Parshiyos Acharei Mos/Kedoshim - Issurei Arayos

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Apr 27, 2009
The concluding halachic section of Parshas Acharei Mos features the Issurei Arayos - the prohibited illicit relations. Parshas Kedoshim likewise concludes with the Issurei Arayos by delineating their punishments. Although there is a Talmudic principle which states that one cannot be prosecuted for a transgression unless the Torah prescribes its penalty, one is compelled to ask why the Issurei Arayos and their punishments are presented, respectively, at the end of the parshiyos of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim rather than being presented together as one unit. The unusual placement of the Issurei Arayos and their punishments begs for explanation.

There is another interesting aspect to the presentation of the Issurei Arayos. The sequence of their prohibitions in Parshas Acharei Mos commences with illicit familial relations (incest) and concludes with deviant relations and acts (adultery, homosexuality, bestiality); however, the sequence in Parshas Kedoshim is largely reversed, with deviant relations and acts coming first, followed by incestual relations. Why the change in order?

In truth, forbidden relations reflect two distinct concepts: (1) lack of personal control, and (2) distortion of the natural, divine order. One who is unable to restrain himself and establish a relationship only with a mate whom the Torah permits exhibits a clear lack of self-control; one who engages in deviant relations negates and distorts the system of relations and mates that God established in His universe.

It would seem that this answers our questions. In Parshas Acharei Mos, the Torah presents its first objection to illicit relations - that of lack of self-control. Thus, familial relations are featured there first, as one whose physical lust is so unharnessed to the extent that he must exhibit it with the various members of his own household and cannot reserve it for a mate sanctioned by the Torah demonstrates that he cannot or will not assert control over himself. This all fits into the general theme of Parshas Acharei Mos - restricting one's behavior to conform to the Torah's mandate, as elaborated upon in the previous d'var Torah on this parshah.

Parshas Kedoshim presents the penalties for the Issurei Arayos right after the prohibitions of corrupting justice and having or using inaccurate measures and balances; furthermore, the ban on Molech appears as an introduction to the Issurei Arayos in Parshas Kedoshim. This is all because the Torah features the Issurei Arayos in Parshas Kedoshim in light of the second aspect of their objectionability: that of distorting the natural order of God's world. Just as corrupting justice and a merchant's utilization of rigged measuring instrumentation are distortions of equity, and Molech is likewise a total perversion of parental and religious responsibility (see Sefer HaChinuch m. 208), so too do the punishments for the Issurei Arayos in Parshas Kedoshim commence with relations which interfere with and deviate from the norm, as the unnatural, perverse character of Issurei Arayos is the emphasis of its presentation in this parsha.

The lesson of self-restraint taught by the placement and sequencing of the Issurei Arayos in Parshas Acharei Mos is very clear. However, what is the lesson of the perversion of the natural order as exhibited by the Issurei Arayos in Parshas Kedoshim? The fact that certain illicit relations engender a tampering with Hashem's scheme is clear; what is the Torah's point of showcasing this concept?

If one thinks about it, it is readily apparent that so many aspects of the function of the universe are divinely, purposefully planned mechanisms. In order to assure the nourishment of Man, God gave him an appetite and designed nutritious foods with varying and highly desirable tastes. In order to assure the continuity of species, God endowed His creatures with physical urges that lead to reproduction. In order to sustain infant mammals, God provides their mothers with milk from childbirth through weaning and He invests the milk with all necessary nutrients for the infants and places the milk in an area of the mother that the infants can easily access. In order to sustain plant and animal life in an orderly and secure fashion, God created a food chain and precisely linked and synchronized it with massive ecosystems. The abundantly clear purposeful planning that goes into every organ, seed, and design of life forms is absolutely stupefying.

Upon reflection of these concepts, one observes that Hashem engineered His creation to function constructively. Constructive operation of the universe is part and parcel of God's Will. The presentation of the Issurei Arayos in Parshas Kedoshim indicates that not only did Hashem design His world with the purpose of constructive function, but that Man is to apply this concept to his performance of mitzvos and to overall life. By way of example, the Issurei Arayos of Parshas Kedoshim teach that acts and ideas that run counter to our perception of Hashem's plan are to be avoided. There are often pursuits that technically seem permissible, yet if their theses violate the natural order or sense of righteousness and constructive purpose with which Hashem endowed the world, they are wrong and are to be avoided. This is the lesson of the Issurei Arayos at the conclusion of Parshas Kedoshim.

Being sensitive to the purposeful systems and the values that God incorporated into His creation and integrating them into our own conduct and value system is the ultimate fulfillment of "Kedoshim Tih'yu" - "You shall be holy."


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