This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30)

I discuss the weekly Torah portion every Monday at 7pm PST on my live cam and on YouTube.

This week we study Parashat Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30).

I’m no longer working with the rabbi. So I need a new partner to discuss the parasha with every week. I want someone knowledgeable in Torah. Your views on Torah don’t matter to me. I don’t care if you’re an atheist or a Hasid.

* The Torah is often not in chronological order, such as this Torah portion (parasha).

* God doesn’t talk much to Aaron. Why is God so picky about who He talks to?

* Parasha begins with God instructing Moses on strict limits for Aaron. Torah is all about setting limits and boundaries. This is something hard for me to do with other people. I tend to accommodate endlessly because I don’t like interpersonal conflict or I go to the opposite extreme and just cut people out of my life or I just create a super-defended life so that few people want to get close enough to me so that we might have conflict. I want to get stronger at setting boundaries and respecting the boundaries of other people, particularly those who I want to keep in my life.

A lot of people come up to me in an overly familiar way because I am open in my blogging, but just because I’m open in my blogging does not mean a stranger can approach me like a buddy and immediately ask intrusive questions and give unsolicited advice. If I publish a post about a sensitive area of my life, it does not mean that matter is no longer sensitive to me. It’s not cool to come up to me and start boring in on a sensitive topic. Anyone who does anything like this is such a fool that I never want to interact with them.

By contrast, I immediately accord respect to a stranger who obeys the laws of decorum and begins his communication to me with “Mr. Ford” or “Levi.” The use of my Hebrew name, “Levi”, implies that we’re mishpacha (family) and I dig that.

* Lev. 16: 1 says that Nadav and Avihu died when they approached HaShem. Democracy is a beautiful political system but it is not necessarily the best moral system to apply to all forms of human interaction.

The more traditional you go in Jewish life, the more hierarchical. Those with Torah learning are accorded great respect and those who don’t know Torah know they’re ignorant. An ignoramus does not go up to a great sage and start spouting his opinions just as on a movie or TV set, the extras are often admonished to not even look at the stars. You have to earn the right to approach some people. This is understood in traditional life across many cultures but it is frequently not understood in secular Western life — that there are great people and you don’t speak to them as you would to an ordinary person.

* The sin of Nadav and Avihu appears, at least in part, to be going where they shouldn’t. Not all of the world is open to everyone. Not every role in a synagogue or a Jewish community is equally open to everyone. I would never presume to go up front to lead the davening. I never ask for any synagogue honors, even though my therapist once pushed me to. I was feeling insecure that I hadn’t been asked to the Torah in many months. My therapist wanted me to ask. I preferred to wait.

If I had a rich home in Bel Air, I would not want a subway going close to me. If you don’t have a car, you shouldn’t come wandering around my neighborhood. This is not an area for everyone.

A lot of stores and neighborhoods don’t want single young black men around because they fear their high crime rate. There’s no parallel to this in America. This fear is not just ethnic bigotry because even many black people have this fear (Jesse Jackson, Juan Williams).

* The death of the righteous atone (according to the tradition, Nadav and Avihu were righteous and their death atoned for Israel’s sins). Sounds Christian.

* I will explain why I don’t like to clarify for people when I am being sarcastic. I’ve found that when people push me to reveal if I’m kidding, the person will be a never-ending source of more requests for clarifications and it is not worth my time. Those who get my sarcasm get my sarcasm and need no explanation. Those who don’t get my sarcasm will be a never-ending source of frustration for me to interact with and it is generally best to refuse to answer them and to set up boundaries that say, I’m not into explaining.

People who don’t get sarcasm are not inherently bad or dumb. They’re just an energy drain for me and I don’t need it.

For similar reasons, I rarely answer emails that are consistently misspelled and badly punctuated and I don’t give charity to people who ask for it.

I had a crazy black man collar me at the laundromat this afternoon asking for money. He said he was liable to seizures. I couldn’t understand most of what he was saying.

After I told him no, he kept hectoring me. Finally he resorted to, “Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?”

Homeless people set on Orthodox Jews because they know we are religiously obliged to give charity. They think we’re a soft touch.

The more you give to people, whether it is charity or explanations, the more you encourage them to continue said behavior.

I’m fine with giving charity if you know the person or the institution. I think giving charity randomly to whoever asks 99% of the time only encourages bad behavior.

I remember Rabbi Muskin in 2001 getting tired of constantly having to be the bad guy at YICC to remove a very nasty man who came around seeking charity. The rabbi told us not to give to him. That he verbally abused the shul’s secretary. The rabbi asked for our help. It’s easy to wimp out with the nasty characters who come seeking charity and think, “Let somebody else be the tough guy and eject him.”

I remember a lot of jerks who’ve come around shuls for charity and verbally abusing those who didn’t give to him sufficiently.

Love and compassion and charity are not always right.

I remember one Shabbos morning at Stephen S. Wise temple seeing Dennis Prager helping out someone claiming to be Jewish. Dennis made an announcement to the minyan to help out the man.

The guy turned out to be a jerk who verbally abused the rabbi.

“All of the worst things I’ve done have come out of a desire to do good,” Dennis told a friend at the time.

* The only person I ever want to spend time with working on the relationship will be my wife. As for anyone else, if we have to spend time working on the relationship it’s not worth having the relationship. With all of my best friends for all of my life, there was no time spent working on the friendship. By contrast, all the friendships I had where I had to spend time working on the friendship were doomed.

* I’m ambivalent about unmarried people getting therapy for their relationship. If you’re already having problems this severe, you probably shouldn’t get married. If you’re not enjoying each other without “working on the relationship”, then seek out someone you can enjoy without therapy and without “working on the relationship.”

Once my previous relationships needed therapy (I can think of just one where we visited the shrink together), we were already doomed.

* I’m on good terms with most of my ex-girlfriends but some of them I will not be friends with on Facebook because if I let them in my lives, they create chaos. They’re too needy and reactive and don’t read social cues.

* Human relationships run on bids. We made bids for others’ attention. If they ignore us, we very quickly get the message and stop bidding for their attention. A bid may be a look or a phone call or an email or a smile. If you don’t pick up on other’s bids for your attention, you’re going to be alone. It’s fine to reject the bids of people you don’t want in your life but don’t be careless with the bids of those who are important to you. It’s better to say no than to ignore.

* Many details on proper dress in this parasha. A Torah personality takes care with his dress. This does not come naturally to me. While I prefer to be around people who dress well, I don’t tend to dress well.

* I told my therapist that I expected him to consistently dress better than me. That he appear neat and professional is important to me. I would not want a therapist (or any professional) who dressed like a slob. When I become an Alexander Technique teacher, I will have to start dressing better than I currently do as a student and blogger. When I worked for a newspaper or a radio station or almost anyone, I dressed better than I do as a self-employed blogger.

* Yesterday marked the seventh year of the rabbi’s unemployment. We’ll discuss what happens when he applies for work. The toll unemployment has taken on him. I find unemployment devastating. It’s hard for me to interact normally with the world when this part of my life is missing. I lack confidence. I feel like a loser. I want to hide and cry.

* The United States is the only western country where able-bodied men can not get the dole. Is this good or bad? I think it is good. It encourages people to build strong relationships to family, friends and to community. It encourages joining — religious institutions such as shuls, ethnic and professional clubs, and the like. These institutions in turn look out for their members when they fall on tough times. Dennis Prager tells the story of a high school math teacher in his childhood shul who went blind in a car accident. I guess there was no safety net aka disability aka workmen’s compensation for this at the time. So the shul met at Prager’s parents house (circa 1960) and everyone made a financial commitment so this guy could get by. And the shul community took care of this man for the rest of his life.

If the government takes over this, then groups won’t and people will take less care with each other. The welfare state destroys character. It enables me to live on their own without forming bonds. Unions also destroy character. Employees become militant about their break times and work rules rather than serving the customer and growing the business. Only once did I work for a union — for Kmart in Australia in 1984. I had to join the union to work and the company deducted my union dues every paycheck. I hated it.

* Marcus Freed writes on his FB: on stage in Long Beach introducing cool Israeli/Ethiopian rapper Kalkidan for Jewlicious Festivals campus tour. I asked him to freestyle in English and he dropped 50 F-bombs in 60 seconds. Whooooooooooooooooooooops….

* Chicago school bans lunches brought from home. The over-bearing female principal says homemade lunches are not healthy enough. No male principal would do this unless he was an Al Gore type.

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”

Carmona said she created the policy six years ago after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch. Although she would not name any other schools that employ such practices, she said it was fairly common.

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said she could not say how many schools prohibit packed lunches and that decision is left to the judgment of the principals.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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