This weeks Torah portion is a combined portion, Akharey mot-Kedoshim, from Leviticus 16 to 20. The first portion contains the verses that are read on Yom Kippur afternoons, concerning the purity of the family and proper family relationship, and the second portion, Kedoshim, begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God."
This seemingly simple passage is actually a revolutionary world outlook articulated by Moshe Rabenu at Sinai to the People of Israel. It is beautifully simple and streamlined, free of extraneous protocols and cult rituals. "You shall be holy because I am holy." You want to relate to me -- be holy, be lofty, idealistic, seek to rise above yourself. How will you do it? All of you, the adults, must have true reverence to your parents, and you must set aside time to study and improve your minds -- keep My Shabbatot, my Sabbaths. Dont run after false idols, dont sell yourselves short. Be considerate of the orphan the widow and the stranger. Live by the rules of common decency -- and you will do fine. The Book of Psalms gives us the following conclusion, "O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes. Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever."
This weeks Torah portion is Kedoshim, from Leviticus 19 to 20. The portion begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: 'You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. You shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Turn you not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the Lord your God. And if you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord, you shall offer it at your own will. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire. And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted. Therefore every one that eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed thing of the Lord: and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shalt you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another. And you shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear your God: I am the Lord." [Lev. 19:1-14]
This seemingly simple passage is actually a revolutionary world outlook articulated by Moshe Rabenu at Sinai to the People of Israel. It is beautifully simple and streamlined, free of extraneous protocols and so called cult rituals. "Kedoshim Tih'yu ki Kadosh ani --You shall be holy because I am holy."
More often than not people get stuck on the first Hebrew word, which is the fourth in the English. "Kedoshim holy" -- what a strange and mysterious word! It was made so by generations of manipulative shamans, witch doctors and charlatans who sought to enslave people by the power of their own imaginations, by their fears and secret desires. 'Holy' was the unreachable, the unobtainable, the superior -- which was dubbed supernatural. The rationalists, the champions of human rights and civil liberties, like to tell us that there is no God. They claim that man created God. That man has fashioned God after himself, giving him a generous helping of all that is negative and ugly in us. If we are petty and quarrelsome -- God should be even more so. If you are hateful and destructive -- surely God can do so better and more thoroughly. If we are capricious and malevolent -- woe be to him that raises the anger of God. If we love gifts and can be bought with a shiny trinket or a false word -- how much more so can the supersized ego of a manlike god! Holy, holy! Holy Cow, holy mackerel, holy gizmo and whatnot!
Not so the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is a God who was most certainly not fashioned by man -- to represent the worst that is in man. This God, who motivates the great teacher, Moshe Rabenu, is a unique God, El Kadosh a holy God. Because He is holy, His qualities are, indeed, qualities -- not quirks! What He demands of man is not blind fear but learned reverence. Should one wish to relate to this God -- one should be holy, be lofty, idealistic, seek to rise above oneself. You do not bring God down to your level, to the "lowest common denominator" -- you rise to His level, aspiring to the highest and loftiest possible communion with Him. How will you do it? The text tells us, "You shall each revere your mother and father," all of you, the adults, must have true reverence to your parents. Why should this be the first 'sign' of holiness? Because it is seemingly so simple and self explanatory. One 'honors' ones parents. Of course. Well -- this is true when one is very young. Kids honor their parents -- if they know what is good for them. This "honoring" will assure them continued well-being in the household of their parents. But what of the question of grown children and elderly parents? Do we still take it for granted that the 'honor' will be there "naturally?" I believe that we know enough of the real world today to admit that the answer is by no means automatically "yes."
In our Scriptures, and in Judaism, 'holiness' is achieved through knowledge, in wisdom. Thus we read in the book of Psalms, "Reshit khokhma yir'at Adona'y, sekhel tov lekhol oseyhem The reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do it..." [Psalms 111:10] This week's text tells us, "and you shall keep my Sabbaths," for Shabbat is the day that was set aside as a time of study and reflection, a time to spend with one's God, with oneself, with one's old parents. It is very easy to find excuses why we don't and can't do all the things we know full well we need and must do. It is quite a different matter to make the time and do what needs to be done. That is "reshit khokhma -- the beginning of wisdom." Shabbat was given to us to enter into the realm of holiness for ourselves, with our families, our children and our elderly, our parents. Through the interplay of the generation we come closer to God -- for He is in all the generations -- no more in the parents than in the children -- no more in the (grown) children than in the (elderly) parents. Thus the exhortation repeats, "You shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God."
In a side issue, it is interesting to note in the text that our Torah is not sexist in its approach. The reverence for parents is one of the basic teachings articulated at Sinai. There we read, "Honor your father and your mother; that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you." [Ex. 20:12] Some have suggested that there is something wrong with this statement, because it places the father before the mother. Well, in this week's portion, twice in one breath, practically, we are told "every man his mother, and his father." Ladies first!
Going back to our theme -- God wishes us to become 'kdoshim -- holy,' and another text, in Proverbs, tells us, "Reshit khokhma kne khokhma uvkhol kinyankha kne vina -- The beginning of Wisdom is: Get Wisdom; therefore use all your means to acquire understanding." [Prov. 4:7] Wisdom is nothing if it does not lead to understanding. You must set aside time to study and improve your minds -- keep My Shabbatot, my Sabbaths. Dont run after false idols, dont sell yourselves short. Learn to share what God has given you in His goodness. If you offer a 'gift to God' in the form of a sacrifice (as was done in ancient times), be aware that it needs to be shared with others -- with the priests and the Levites and the poor. Don't hold on to it beyond two days -- and thus you shall not feel bad about parceling it out. the last verse I read to you at the beginning is a good 'clincher' for the whole lesson: "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind" -- which means that we need to recognize the fact that some people have handicaps that make them sensitive to certain human foibles. You cannot fault a blind person for his inability to see, but neither can you pretend that he or she are normal. Learn to recognize each person for who he or she is. Be considerate of the orphan, the widow and the stranger. Live by the rules of common decency -- and you will do fine. The words of the prophet Micah are a good conclusion to this week's lesson: "Higid lekha adam ma tov uma adona'y doresh memkha; ki im asot mishpat v'ahavat khesed vehatzna lekhet im eloheykha. -- It has been told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, only to do justice, and to love loving mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."
This weeks Torah portion is Kedoshim, which means Holiness, and it is found in the book of Leviticus, chapters 19 to 20. The portion begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: 'Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh ani Adonay eloheykhem -- You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." [Lev. 19:1-3]
This seemingly simple passage is actually is a most mysterious and difficult concept that was articulated by Moshe Rabenu at Sinai to the People of Israel. It seems beautifully simple and streamlined, free of extraneous protocols and so called cult rituals. "Kedoshim Tih'yu ki Kadosh ani --You shall be holy because I am holy." Before the time of teaching this passage, there was always a middle man between a people and their God - a priest or shaman, a diviner or a seer. Now Moshe says to the people that by their covenant with God they all have not an option but a duty to become holy - as they had been told before the Sinai experience, Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own treasure among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. [Ex. 19:5,6]
This weeks portion is most essential to the Jewish experience. Rambam, in his Book of Mitzvot lists 51 mitzvot in this portion, 38 negative and 13 positive. The negative mitzvot are not negative in their nature, but only in that they inform us of what should not be done. Allow me to mention just three to illustrate to you how very central these mitzvot are to Judaism today as throughout the generations and times yet to come.
Lo taasu avel bamishpat - You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; Lo tisa fney dal - you shall not respect the person of the poor, velo tehader pney gadol - nor honor the person of the mighty; betzedek tishpot amitekha - but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. Lo telekh rakhil beamekha - You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people; lo taamod al dam reekha - you shall not stand against the blood of your neighbor; Ani adonay - I am the Lord. [lev. 19:15,16] Concerning justice we read a triple negative leading to a great positive. You must NOT pervert justice, you must NOT (1) take the side of the poor just because he is poor and the poor usually are taken advantage of; (2) you must NOT show partiality to the powerful. This triple negative will result in the positive fact that in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. The next verse relates gossip to murder or at least the threat of death. You shall NOT go places to spread gossip. This particular way of phrasing the case tells us that it make reference in particular to those who actively pursue talebearing, going out of their way to meet others and tell the dirty little stories that will do harm. We know that this is so because the issue is tied in to the second half of the verse without an and. So the message is not dont do this and dont do that but rather, dont do this as you dont do that. And the second half of the prohibition is you shall not stand against the blood of your neighbor; which means that you should not allow your neighbor to endanger his/her life. This second half of the verse is the root of the halakha (rule) that pikuakh nefesh preservation of life defers even the Shabbat.
Finally, let us look at another of the mitzvot that we have in this weeks portion, and it may be called the quintessential mitzvah - the one the world calls the Golden Rule. Yet in our text it actually starts with a negative: 18. You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. [Lev. 19:18] To create in yourself the condition that will make possible loving your neighbor you must first learn to subdue the evil inclination that is in you: do NOT think of revenge and do NOT feel that others have wronged you. Love yourself, have a good self-image. Learn to project the love you have for yourself and for your God upon others, and love your neighbor even as you love yourself.
A story is told of Rabbi Hillel, who was approached by a heathen and asked to teach the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Other Rabbis dismissed the heathen out of hand. Rabbi Hillel answered with the negative presentation of our Golden rule verse: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. The heathen asked, is this the whole Torah? Hillel replied, All the rest is commentary. Go and learn.
May God grant us sufficient wisdom and understanding to make our nature loving and accepting as the teachings found in the Torah this week. And may we all understand that we need to learn the commentary all of our days.
This week's Torah portion is Kedoshim, from the third book of the Torah, Va'yikra, or Leviticus chapters 19 and 20. The portion begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: 'Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh ani adona'y eloheykhem You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'" [Lev. 19:1,2]
This seemingly simple passage, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God Am Holy," is not simple at all. In fact, it is actually a revolutionary world outlook articulated by Moshe Rabenu at Sinai to the People of Israel and all too many people don't really understand it to this day. It is beautifully simple and streamlined, free of extraneous protocols and so called cult rituals. "Kedoshim Tihiyu ki Kadosh ani You shall be holy because I am holy." It comes as a straight statement, without if, but, or wherefore. It is a "balanced sentence" there is one side, God, and another side, those who follow Him. He is holy, and they need be the same.
So what's not to understand? Well, let's begin with the word Kedoshim' holy. Different people take this word to mean entirely different things, and most people think that the word is at one and the same time challenging and insulting. I am sure you know what I mean. You have surely heard the people who speak deprecatingly of someone being "holier than thou." We Jews have had a long held hatred by some who resented our "covenant with God" which they viewed as making us have a "special relation" with Him like a favorite son. This drives those misguided souls to great acts of terror and inhumanity precisely to "prove" to us and to themselves that we are not under a special and preferential protection by the Master of the universe...
Why are they so misinformed? Why do they act in this inhuman manner? Because, of course, they do not understand the word "kedoshim." They think of "holiness" in terms of the religious societies that existed before Judaism. Early religions were superstitious in nature, and served the purpose of people who wanted to gain control over populations using the unlearned people's fears of the unknown. Such power-hungry people became priests, witch doctors, and shamans. They promised to extend divine protection to the masses from the"caprices of the Gods." Because they could not really control the unpredictable they developed the concept of sin and punishment.
Judaism teaches an entirely different lesson. It teaches humanism, it teaches the concept of human dignity and human rights. Listen to some of these lessons articulated in this week's parasha:
"And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger;" [Ibid 19:9,10] "You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie one to another. And you shall not swear by my name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God" [Ibid. 19:12,13] " You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind." [Ibid 19:14] "You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." [Ibid 19:18] Oh, I guess most people recognize this last one - though all too many think that it originated with another faith at a later time. That, of course, is not so! It all comes from this week's lesson in the Torah, and in every case that I mentioned above I removed the "end of line," which is "I am the Lord your God."
What is the significance of this "end of line?" It tells us that we have to do the things that the Torah teaches us for no other reason than our relationship with the Holy One. We don't do it for a reward, not in the fear of punishment should we fail to do it we do it for a higher reason, because He is our God. Because doing it will ennoble us, make us worthy of our relationship with Him.
One of the great masters of Torah explained the passage, "Kedoshim Tihiyu ki Kadosh ani You shall be holy because I am holy" by using an anagram of the word kadosh.' In Hebrew the word is made up of just the three consonants, kof,' dalet' and shin.' The sage teaches, "ma hashem ose? Shoked al ma'asav. How does God conduct Himself? He is diligent in His actions." How is He diligent? The sage explains that in creation, every step was followed with an inspection, as it is said, "va'yar Elohim ki tov and God saw that it was good." He also came down to examine the tower that the people built in Babel; and he sent the angels to examine the wickedness of Sodom. The Hebrew word the sage used for diligent is Shoked' shin,' kof,' dalet.' Thus, how can Israel become "Kedoshim?" By being "shokdim" diligent, fair and methodical in living by the teachings taught to us by Moshe the Torah.
"Ki hem kha'yeyn v'orekh yameynu for they (the teachings of Torah) are our life and the length of our days." They bring meaning to our life, purpose to our daily existence. May we never forget His path, and may He continue to bless us with His light and His truth. May holiness spread like water, and may it nourish the wellspring of human existence.
Akhrey Mot - Kdoshim 5764
This week we read in the Torah a combined portion, Akharey mot-Kedoshim, from the third of the five books, Leviticus, chapters 16 to 20. The first portion begins with the words, "And the Lord spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they came near the Lord, and died; And the Lord said to Moshe, Speak to Aaron your brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place inside the veil before the covering, which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I will appear in the cloud upon the covering." [Lev. 16:1,2] This exhortation can be misread to appear as if serving God is a "risky occupation."
You may recall that the two sons of Aaron died because they brought a "strange fire" to the altar. When they perished Moshe forbade his brother and his remaining sons to mourn -- they had to stay in the Tabernacle and continue to function as priests. They had to live with their loss and learn to get over it -- before they took time out to think about it and draw lessons from what happened. One may ask, how did Aaron and his sons cope with their loss? How does one live on after the death of one's dear children, or one's siblings? Why did God do this to them? How could they continue to believe in Him, to serve Him? Obviously, they did not ask such questions. Obviously, they did not allow themselves to ask such questions. Life had to go on -- and the dead cannot be brought back. If we lose faith as a result of the death of our dear ones then the death becomes even more damaging. Moshe told his brother, "give it some time" and life would flow and heal you.
So, you see, serving God is not risky - actually, it is quite the opposite: given the right instruction, the priesthood, and being Jewish, is a great privilege and a positive life activity. The same "first" portion also contains the verses that are read on Yom Kippur afternoons, concerning the purity of the family and proper family relationship.
The second portion, Kedoshim, begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God." [Ibid. 19:1,2] This passage in the text tells us that the entire people Israel, in a manner of speaking, must consecrate themselves before God to be like Aaron, priests. Because He is holy, His qualities are, indeed, great qualities not quirks, or idiosyncracies as in the character of the idol-gods of the ancient world! What God demands of man is not blind fear and sheep-like obedience but rather learned reverence. Should one wish to relate to our God, who is the Lord God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, one needs to be holy, to be lofty, idealistic, seek to rise above his base, earthly qualities and character. One should not drag God down to one's level, to the "lowest common denominator" -- one must rise to His level, aspiring to the highest and loftiest possible communion with Him.
This message and lesson should not be lost on us and on all of Jewry in our own time. After two millennia of exile and persecution brought about (at least partially, we must admit) by our own divided house in the days of the revolt of the zealots of Jerusalem, Masada and Beitar we have come back to establish an independent Jewish nation in the Promised land -- Israel. Anyone, be he an ultra-orthodox fundamentalist or a secular Jew, who thinks that the State of Israel was created against, in spite, or without, Divine blessing -- has to be a totally blind and mindless fool. No national endeavor ever came about against as many insurmountable odds and powerful oppositions and survives! When one considers the depth of hate and distrust of Jews by the people of Europe, the Moslem world and many in the New world as well, one is forced to conclude that by all the laws of nature Judaism should never have survived to arrive well and in full bloom in the twenty first century.
Our heritage taught us to hold steadfast at one and the same time the unique attributes of community and individualism. Each Jew is a universe unto himself, an individual created by and in the image of God. Each, as you all know, has at least two oposing points of view on every issue, so that one can disagree with others about every issue. You know what they say: "Two Jews, three opinions, three Jews an unlimited number of opinions..." And yet, the sense of community has been paramount in keeping Judaism alive. So we believe in the concept of "Klal Yisrael the entirety of Israel," one large family, not joined at the hip but taking care of its own. These characteristics of individualism, ingenuity and a sense of community that can only be called "Yiddishkite" have made us a success whenever and wherever we were given half a chance to prosper and develop.
This sense of community, of sharing responsibility for our common roots, has brought about the building of this great sanctuary that holds us this evening, that inspires us to sing and praise our God, and give thanks to Him for His abundant kindness and goodness towards us. And if this is true for this small bunch of Jews in Ponte Vedra, Florida, how much more so for the entire House of Jacob, whose remnant was reprieved fifty-six years ago on the fifth of Iyar from exile and misery, allowed to reestablish its roots in the only place that has ever been our true and unquestioned homeland.
Two years ago, on Monday of the week of Akhrey-Mot/Kedoshim I took an early morning flight to the Washington DC, to join all those who heeded the call to come and show our solidarity with Israel. It was unusually warm for mid-April, the sun was bright and unobstructed by shade or clouds, and ambulances were forever removing the ones who did not plan ahead by having head-covering and water to hydrate and fell victim to the heat of the day. More than 100,000 people Jews and Gentiles from Los Angeles to New York, from Maine to Florida who came by plane and cars, and in caravans of buses that left in the middle of the night from as far away as Texas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kansas, Cleveland, Rochester/NY and Tennessee. Dozens of chartered flights came from Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Toronto. You could not charter a bus to save your life in New York the rally took all 700 that were available!
The original purpose of the rally was to show the people in Israel that the U.S. population, Jewish and Christian, stand with them in spirit in this time of great danger. Since 9/11, we in America finally understand what Israelis are facing day after day. For Israel, every day is 9/11. And still, they must bear witness to the fact that God loves us and protects us. Akhrey not, after the death of our children, of our dear ones, here and in Israel, we are truly one people, consecrated to make life better for all.
This week's portion of the Torah which is read in synagogues throughout the world is Kedoshim, from the third book of the Torah, Va'yikra, or Leviticus – chapters 19 and 20. The portion begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: 'Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh ani adona'y eloheykhem – You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.'" [Lev. 19:1,2]
On the face of it – it seems like a simple straight forward statement, and one that does not require much thought or research. You might almost call it a “logical argument” or syllogism – I am holy, I am your Lord, therefore you shall be holy. Do you agree? You had better think about it! If we replace the ‘speaker,’ for a moment – would you still think the argument is logical. For example: I walk on all four and eat mice; I am your cat; therefore you shall walk on all four and eat mice... I don’t think so...
Another question: God is infinite, without beginning and without end, all knowing and all powerful – can we, and even He, expect or assume that we can compare to Him, live by His standards, aspire to parity with Him? Yet here in our portion we read, ”Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh ani adona'y eloheykhem – You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
Kedoshim, holy, and kedusha, holiness, always gave me an uneasy feeling. I remember that when I was young, my parents and other adults tried to lay on me a sense of guilt over doing things that were “unholy.” “Don’t waste the food,” I was told, “finish everything on your plate. You said a brakha over the food, and it is holy...” Or I would try to skip a Torah class in school (in the second or third grade, mind you) and I would be told that by my behavior I am “reducing the holiness of Torah!” Oh, yes, and it was made very clear to me that by doing this “all of Israel (the people, that is) are going to suffer...”
There was another side to it: “Kiddush Hashem” – the “sanctification of God’s name,” which is the Hebrew for martyrdom. The heroes of Israel all died “al kiddush hashem,” for the sanctification of God’s name. It started, I suppose, in the days of the Maccabees, and continued through the ages to the Holocaust. The heroes and the ones that “went as sheep to the slaughter,” all did it for God’s glory. Almost as if they woke up one morning and said, “today, to prove to the world how holy my God is, I shall lay my life for Him.” I always thought, as a child, that the idea was pretty lame. I would much rather live for the sanctification of God’s name than die for it. Why do we have to give up our lives to show that we love God – or that He loves us?
Much later, only within the last few years, I came to realize that ‘Kedoshim’ means holy in the sense of what Judaism ascribes to God as His “qualities.” The basic character of God is defined as His “holiness.” What qualities make up this character? God is creative and productive, graceful, diligent, faithful, slow to anger, quick to forgive, merciful and generous. Developing and honing these qualities in ourselves is what will bring us closer to our Maker, the Almighty God of all existence. That is how I see the passage in our portion of the week these days, and these days I am much more inclined to consider that our martyrs died “al kiddush hashem,” for the sanctification of God’s name – not because they were “holier” that anyone else, nor because God wanted their death to appease His anger over some transgression that our ancestors committed in the days of the kingdoms of Judea and Israel. Rather, they died at the hands of brutes and savages, because they had become too “holy” – too creative and productive, graceful, diligent, faithful, slow to anger, quick to forgive, merciful and generous.
After all, we know the score! We know that our people have been a catalyst for progress in every country that allowed them to settle and contribute to the common good. In every land, in every age, the Jews have been a power for good and for progress, fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham, “and in your seed shall all the families of man be blessed.” [Genesis 12:3] We also know that many people scorned the message of the Jews – the message of the universality of all humanity and its universal equality before God, a value that is the same for all of His creation. Many through the ages wanted to ascribe to themselves an exclusive right to the blessings of God. To affect this they needed to deny the blessing of the Jews. They perverted God’s message by suggesting that God’s covenant with us had been conditional, and more than that, conditional on their own understanding of our Scriptures as mitigated by their values and their beliefs. They persecuted us to prove their point, and they failed to learn the message of the consequence of their cruel persecution and our continued survival. As the Torah attests in the case of the first persecution of the Jews, by Pharaoh, in Egypt, “but the more the afflicted them, the more the multiplied and grew...” [Exodus 1:12]
They failed. We have survived! We lived by God’s teaching, by His inspired word given to His servant Moshe – and they – once mighty and powerful, prosperous and arrogant, perished. They were triumphant in their evil for a short time – to be sure, long enough to make generations of Jews suffer, but a mere blink of the eye in God’s time line, and the Jews were martyred, no matter how creative and productive, graceful, diligent, faithful, slow to anger, quick to forgive, merciful and generous they were in their life and in their death, “al kiddush hashem,” for the sanctification of God’s name. And God allowed – no, he made sure that a remnant would be saved. In time we regained our vigor – while they, the high and the mighty wicked ones, were assigned to the ash-heap of history.
So, all things being equal, here we are, reading the passage that gave the portion its name - Kedoshim, holy. We, the seed of Avraham, Yitzkhak and Ya’akov, have come through the crucible of hate and derision, of torture and denial, of death and destruction – like Daniel who walked through the lions’ den unscathed. You can argue all you wish as to whether or not we are deserving of God’s love and devotion – but you cannot deny that we are here, that we are alive and that we prosper, spiritually, even as we did when we stood before the Almighty at Mount Sinai. And given the length of our suffering, given the cruelty, temporal and temporary power of those who wished to erase us off the face of the earth – you must admit that the only way we could have survived is because we are His children, enjoying His protection. That is why, this Shabbat, as on every day of our journey through life, we must carry His message as a life-long commitment. We must be kedoshim, for He, our most graceful and loving God, has been, is and will continue to be our Holy God and protector.
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