Parshas Achare Mos.




In this Parsha as well as in the next one we learn about the prohibitions of forbidden relations[1]. While some of them seem to quite intuitive, many are difficult to understand. What are the known reasons behind these laws?




In the most general sense we can divide all the prohibited relations described in this Parsha into two categories. One includes all relations forbidden between relatives[2] and the other includes all other prohibited relations. The second group of prohibitions is a lot easier to understand. The prohibition to have relations with another man’s wife is natural to every normal individual. Besides the terrible consequences of breaking this prohibition, the children are born without knowing who their father is. As we mentioned in Parshas Yisro, the one doing adultery ultimately breaks all the Ten Commandments. The prohibitions of such abominations as relations with animals and homosexual relations are also understandable by most unbiased people.  


The prohibition to have relations with a Nidah[3] is also not too hard to explain. It is known in contemporary medical research that such relations can bring various deceases including cancer to the couple. The children conceived through such relations can also have various child diseases[4]. Besides this, the spiritual makeup of these children suffers greatly. Another benefit of keeping the laws of family purity is that the couple waits for the next time the wife goes to the mikva, like the engaged await their marriage and honeymoon. Thus the rates of divorces and dissatisfaction among those who observe these laws are much lower than among those that don’t.


However the prohibition of relations between relatives is much more difficult to understand. These laws are called Chukim – statues of Torah that are not intuitive and have only deep mystical explanations[5]. In particular, the Mishna (Chagiga 2:1) puts the secrets of these laws together with the deepest secrets of Maase Merkava and Maase Bereyshis. It is therefore beyond the scope of our commentary to dwell on these ideas, we will only mention a few short words on this subject.


One must realize that certain actions prohibited by the Torah are not because they are totally unclean. In a way, the situation is the opposite. Certain actions are able to release a very powerful flow of spiritual energy, which can be rectified under specific circumstances. However, if the rectification can not be performed, they will lead to tremendous destruction. One example of this is the prohibition of wearing clothes made of wool and linen together. This can actually serve a great rectification and this is why it’s permitted in the case of wearing woolen blue tzitzis on linen garment[6]. Also most of the clothes of the High Priest was made from wool and linen[7]. However, the rectification of wool and linen is only performed under these specific circumstances, otherwise a spiritual destruction is achieved.


Now, one of the reasons behind the prohibition of relations with close relatives is that this could in theory bring a tremendous light from Above into this world. Indeed, Avraham kept calling his wife “my sister” and so too in Shir Hashirim, our nation is called by Hashem “Achosi Kala” – my sister, my bride. However, in this world now it’s impossible to hold such great light and instead it mixes with unclean forces[8]. This may also be a reason why children born from relations of close relatives are often not normal. Their situation can be described as a great soul caught in the unclean[9]. Indeed, the Mekubalim write that if not for the sin of Adam, the close relatives would not be prohibited[10]. 


The one case where the Torah does permit forbidden relations is to perform the mitzvah of Yibum[11]. Interesting, even regarding this mitzvah, the Talmud[12] says that in our day that it’s not done for the right reasons, doing Yibum is considered like having forbidden relations and it’s better to perform Chalitzah[13]. Using this idea another interesting paradox can be explained. According to the Talmud[14], marrying one’s niece is a praiseworthy act. However, Rabbi Yehudah Hachasid[15] wrote in his will not to do it. The reason[16] is the same as the reason Yibum was advised against in the later generations. Indeed this is clear from the words of Rabbi Yehudah Hachasid himself[17], for he writes that for a very righteous person it’s a mitzvah to marry a daughter of his sister, so that his children will be righteous like himself. Indeed, in the families of great Rabbis, marrying those close relatives that are not forbidden by the Torah is practiced even today. However, for the general public who are not doing it Lishma (for the sake of Heaven), this is considered dangerous, and often sick children are born, as indeed fortold by the doctors[18].


Just as the way of doing sins “Leshem Shamayim” is very dangerous[19], so too certain rectifications are quite risky and can not be performed just by anybody. Intimate relations can bring new souls into the world and can therefore perform the greatest rectifications. Therefore the yetzer hara holds strongly to them and so many Torah’s prohibitions safeguard them. In the future, when Moshiach will come, there will be no yetzer hara in relations between husband and wife. They will be as natural as a relationship between two friends or a teacher and a student[20]. Very great souls will be then brought into this world without being afraid that the “unclean side” will have any connection to them.


Parshas Kedoshim.




This Parsha starts with an obscure command: to be holy. In the middle of the Parsha (20:7) it states that if we will try to be holy we will be holy. The Parsha ends again by saying that we should be holy because Hashem is Holy. What does this commandment require from us and what is the meaning of the last statements?




In general, Parshas Kedoshim follows the prohibitions of forbidden relations in the previous Parsha. Hence our sages[21] teach us that sanctifying oneself in regards to these prohibition leads to holiness. This is so since the desires of forbidden relations are some of the most powerful drives that can lead a person to many different transgressions[22].


The Ramban (19:2) discusses the question of what exactly is meant by being “kedoshim” (holy). Apparently there is not particular commandment added by these words. He answers that the Torah is telling us here that not everything permitted by the letter of the law should actually be practiced. There are many ways through halachik “loopholes” to create a situation where no particular law is being transgressed, yet a person is leading a very immoral and corrupt lifestyle.


Take for example the above prohibitions of forbidden relations[23]. There would be possibilities for an immoral person to find ways to gratify his pleasures without breaking any specific laws. Thus, for example, he could keep marrying various women for just one night on condition that he would divorce them the following morning, paying them their Kesubah each time for “services[24]”. This would be equivalent of prostitution, yet no “letter” of the law is broken[25].


Similar examples can be given regarding any other indulgence. In today’s pleasure-seeking society this can be understood better than ever. There is no shortage of “Glatt-Kosher” entertainments that give an opportunity to follow a way of life opposing the spirit of the Torah. Certainly the author is not trying to propose that everyone should live a life of poverty and deprivation. It is hard to know where to draw a line between “reasonable” amount of comfort and excess pleasures[26]. Our sages indeed teach us that the world is given to us[27] and Hashem wants us to enjoy the beautiful world He created[28]. However, the enjoyment has to be limited so that it doesn’t hinder our striving for spiritual[29]. Our sages[30] thus teach: “If one did not deserve to learn much Torah, let him pray that too much food does not enter his stomach”.


Our Parsha states that if we will try to be holy we will be holy and ends commanding us to be holy because Hashem is Holy. Our sages teach us[31] that if we only put some effort to be sanctified, we will become very pure. If we strive to be holy “from below”, Hashem will sanctify us “from Above”. May we deserve to fulfill this verse and speedily greet the righteous Moshiach!


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[1] This Parsha describes the prohibitions themselves, while the next one – the punishments for breaking them.


[2] This may include the case of the man and the woman being blood relatives of each other, or even the case that they are relatives through marriage. For example, a wife’s sister or mother, or a husband’s brother are forbidden.


[3] A woman who had her period and has not yet counted seven days and immersed in the Mikva.


[4] See also Zohar 3:33b; Ramban, Vayikra 18:19.


[5] Even regarding Chukim, some explanations are usually offered on the level of Peshat – plain meaning. In case of forbidden relations, see Ibn Ezra, Vayikra 18:6 and Moreh Nevuchim 3:59. See however Ramban on Vayikra 18:6, who finds these explanations dissatisfactory, see also Sefer Hachinuch 190.

[6] In practice we don’t do this because we don’t have today the correct blue color of techeles and also because of a specific Rabinnical prohibition (see Shulchan Aruch, 9:6). According to some opinions, we should not wear even linen tzitzis on linen garments, this is why the talis katans that are sold today are either woolen or from cotton.


[7] See our words to Parshas Tetzaveh.


[8] See Rekanti, Acharey Mos, 18:6, Tikuney Zohar, 56th Tikun and the beginning of 69th Tikun.


[9] There has been a lot of research in recent years trying to get in contact with the soul “behind” the abnormal children. Even though a clear scientific conclusion has not been achieved, many of the people who were involved are amazed at the statements and answers they “receive” from these supposedly “crazy” individuals. This may also be included in the statement of our sages, that after the destruction of the Temple, the prophecy is given over to fools and children (Talmud, Bava Basra 12b).


[10] Shaarey Haleshem 2:2:2.


[11] See our words to Parshas Vayeshev.


[12] Mishna in Bechoros 1:7, Talmud, Yevamos 3a.


[13] See Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 165:1 as to whether the halacha follows this statement.


[14] Yavamos 62b, see Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 2:6.


[15] An Ashkenazic sage to whom Sefer Chasidim is attributed. Though some of the statements in this book seem to be at odds with the Talmud, the later sages tried to reconcile the two since the author is considered one of the great Rishonim (early sages).


[16] See Questions and Answers of the Deritziner Rav “Beer Moshe” 6:159; Questions and Answers Divrey Chaim, Even Haezer, 8.


[17] Sefer Chasidim, 488.


[18] See Darkey Teshuvah 116:55; Questions and Answers “Divrey Yisroel”, Even Haezer, 11; Questions and Answers  “Beer Moshe” 6:159.


[19] See our words to Parshas Vaechi.


[20] Interestingly, relations in the Torah are usually called “knowing”. 

[21] Vayikra Raba 24:6; see Rashi 19:2.


[22] See our words to Parshas Yisro.


[23] Indeed some of the forbidden relations that the Rabbis added to the Torah are called the “prohibitions of Kedusha”  - due to the mitzvah of being holy (see Talmud, Yevamos 20a).


[24] However, he would not be able to “marry” the same woman twice, since the Torah forbids remarrying a divorced wife who was married to someone else in-between.


[25] At a later time, a Rabbinical prohibition was enacted, that a divorced woman can not remarry for three months, so that if she gets pregnant, it will always be known who the father is. As a result of this enactment a woman in the above example would not be able to take new “clients” every day.


[26] See for example Questions and Answers “Vayavorech David”, 128 regarding a wife who does not want to stay in the city in the summer but wants to go to the country. The author suggests that since that’s what most people do, the husband accepted to cover the expanses when he married her. Obviously this logic applies to a modest bungalow colony, but not to an extravagant vacation on an ocean liner or a Glatt Kosher Hotel with entertainment around the clock.


[27] See Talmud, Brochos 35a.


[28] See for example Talmud, Brochos 58a. The Yerushalmi (Kedushin 48b) says that a person will be held accountable for depriving himself of various kinds of food. The commentators explain that through tasting different exotic fruits once a year, one can especially thank Hashem by making the “Shehecheyonu” blessing. However one has to be careful not to overdo it, as our sages teach (Avos 2:7) “The one who eats too much meat will just create more food for warms (when he dies)”, see also GR”A on Mishley 6:33. See also Talmud, Sanhedrin 70a,b regarding drinking too much wine. In general, the GR”A wrote in a letter to his wife that trying to get more pleasure from the physical world is like drinking the salt sea water – it does not help but only makes one even more thirsty.


[29] Ultimately by making various types of enjoyment rare we can actually derive greater pleasure, whereas constant search for more entertainment makes every pleasure boring (see for example Koheles Raba 6:6).


[30] Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 830, see also the GR”A on Mishley 7:27; 27:7.


[31] See Talmud, Yoma 39a.