<I>Acharei Mot</i>: This is Jerusalem

Why does the Torah use the word "be-zot" ("with this"), rather than simply stating with which animals Aharon would enter the Mishkan?

Aloh Naaleh,

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Rabbi Eddie Abramson for Aloh Naaleh

The parasha of Acharei Mot surrounds us once again with the high drama of the Yom Kippur service observed in the Mishkan and later in the Beit HaMikdash. A fascinating phrase appears in Chapter 16, verse 3: "Be-zot yavo Aharon el ha-Kodesh...." - "With this shall Aharon enter the Holy Place...." The verse goes on to say that Aharon brings an ox for a sin-offering and a ram for a whole-burnt-offering. But the verse is strangely structured. Why does the Torah use the word "be-zot" ("with this"), rather than simply stating with which animals Aharon would enter?

Midrash Rabbah suggests an answer. The Midrash points out that the Kohen Gadol had to enter the holy place with, as the Midrash puts it, "bundles of mitzvot." Each "bundle" is a quote from Scripture that uses the word zot - "this". With each zot did Aharon enter the Holy Place to show God that the Jewish people merit forgiveness. The Midrash quotes verses that show that the word zot alludes to Torah, to circumcision, to Shabbat, and to many other meritorious activities of the Jewish people.

Among all of the wonderful entities that will help G-d forgive the Jews is "zot Yerushalayim" - "this is Jerusalem" - a quote from the prophet Yechezkel (5:5). Certainly, through the merit of Jerusalem should the Jewish people be forgiven.

But a closer look at the context of this phrase is puzzling. The full verse reads: "Thus says God: 'This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations, and countries are round about her.'" Why is this a verse about Jerusalem that will convince God to forgive us for our sins? Rashi solves the problem with his succinct comment on the verse: "In the middle of the world."

In order for us - as a nation and as individual Jews - to retain our moral compass and our authentic identity, Jerusalem must be the center of our world. It is not only a wonderful place to visit or an important historical location; it is the focal point of our universe. How fitting is it, then, that when the Kohen Gadol entered (and will yet enter) the Holy Place, Jerusalem itself pleaded our case, for we have made it the center of our existence.
Rabbi Edward Abramson received semicha from Yeshiva University in 1973, and served first as a congregational rabbi in Saratoga Springs, New York, and then as the principal of Rockland Hebrew Day School and Westchester Day School. He came on Aliyah with his family in 1983, and has worked in Israel in both education and business. He is presently teaching at the Israel Center of the Orthodox Union in Jerusalem, working with the B'Yachad organization to promote dialog between religious and secular Jews in Israel, and writing a book on the history of the Jewish outreach movement in the US in the 1960s.