From Rabbi Avi Weiss: From a literal perspective, the names of Parshiot are nothing more than the first major word of the part of the Torah that is read during the week. It can, however, be argued that deep meaning actually lies within the names themselves. This week’s Parsha, Acharei Mot, literally means “after death”, and next week’s Parsha, Kedoshim that means “holiness”, are fine examples of this phenomenon.
Imagine walking into a dark room for the first time. Not knowing one’s way or one’s place, one trips over the furniture, unaware of which way to turn. However, after days and weeks and months and years, when one walks into that very same dark room, although the darkness still exists, with time we learn how to negotiate the furniture and we can make our way. This week’s Parsha reminds us that after life (Acharei Mot), there can always be Kedoshim – a sense of continuum that is expressed through holiness. How so? The challenge of death is to keep the person who has died alive in spirit. Indeed the Talmud says, there are some people who are actually living yet are not really alive – they’re only going through the motions. On the flip side, there are others who, although physically dead, continue to live through the teachings they left behind and through those whom they have touched in life. The goal is to live a life of character, purpose and meaning, and let those that have passed live through our actions.
Aliya Summary: After concluding the order of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple, the Torah instructs us to observe Yom Kippur as a Day of Atonement when we must abstain from work and “afflict” ourselves.
The Rambam says that there is “communal forgiveness”for “minor” offenses, but major sins require that the individual do their own Teshuva (repentance) . Even when there is “communal forgiveness”, an individual still has to be part of the community in order to benefit from it. One who distances themselves from the community does not receive the benefits of communal prayer, repentance, and atonement.
Aliya Summary: This Aliya continues the description of the special Yom Kippur service. The procedure of the “scapegoat” ceremony is described in this Aliya.
A korban slaughtered outside is invalid and must be burned, “personal” meat inside is likewise forbidden. Both are wasteful, hence sinful, acts which can be construed as a form of “bloodshed”.
General Overview: This week’s Parsha, Acharei Mot, begins with a detailed description of the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. The Torah then discusses prohibitions against offering sacrifices outside the Temple, consuming blood, and incestuous, adulterous, or other forbidden relationships.
Aliya Summary: The High Priest is instructed to only enter the Holy of Holies chamber of the sanctuary once a year, on Yom Kippur; and even on this holiest day of the year, the entry into the Temple’s inner sanctum must be accompanied by a special service and specific offerings which are detailed in this reading. The High Priest was only permitted to enter amidst a cloud of burning incense. Also, special white garments were worn by the High Priest on this day. While offering the day’s sacrifices, the High Priest would “confess” on behalf of the entire nation, attaining atonement for the past year’s sins.