Between the Lines—Aharei Mot-K'doshim

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

ויקרא פרק יח פסוק ג
כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה כג
רבי אליעזר פתר קרא בגאולת מצרים מה שושנה זו כשהיא נתונה בין החוחים היא קשה על בעלה ללוקטה כך היתה גאולתן של ישראל קשה לפני הקב"ה ליגאל הה"ד (דברים ד) או הנסה אלהים לבוא לקחת לו גוי מקרב גוי וגו'

Leviticus 18:3
You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.

Leviticus Rabbah 23:1–2
As is written, "As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters" (Song of Songs 2:2) . . . Rabbi Eliezer interpreted this verse as applying to the redemption from Egypt. As the lily, when placed among the thorns, is difficult to gather, so was the redemption of Israel difficult for the Holy One, blessed be He, to effect. Hence it is written, "Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another by prodigious acts, by signs and portents, by war, by a mighty and an outstretched arm and awesome power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? (Deut. 4:34) . . . Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani remarked: Had it not been for the fact that the Holy One, Blessed be He, had bound Himself by an oath, Israel would indeed never have been redeemed.

These weeks between Pesah and Shavu'ot are hard. We wander, having been freed from Egypt but having not yet received the Torah, counting the Omer up day by day to the next stop on the Jewish holiday calendar. Spring is in the air and we are far from where we were just a few weeks ago, preparing for our sedarim, to say nothing of how far we've strayed from those oaths we made the last time we read the chapters of Aharei Mot last Yom Kippur. We wander, waiting for the revelation that will arrive and for an introspection that lies on the opposite pole of the festival cycle.

It is difficult to pluck the lily among thorns, to gather the best in ourselves and in the world around us when the thorny business of everyday living intervenes. It is as difficult for us as it was for God to free the Israelites from Egypt. But we took an oath, we swore last Yom Kippur to uphold certain principles or commit to certain actions and improved living. Reading Aharei Mot in the spring gives us a flashback to those promises. The midrash reinspires us to step out of the thornbush of habit that has entangled us over the winter and grasp the lily whose seeds were planted last Yom Kippur and that are coming into bloom only now.