A Nauseous Land: Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Is it difficult for you to get a disturbing mental image out of your mind? Do you have any methods to make it easier for you to forget it?

In a reference to the Israelites’ bad behavior, the Torah text provides a disturbingly vivid image of the consequences:

The Pitch: “Do not defile yourselves in any of those ways, for it is by such that the nations that I am casting out before you defiled themselves. Thus the land became defiled; and I called it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants.” – Leviticus 18:24-25

Swing #1: “‘That the land not vomit you also, when you defile it’: The land of Israel is not like the remainder of the earth. It does not sustain those who transgress. They gave a parable: To what is this to be compared? To the son of kings whom others fed something that he could not keep down. He vomited it up. Likewise the land of Israel does not tolerate those who transgress. Therefore it is said: ‘That the land not vomit you out also, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.’” – Sifra Kedoshim

Swing #2: “Unlike other lands, which are rules by an angelic deputy, the Land of Israel is directly under God’s providence and so is more sensitive to defilement. That is why the Canaanites were spewed out of the Holy Land whereas the Egyptians, who committed the same defiling sins, were not expelled from their country.” – Nachmanides

Swing #3: “From the standpoint of history, the metaphor itself is inaccurate. There is no biblical or extrabiblical evidence that Israel expelled any group of Canaanites. That exile is clearly what the priestly tradition had in store for the Canaanites is unmistakably implied by Numbers 33:55. Either the writer was unaware of history, or he just did not let the facts interfere with his powerful image. Perhaps the reason for using this metaphor was to create a polemic with a fundamental axiom of Canaanite religion: the land will vomit out its inhabitants not because they neglected fertility rites, but because of their immoral behavior.” – Jacob Millgram, Leviticus 17-22

Late-Inning Questions: Does a disturbing image like the land “vomiting” out its inhabitants help to illustrate the severe consequences to the Israelites’ missteps? Or do you think the text is being over-dramatic for another reason? How far should we go to get our point across?

On-Deck at TBT: There’s so much to look forward to in coming weeks: a drive-up to benefit women in need on May 2nd; Tikkun Leyl Shavuot classes with area rabbis, as well as Rabbi Moshe Silberschein; the debut of a learner’s service on May 15th; and an outdoor Shabbat experience at Camp Centerland on May 22nd. Check out our website and email announcements for all the details!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of unfortunate mental images, I remember Bret Saberhagen pitching for the Kansas City Royals during the 1985 playoffs, and for some reason, the television cameras repeatedly zoomed right up to his face just as he was gnawing and spitting chewing tobacco. Not the best example for the kids.

Shabbat Shalom!