D’var Torah: Aharai-Mot / Kedoshim

| April 23, 2010

Courtesy Alexander Smolianitski (http://flickr.com/photos/smolianitski/)

This week we read in Vayikra – Leviticus – the dual-parsha Aharai-Mot / Kedoshim. The location of this week is in some ways strange and in other ways extremely apropos. The first book of the Hebrew Bible, בראשית (Genesis), gave us the foundations of our collective story – creation, ancient history, and chosen-ness vis-a-vis the forefathers. The next book, שמות (Exodus) gave us a more modern history – enslavement, redemption, freedom, receiving the Torah, and finally – delivery to the Land of Israel. ויקרא (Leviticus) is then positioned quite well as the “And then what” book.

The Jews of the Bible have left Egypt, they no longer have the forefathers, we need direction – and along comes Vayikra letting us know what to do with our newfound freedom, and how to behave as a chosen people in the chosen land (הארץ אשר אראך). So – what do we find? Sacrifices, funky skin pigmentation diseases, ritual purity procedures, dietary restrictions, and mixed in with this collection of ancient SOP’s (standard operating procedures) for the Cohanim, Leviim and even the Yisraeliim, we find one of our parshiot, Kedoshim.

The term קדושים (Kedoshim) comes from the Hebrew root ק.ד.ש. (k.d.sh.), from which we have our Shabbat ‘Kiddush’, the prayer ‘the Kaddish’ said by worshippers and mourners, and in the ‘Keddusha”, said daily in group prayer. Some of us are happy with the translation “holy”. I, for one, want more. This parsha gives us that ‘more’.

קדושים תהיו, כי קדוש אני ה’ אלקיכם.
“You shall be holy, because I the LORD am holy.”

Why is it that we are holy? Because God is holy, and we are God’s people. Well, that seems simple enough: we get the status because God has it. As many things in the Torah go – not so fast, don’t think that’s the end of the story. The parsha continues:

Vayikra 19:14 reads:

לפני עור לא תתן מכשול
“Before the blind, do not put an obstacle.”

Well, on the face of it, this may in fact be the easiest of all the Vayikra commandments. Again – not so fast. Who is this blind person? Why on Earth would anyone ever put an obstacle before him?

Perhaps the blind man is not *only* a person with no eyesight, perhaps the blind man represents the disadvantaged, those who cannot provide (read: see) for themselves. And what is it that we do with these people – do not add to their misfortune. I, for one, find this to be unfulfilling. Let’s think about other ways the Torah might have framed this commandment – perhaps – “When you see the blind, help them find their way”, or even a less descriptive, “The blind man, do not ignore.” We don’t have these verses, but what we DO have is a series of commandments that may relate to the disadvantaged and commandments for how to relate to them.

We have agricultural commandments, Mitzvat Peah / Leket / Orlah – giving portions of the field to the poor, the widow & the orphan. We have socially prescriptive commandments – ואהבת לרעך כמוך (Mitzvat V’ahavta L’raicha Camoha) the injunction to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Clearly, the act of being holy is not so simple as existing, rather the Torah explicates HUNDREDS of ways to accomplish a holy existence.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch relates the following story:

“When I was four years old, I asked my father: “Why did G-d make people with two eyes? Why not with one eye, just as we have been given a single nose and a single mouth?”

Said father: “There are things upon which one must look with a right eye, with affection and empathy; and there are things upon which one must look with a left eye–severely and critically. On one’s fellow man, one should look with a right eye; on oneself, one should look with a left eye.”

Let us take the time to look critically at ourselves, and compassionately at others. Let’s think about our consumption, our extravagance and our luxuries – and the lack thereof of so many. With these actions, we may in fact merit that which the Torah says we can and should be: קדושים – holy entities who, in following in God’s ways, become holy.

Shabbat Shalom.

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