Appetizers for the Torah Portion of Acharei (Isru Chag in Israel)
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
The first service within the inner sanctuary on Yom Kippur is the Ketoret (incense offering) which atones for Lashon Hara (evil speech). "There should come something which occurs secretly and atone for something which occurs secretly" , and the Chafetz Chaim says that if there wouldn't have been an atonement at the start of the service for Lashon Hara, all the service of the day would not have been effective.
"For on this day He will atone for you to purify, etc...." (Vayikra 16:30)
The verse begins with the a language of atonement and ends with a language of purification, since the sin which a person transgresses, G-d forbid, besides the essence of the sin itself, also defiles and blocks up the heart, and that is why it says that Yom Kippur atones as well as purifies.
"Before Hashem you will become purified" . (Vayikra 16:30)
The teachers of Mussar (ethics) say that before Yom Kippur we need to purify ourselves, and not wait until Yom Kippur.
PIRKEI AVOT (Ethics of the Fathers)
We say Pirkei Avot during the summer season, for a total of four cycles. A siman (sign) of when when we usually do that is given by means of Roshei Teivot (initial letters) based on the Hebrew word "Nefesh". The letters which spell the Hebrew word "Nefesh" (in English: "soul") are "Nun", "Pey", and "Shin". "Nun" stands for "Naso", "Pey" stands for "Pinchas", and "Shin" stands for "Shoftim". Usually, the times when we start to say Pirkei Avot -- besides the first time -- are when we read the Torah Portions of Naso, Pinchas, and Shoftim. Also, there is another reason why the Hebrew word "Nefesh" ("soul") is connected to Pirkei Avot -- because Pirkei Avot contains teachings which help us to repair the defects of the soul.
"Moshe received the Torah from Sinai..." (Pirkei Avot 1:1)
Why is it written "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai"? Isn't all of the Torah from Sinai? The reason is that within Pirkei Avot, what is discussed are matters of ethics and proper conduct, and also amongst the other nations of the world there have been people who have published books about proper conduct and ethics. But those people made up their ethical values on their own, and the ethical values of Israel were given at Sinai. (from Rav Ovadia M'Bartenura)
"...the Men of the Great Assembly..." (Pirkei Avot 1:1)
There were 120 Men of the Great Assembly, and there are those who say 85. Amongst them were the prophets Chagai, Zacharia, and Malachi. The last one of them was Shimon HaTzaddik. They returned the crown of the Torah to its place, after the Babylonian exile of 70 years.
"He used to say..." (throughout Pirkei Avot)
It is written in Pirkei Avot a number of times, "he used to say". What does this expression mean? On a simple level this means that the Sage being quoted was accustomed to say those words on a regular basis. And there are those who explain that he himself was an elevated person who lived in accord with the principle that he stated, and not just that he used to say it to other people.
The Days of Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer)
It is written by the Ramban (23:36) that the days of the counting of the Omer (the 49 days counted from the second day of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot arrives on the 50th day) are like Chol HaMoed -- the intermediate days of a festival.
The Torah Portion of Acharei has 80 verses, 2 positive commandments, and 26 negative commandments. Haftorah: "Halo K'vnai Kushiyim" (Amos 9).
Pirkei Avot, Chapter 1.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772