Bnei Yisrael had left the land of Egypt, one of the lowest and worst nations, and are on their way to Eretz Yisrael (a.k.a. Cana’an), a land filled with people of immoral behavior.
Thus, HaShem warns them, “As the actions of the land of Egypt, in which you lived – DO NOT DO! And as the actions of the land of Cana’an, to which I am bringing you – DO NOT DO! DO NOT marry a woman who is already married to someone else. DO NOT marry a woman who is a close relative, such as your sister or mother.”
Surprisingly, these laws were selected to be the Torah reading in synagogues around the world on Yom Kippur afternoon! This odd behavior of the Egyptians and the people from Cana’an seem hardly appropriate for such a holy day!
So why was this text selected?
The lesson is clear:
Holiness is only holy if it affects every aspect of our lives, from the most spiritual service possible, similar to the Kohen Gadol entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, all the way down to the most simple physical things, such as being careful not to marry your sister!
When telling us which marriages are forbidden, HaShem says, “Do not act like in Mitzrayim.” Well, what did they do in Mitzrayim?
Actually, it was the practice in the Egyptian royal family for the king to marry his sister. They were so greedy that they wanted to keep all their wealth in the family! So she would go from being sister-of-Paraoh, to Mrs. Paraoh. The good part is that she didn’t need to change her last name. The bad part is that this is forbidden in the Torah!
It’s interesting to note that the Torah calls a brother-sister marriage a Chesed, which is usually translated “kindness.”
Now, what could be so kind about marrying one’s sister?! To find the answer for this, we need to go all the way back to Parshas Bereishis, when Adam married Chavah, and they had two sons, Cain and Hevel.
Who did the boys marry? Their sisters!
And this was the kindness we read about now. Even though HaShem normally does not allow it, he made a very kind exception back when the world was young and there was no one else to marry. Thank G-d for that… otherwise you and I wouldn’t be here today learning about HaShem’s kindness.
Look in a Chumash, at the very end of every Parsha, and you’ll see that it says how many Pesukim there are in that Parsha. Then comes a little hint to remember the number.
Well, after stating that Acharei has 80 Pesukim, the Chumash tells us that the hint is the Hebrew words “Ki Kol” (כי כל), which add up to 80.
“Ki Kol” means “because everything.” What is the connection? Firstly, these two words happen to be the opening words of one the last Pesukim of the Parsha, but perhaps there is a deeper message:
We have the power to become holy, because everything in our lives can be focused to serve HaShem, from the most spiritual to the most regular unholy things.