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Parashat Achrei Mot

May 3, 2024
26 Nisan 5784
Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30
11th day of the Omer

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30) is Achrei Mot, which means “after death." It is an appropriate name in a week that we observe Yom Hashoah. This year the resonance is richer and deeper as we continue to mourn those who were slaughtered on October 7.

The deaths that are being referenced in the Torah portion are the deaths of the sons of Aaron, who offered strange fire and were consumed. Aaron’s initial silence after the death of his sons is one of the many ways in which we grieve. Words fail us; they are simply not sufficient.

Traditionally we are taught that mourning is suspended as we welcome Shabbat. Rather than mourning, Shabbat can be a time of remembering those who have been lost. It is incumbent upon us to remember how they lived and not how they died.

Although the deaths referred to in our Torah portion are not the deaths of millions, the deaths of Nadav and Abihu serve to remind us to remind us that each of those who died in the Shoah is much more than a number. Each has a unique story. When we add the stories of those who perished to the narratives of those who survived, we begin to get a sense of the enormity of it all.

This week, the Shoah was the center of our discussion in Chevre class. We grappled with why it is important to remember and to understand that it is the only recorded genocide that killed one group of people across national borders across Europe. It was not an easy session, especially against the backdrop of all that has been going on around us.

The trauma of our story lives within us but the task is to get beyond it and find a way forward. In this week’s Torah portion, we have the story of the two goats who carry our guilt and misdeeds that we read on Yom Kippur. One is offered up on the altar and the other, commonly referred to as a scapegoat, is sent out into the wilderness. These two separate actions are powerful models for us, not just in terms of casting out our misdeeds but how we go forward. These rituals are a means for the people to let go of the pain and the guilt that they carry.

Lighting a yahrzeit candle on Yom Hashoah is an act that each of us can do. But it is not enough. I am not suggesting that we send a goat out into the wilderness, or even tell the story of the goat. But I do invite us to tell the story of those who survived and those who did not.

With that in mind I share this poem that resonated for my students this week.

Deborah Kahan Kolb


An old man I know – a great grandfather –
Steps into a tattoo parlor, tells the artist,
I am ready to begin my life.

Eight lingering decades carried in his creased cheeks.
Five blue numerals etched in his crinkled skin.
He presents his forearm for erasure.

Make it disappear, the old man says.
This number does not define me.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784