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Acharei Mos

I once heard from my Rebby, shlita, that if one wants to know his status in Heaven, he should examine how things go when he tries to sin. If he finds that "All operations go," and the path is smooth before him, then that is a bad sign that Hashem is so disillusioned with him that He lets him do what he wants. In contrast, if he sees that there are obstacles strewn in his path and he finds it difficult to achieve his sinful goal, then that is a very good sign that Hashem still has faith in him and is trying to help him from falling into the snare of the Satan. Of course, he always maintains his bechirah (free will) to cooperate with or oppose the siyata diShemaya (Heavenly assistance) being bestowed upon him. But what is clear is that Hashem wants to help him.

Hashem's evaluation of a person is extremely complex and is based upon countless factors, most of which we are totally unaware of, including the person's background and the circumstances which led him to his present situation. Therefore, we may often be surprised to see whom Hashem helps and whom he does not. But our faith in Him as the True Judge requires us to always concede to His decision.

In this week's parashah, the Torah lists the many relationships which are forbidden to us. One of them is a sister-in-law as it says (Vayikra 18:16), "The nakedness of your brother's wife you shall not uncover; it is your brother's shame." The following story is brought in the superb book, Lulei Sorasechah.

Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky ztvk"l (1863-1940) was the da'ayan (judge) in Vilna, Lithuania. He was also the undisputed Chief Rabbi of the Diaspora. All of the European rabbis were subservient to him and all communal issues were decided by him and his court. The Chofetz Chaim once said about him that he, in essence, is Klal Yisroel! The many needs of the Jewish People, especially in the difficult days right before the Holocaust, kept Reb Chaim Ozer busy around the clock. Fortunately, he was blessed with a phenomenal brain and memory and he was able to do several things at the same time.

The yoke of the congregation took its toll on his health, however, and one year he was instructed by his doctors that he had no choice but to spend the High Holy Days at a health resort. His disappointment was indescribable and he thought to himself, why did Hashem do this to me, isolating me from my community Vilna, the main Jewish vibrant metropolis, and exiling me to this remote place during the most important days of the year?

On "Shabbos Teshuvah" (the Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), Reb Chaim Ozer saw a newcomer in the shul. The Rabbi greeted him warmly and asked him where he was from. The fellow answered that he was from America and was on his way to Petersburg. His brother had died recently and left over a widow and young children and he decided that, rather than marry a stranger, he would wed her and help her raise his nephews and nieces. He had written her a letter with this proposal and she had accepted. Now he was on the way there.

Rabbi Grodzinsky was shocked. A sister-in-law who has children is forbidden by the Torah! He opened a Chumash and showed the man the prohibition, "The nakedness of your brother's wife you shall not uncover; it is your brother's shame."

But the American was stubborn. "No one will convince me to change my mind," he responded resolutely. But after a moment he added, "Perhaps, if the Rabbi of Vilna would rule against it, I would listen to him."

Reb Chaim Ozer's face beamed. "My dear friend, I am the Rabbi of Vilna!"

The lesson of Hashgachah Peratis (Divine Providence) in this story is obvious. However, Harav Shach zt"l commented that we must learn from it that it was worth it to Hashem to cause so much anguish to the greatest Rabbi of the generation, making him so sick so that he needed to spend time at a health resort and to separating him from his loved ones on the High Holy Days, just to save a simple Jew from sin.

We should appreciate how much Hashem cares for us and cooperate with Him. Then we will be truly happy, in this world and in the World-to-Come.


"My Sabbaths shall you observe and My Sanctuary shall you revere; I am Hashem" (Vayikra 19:30). Rashi explains the mitzvah to revere the Sanctuary by bringing the admonition of the Sages: "One is forbidden to enter the Sanctuary area with his walking stick, wearing shoes or a money belt, or with the dust on his feet."

Included in this mitzvah is the prohibition for one to enter the Temple Mount when he is tamei (spiritually unclean). The Temple Mount is divided into several areas, each with its own regulations. However, today we are not sure of the exact location of each section. Therefore, it is generally accepted that any place on the other side of the Kosel HaMa'aravi (the Western Wall) is considered the Temple Mount. Consequently, it is forbidden to enter that area since we are all temeim and we have not the ability to become pure today. (Some people are careful not to put their fingers in the Kosel; some are cautious not to touch it at all; and some are even wary of approaching it for fear that even the area on this side may actually be the Temple Mount since we cannot positively identify which wall of the Sanctuary the Kosel HaMa'aravi is.) There may, or may not, be special rabbinical ordination, under certain conditions, for soldiers who must protect the Holy Site from our enemies; but the ordinary person may not, under any circumstances, set foot upon the holy soil beyond the Kosel. The grave punishment for doing so intentionally is kares R.l. (the soul is cut off)

After living in Eretz Yisroel for only a few years, I was told that there was a building in the Moslem Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem which could be used as a yeshiva (this was way before the Intifada). I was given vague instructions how to find the place; being told to go straight until a certain alleyway and then turn left. The alleyway must be smaller than I had imagined, because I kept walking straight but could not find that turn I was supposed to make.

Suddenly I saw something very magnificent in front of me which seemed vaguely familiar, like something I had once seen in a picture or something. I stopped to admire the scene and suddenly realized, to my horror, that I was standing before the entrance to the Temple Mount from the Moslem side. Totally confused and trembling with fear, I began to think that it could not possibly be. Surely there must be a sign from the Ministry of Religion warning Jews that it is forbidden to ascent the Mount just as there is near the Jewish part of the Western Wall. Encouraging myself that this could not have happened, I turned around and retreated quickly, turning back every few steps to look for that sign. Eventually, my heart sunk as I finally saw it: a big notice informing Jews that the Torah forbade them from treading on the Temple Site ahead. But the poster was very high and only someone looking for it, and looking upwards, would have noticed it; not someone looking straight ahead like I was.

I was heartbroken. But then I realized that the sign before the Kosel was way before the actual entrance; at the bottom of the ramp leading up to the mountain top. Surely then this sign must also be quite a ways before the actual forbidden area. No responsible ministry worker would put the notice right before the prohibited point. If that were indeed the case, the question remained how far had I gone before I realized my mistake? Had I actually trampled on prohibited ground or not?

Totally distraught, I began to look for the Rabbi of the Wall, Harav Getz zt"l, to ask him if he knew how far before the Temple Mount that notice hung. He was not in his office, and I was sent from place to place to find him, but to no avail. Time was wasting and I was falling deeper and deeper into depression. Finally, I decided to go to the great Torah Sage, Harav Hatzaddik, Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk"l, and discuss the matter with him. I went to his humble home in Sha'arei Chessed and was told that he was in Yeshiva Kol Torah, in Bayit Vegan, where he was Rosh Yeshiva. By the time I found the Rabbi, three torturous hours had past since the beginning of my ordeal.

I approached the Rabbi. He could see that I was deeply disturbed and asked me what was the matter. "Rebby, Rebby," I practically cried. "I fear that I was on the Temple Mount." "So what do you want of me?" the kind Rabbi asked gently. "I want to know what to do," I replied. "You must do teshuvah (repent)," he replied in a very somber tone. "How should I?" I asked, fearful that he may prescribe a difficult penance. Reb Shlomo Zalman gave me his famous smile which penetrated one's whole essence and brought comfort to his aching body and soul. "You must beg Hashem to forgive you," he said.

I was still quite agitated, but the Rabbi seemed to be finished so I began to prepare to walk away from him. He noticed my anxiety and suddenly said to me, "One second. Describe to me exactly what you saw." I started telling him about the building I was standing next to and the marvelous scene I saw before me. His face lit up as he told me, "I know exactly where you were. You were not on the Temple Mount but next to the Arab School (which he named). When I was a child, we used to go there on Chol Hamoed to see the floor of the Temple Mount through the windows facing the site (it is brought that looking at the floor of the courtyard of the Temple brings one Yir'as Shamayim [fear of Heaven], therefore, during Chol Hamoed, Jerusalemites try to find a place from where they can see it). We knew that we were not allowed to put our hands through the windows, but up to there was permissible."

I breathed a great sigh of relief and thanked the Rabbi profusely for putting me at ease.

However, just as I began to go, Reb Shlomo Zalman suddenly said to me, "But you have to do teshuvah!" Totally flabbergasted I asked him, "Why? The Rosh Yeshiva just said that I was not on the Temple Mount!"

The Rabbi explained. "True you did not commit the sin of being on the Holy Ground when you were forbidden. But you did violate another of the Torah's mitzvahs. The Torah commands, 'My Sanctuary shall you revere,' which means that when we are near the Temple Site we must be cautious not to do that which is prohibited there. And you were not cautious. For that, you must do teshuvah."

My heart fell again and I asked him, "What should I do?" Reb Shlomo Zalman's face beamed. "You must beg Hashem to forgive you," he said.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel