiyus in Torah, and in building a closer relationship with the RS”O. That is the key to eternal life” (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah, p.172-173).
The Sages understand that when the Torah commands us to “live by them” it means, to live, and not to die. Hence, Chazal further understand that ‘and you shall live by them’ teaches us: חַלֵּל עָלָיו שַׁבָּת אַחַת כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּשְׁמוֹר שַׁבָּתוֹת הַרְבֵּה – Desecrate one Shabbos on his behalf so that he will live in order to observe many Shabbasos (Yoma 85b).
Sometimes it becomes necessary to desecrate and transgress a mitzvah (under the discretion and direction of one’s Rav!) so that one shall live, and be able to fulfill many mitzvos in the future.
However, the Gerrer Rebbe understands an additional message and lesson. וחי בהם – and live by them! Each person must ask himself, from what, and for what, do I live? What is it that fuels my hours, my days, my weeks and my years? What in this world gives me the chiyus to wake up each day and be productive with my time? What do I view as fleeting and passing by, and what do I view as the source of eternal life?
Every morning a Jew wakes up and recites the ‘modeh ani’ prayer. As we thank Hashem for returning our souls to us anew each morning, and praise Him for ‘rabbah Emuna’secha’ – the great faith He has in us, we must consider the command to ‘live by them.’ To ensure that our will, drive and motivation to live comes from Torah learning, performance of mitzvos, and acts of gemillus chessed. If we are fueled in this world by Torah and mitzvos, then we will be eternally rewarded in the Next World.
עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, מִטִּפָּה סְרוּחָה, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, לִמְקוֹם עָפָר רִמָּה וְתוֹלֵעָה. וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן, לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא
Consider three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before Whom you will give an accounting in the Next World (Avos 3:1 – read this coming Shabbos afternoon after Mincha).
May our love and motivation for Torah and mitzvos always be the purpose for our living, so that in the Next World, we will be able to testify and say “וחי בהם”, I strove to always live by them.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,