Parashat Achrei Mot - Into the Wilderness

    Or HaLev
    25.04.19 09:11 AM Comment(s)

    Want to receive weekly wisdom from Or HaLev on parasha and practice? Click to Subscribe.


    With Pesach ending and the Counting of the Omer beginning, it might feel as though the last thing we need is for this week’s parasha to introduce another major holiday into the mix. However, the repentance ritual which is the heart of Yom Kippur, described in Parashat Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16-18) offers a powerful metaphor for how we often relate to those parts of ourselves we might prefer were otherwise.

    We read there:

    “When he has finished purging the Shrine, the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, the live goat shall be brought forward. Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:20-22)

    Is this not our deepest fantasy, to be able to take those parts of ourselves that we have deemed bad, or ugly or unwanted, and to cast them out into a faraway netherworld, so that we can be clean?  

    The sending off of the scapegoat is not so different from the practice we’ve engaged during this past week, to refrain from ingesting leavening as a way of working with those parts of ourselves that are likewise “puffed up.” Powerful indeed, and good for the gut if you’ve gone gluten free (less so if you’ve opted to ingest large quantities of matzah…), the strictures of Passover can give us the sense that we must tread carefully as the world is full of things we need avoid. Likewise, the biblical imagining of Achrei Mot is one where the camp is safe while the wilderness is wild, where only parts of ourselves are welcome while others must be cast out.

    By contrast, the practice of Counting the Omer, which started one day after Passover began, offers us another paradigm entirely.

    There, our destination is revelation, which will be commemorated in seven weeks on the holiday of Shavuot, and our path to get there starts with love. Unlike the abstention practices of Yom Kippur or Passover, the Kabbalistic roadmap for counting the Omer instructs us to start with loving-kindness, to face ourselves and the world from a posture of unconditional love. 

    Mindfulness practice redeems those parts of ourselves that we've buried beneath, that we've sent into the wilderness of our own unconscious.  By entering stillness, we soften the boundaries between home and wilderness, and with audacity and resilience, we allow that which has been cast out to come home, to arise in us so that we might offer it our loving attention. In this way, we make ourselves at home in the world, no longer needing to avoid that which is deemed dangerous. With love, we go back in search of the goat we sent forth and we reclaim the wilderness as our own.  Such is the path of wholeness, that will bring us in due time to revelation. 

    For access to Rabbi Brandes’s course on the Omer, click here, and for daily intentions for counting, check out the Open Siddur, ProjectAt the Well or Soul Hacks from the Gene -Sis