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Parshas Acharei Mos - Knowing Someone is Feeling Deeply for That Person                              28 Nissan 5779

05/03/19 08:47:15


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This Dvar Torah is L’ilui Nishmas in memory of Leah Bas Reuvain Z”L Mrs. Lori Kaye

Terror strikes again, but for the people of San Diego it is of a different proportion. Whenever and wherever tragedy takes place, the individuals who are nearest to the tragedy are the most deeply affected. Typically, when we hear about a famine, fire, destruction, flood or any type of traumatic event which causes pain, suffering and loss of life, our reactions vary depending upon the proximity of the disaster to us. When a disaster or tragic event occurs across the globe we pause for a moment, make a comment, and move on with our lives as if nothing has really happened. Our lives are not directly impacted by an event which is not closely connected to ourselves.

The pain and suffering that victims experience is obviously far greater than could possibly be experienced by those who did not witness or closely experience the event. We all try to empathize with those who witnessed the horror; we contact our friends, neighbors, even acquaintances to check in on them when something awful happens. However, the closer we get to the pain, the more intense our reactions. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

This past week I, along with many other San Diegans, received well wishes, through emails, text messages and the like asking how we are doing in the aftermath of the terror attack on the Chabad House in Poway. I received calls from national organizations and agencies looking after Jewish institutions. I received calls and messages from friends and family and from tourists and business people who frequent our city, all asking, “Are you ok? How is the community doing?” There is a marked difference in their tone when the questions switch from general concern to the next level of concern - when I was asked if I know any of the victims. In this case I responded, “Yes. I knew Lori Kaye, Z”L.” Immediately, there was overt concern for my welfare. Although I met her briefly, merely saying hello or exchanging a greeting over the years, it wasn’t until six months ago that I actually sat down and spoke with Lori for about half an hour. However, it wasn’t until I listened to the eulogies given by her closest friends and family that I realized that she was the person with whom I had chatted only a few months earlier.

On October 9th, 2018, a voicemail was left on the Shul number for me from Lori. In that message she introduced herself and proceeded to explain that she was a very good friend of Oren Lee (who I know) and closest family friends. As his birthday was approaching in a few days (I think it is October 11th) she wanted to purchase my book and have it inscribed as a birthday gift for him. I immediately texted her, and a few hours later she met with me at the Shul, playing Jewish geography and weaving connections within the Jewish community. Now, only now six months later, listening to the incredible stories and anecdotes describing Lori’s life and her accomplishments ,I find myself fully comprehending and appreciating that she bought not one but three of my books. I now picture my books sitting on a shelf somewhere in her home, purchased simply to make me feel good, using the purchase as a mechanism to support a Rabbi’s work.

A few days ago, I looked back at the text I sent to Lori, and I re-listened to the voicemail she left for me indicating the time of a meeting which I would so deeply appreciate six months later. So many people were touched by her; the reaction of those who know someone who also knew her grows more meaningful and impactful by her loss.

The reading for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is the section describing the Kohein Gadol during High Priest’s service in the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur day. That portion is taken from Vayikra, chapter 16. As was mentioned at the memorial service for Lori, it was this Parsha that was read in Israel the day she was murdered; we here in the diaspora will read the same portion this coming Shabbos, the week of her funeral and the mourning of Shiva for her.

In this week’s Parsha Acharei Mos, the Torah opens with the reference to the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. In Vayikra 16:1 the Torah states: “Vayidaber Hashem El Moshe, Acharei Mos Shnei Bnei Aharon, B’Karvasam Lifenei Hashem Vayamoosoo”. “And Hashem spoke with Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons as they came close/before God and died.” The most widely-accepted understanding of the death of Aharon’s sons took place because they apparently did something wrong. The Zohar HaKadosh, on the other hand, lends great importance and accolades to the death of Aharon’s sons. On this passuk the Zohar writes that when Tzadikim - righteous people - leave this world, ‘Din’ judgment leaves the world. Therefore, we read this portion and review the death of Nadav and Avihu on Yom Kippur so that their deaths should be an atonement for the entire Jewish people. God says, “Involve yourselves with the deaths of these righteous souls and I will consider it as if you offered the proper Yom Kippur sacrifices of the day to atone for your sins. During the duration of Klal Yisroel’s exile when they do not have the ability or the means to offer the Yom Kippur atonement sacrifices, let them, the Jewish people, have the remembrance of Aharon’s two sons. For they are equal to the seventy members of the Sanhedrin, the high court who served Moshe. It is through their deaths that the Jewish people merit atonement every year as we recall these men. For whomever is pained by the difficulties and afflictions of the righteous, or shed tears over them, HaKadosh Baruch Hu calls out his name and proclaims atonement for that individual’s sins.”

The sefer Etz Hadaas Tov illustrates the greatness of Nadav and Avihu from the wording of the verse. Nadav and Avihu died by ‘neshika’ - the kiss of death - after they had already gotten close to Hashem. The word describing their death is at the end of the verse, while the beginning of the passuk describes their actions of trying to spiritually get closer to God. All other Tzadikim die first and thencling to the Shechina, Hashem’s essence. The son’s of Aharon were unique in getting close to Hashem and then, after reaching heights no other Tzadik would attain, they perished.

Leah Bas Reuvain, Lori Kaye, was truly special. She got closer to Hashem by acting and living her life as a Tzelem Elokim, in God’s image. It was through the acts of loving kindness that she emulated Hashem’s ways; she grew closer and closer right up to her final moment of life. Yehi Zichra Baruch.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780