Kedoshim 2016 - 5776

Post date: May 12, 2016 6:33:29 PM

Shabbat Kedoshim 5/13/2016

This week’s parsha begins at Vayikra (Leviticus) chapter 19 with words harkening back to the 10 commandments. While certainly, some of these words hold great value for us as Jews, as well as for many others around the world, I would like to take some time to explore the other p’sukim in this week’s parsha, as these verses contain some of the most beautiful ideas and practices of our Torah.

P’sukim 9-10: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corner of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord your God.”

Passuk 13: “You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all the night until the morning.”

Passuk 14: “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind.”

These p’sukim speak to a morality not based on ‘tit for tat,’ as Hammurabi’s code and the related text in She’mot chapter 21 do. Those legal codes create a morality of fear – behaving to avoid negative consequences. However, the p’sukim in Vayikra 19 give us a religious and cultural system of respect, kindness, and caring. We are not commanded out of fear, but rather out of a sense of duty and obligation to care for those among us who are vulnerable – those whose hand has been dealt without fault of their own, and who must therefore cope through a life of struggle.

When thinking about those in our community and in our world who struggle more than ourselves, one may have a tendency to feel a sense of guilt. “Why her and not me?” “I cannot imagine waking each morning to a world of darkness, and navigating an environment without my sight.” “It is not fair that I have so much handed to me, and those I love have struggled so much for so little.”

To understand this guilt, we must turn to passuk 2, at the very beginning of this week’s parsha.

Kedoshim ti’hi’yu, ki kadosh ani adonai elhoheichem. “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Many have used this phrase to indicate that we are holy, because God is holy. However, the verb ti’hi’yu is in the future tense. God is holy and therefore, we, too, are commanded to become holy.

Two questions arise for me from this passuk. First, how can we become holy? Should we become like God in some way? Certainly God performs incredible acts throughout the Torah and the rest of the Tanach. However, some of these incredible acts are those of flood, destruction, famine, and death – not necessarily acts to emulate.

The second question stems from the phrase, “for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Is this to mean that only those people who believe in God (and, specifically the God of the Torah) must become holy? Or, are we all able to become holy? Given the recent observance of Yom Ha’shoah, we know that the path through Jewish history is paved by the righteous – Jewish and non-Jewish alike. And, we know from the later p’sukim in this week’s parsha that the stranger is to be cared for, and our non-Jewish neighbors honored and respected. We know that, as Jews, we are truly no different.

So we are left with this: Everyone must strive to become like God, at God’s best. Everyone must strive to free those who are enslaved, to fulfill one’s promises and covenants, and to give life and laughter to those who need it most. To say this is a tall order would be an understatement. As we strive for this greatness, there is a natural inclination to become self-focused: I am striving to be like God. Am I becoming holy?

Recalling the p’sukim following the 10 commandments, we remember that we are not to become self-absorbed, but rather to follow an ethic of caring and kindness – to focus on what others need and how we can give that to them.

This leaves us with a critical balancing act – how can we become like God, and also remain humble? How can we become holy, and retain kindness and caring for those who need it most? How can we give others what they need, without carrying the burden of guilt?

An often misattributed quote speaks to this better than I am able:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God ... We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

-Marianne Williamson (italics added)

What Ms. Williamson implies, though does not state outright, is that, in order for the light in others to shine though, we must be able to see and recognize and honor that light. Yes, we are commanded to abandon our fear and our guilt and to become holy. And, as we do this, we must stop and notice the light in everyone around us. Through these two acts, we can fulfill the first of this week’s commandments – to become holy, for Adonai our God is holy.

During this time of the Omer, this time of preparation between The Festival of Freedom and the Festival of the Giving of the Law, I pray we find the wholeness and the holiness within us and within others.

Shabbat Shalom

Yvonne Asher

Yvonne Asher received her Masters of Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary and is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Suffolk University.