Archive for the '3.05 Aharei Mot / Kedoshim' Category

Wholehearted Tools : Yoni’s Question

Years ago when my nephew Yoni Hendel was about to become a Bar Mitzvah he sent me a letter in which he wrote that he had recently re-read Kedoshim, this week’s Torah portion, and I had a few questions about it. One of his bigger questions was,  “How do you incorporate this parsha to today’s lifestyle?” Yoni also asked what did the Torah mean when it said,” You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but you shall fear your God I am God ” (Leviticus 19:14)  As a directive it makes sense to not put a stumbling block in front of someone who would trip over it. It is plain evil to hurt someone in general, let alone someone who cannot see. But why is it a problem to “curse the deaf.”

Despite the near decade since his Bar Mitzvah I have been thinking about this pasuk and Yoni’s question of relevance in the context of reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown. In her brilliant discussion of vulnerability she asks if we believe that people are basically doing the best they can with the tools they have. If you do not think people are doing their best you will be judgative (thank you Yishama for this word).  By contrast, here’s what she says about the people who believe people are doing their best:

They were slow to answer and seemed almost apologetic, as if they had tried to persuade themselves otherwise, but just couldn’t give up on humanity. They were also careful to explain that it didn’t mean that people can’t grow or change. Still, at any given time, they figured, people are normally doing the best they can with the tools they have.

…Every participant who answered “yes” was in the [research] group of people who I had identified as wholehearted— people who are willing to be vulnerable and who believe in their self-worth. They offered examples of situations where they made mistakes or didn’t show up as their best selves, but rather than pointing out how they could and should have done better, they explained that, while falling short, their intentions were good and they were trying.  (Rising Strong)

So now I want to go back to Yoni’s questions. What is the connection to Brené Brown? Even if they cannot hear the curse and will not be impacted by our curses because they are deaf, we who curse will be impacted. Cursing them is our having given up on humanity and not living wholehearted lives. I think the Torah’s instruction to not curse the deaf is asking us to treat everyone as if they are doing the best they can with the tools they have. I still strive to incorporate this message today.

On Middot: The Measure of Inclusion

In Aharei Mot- Kedoshim, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the transgression of falsifying Middot– weights in the market place. There we read:

You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, weight, or volume. Just balances, just weights, a just efah, and a just hin, shall you have: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all My statutes, and all Mine ordinances, and do them: I am the Lord. ( Leviticus 19: 35-37)

Dishonesty in business is not just immoral, according to the Sifra  it constitutes a chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name. After all, “Deceitful scales are an abomination of the Lord” (Proverbs 11:1). In fact, any deception or dishonest business practice is “an abomination unto the Lord, your God” (Deuteronomy 25:16). We are mandated to avoid any kind of dishonesty and certainly financial dishonesty.

I bring this up in light of our persistent choice to exclude gay members from our community because we claim that Aharei Mot- Kedoshim, our  Torah portion, calls sex between two men an “abomination” (Leviticus 18:22) . It is shocking because we are happy to turn a blind eye to the abominable  business practices of  people in our community. Rabbi Levi said, ” The punishment for false measures is more rigorous than that for forbidden relatives” (Baba Bathra 88b). In light of this our exclusion of Lesbian Gay and Bisexual members of our community just seems cruel and not nice. We should be as careful about our Middot (measurements in business) as our Middot (ethics in life).

 

-See other essays on GLBT Inclusion:

 

 

On One Kedusha

Not to limit either, but traditional Judaism tends to spend much more of their resources toward keeping the ritual elements of our religious practice holy while turning a blind eye to the greater needs of global poverty and justice. In a similar way, liberal Judaism has tended to skip the ritualism and instead stress how we might create a just planet. I was thinking about this when reading through  Kedoshim, this week’s Torah Portion. There  we learn that holiness is realized through certain behaviors. The examples given here are keeping Shabbat, being in awe of one’s father and mother, not worshiping idols, giving charity, being honest, and the paying of wages on time. The Torah does not give us two lists for how to achieve Kedusha, holiness, in our lives. There is one integrated list. We all need to strive to do our part to make sure that the collective Jewish people are achieving our goal of a sustainable global contribution.

If there is nothing else that I have tried to convey in my past 10 years as a Rabbi, it is that just as there is really only one unified understanding of Kedusha, there is one Jewish people. Here in the messy middle of pluralism we get tangled up in all of the complexities of what we really think of Holiness. Yes, it some times hurts, but we never have to hide who we are. We are all asked to bring our whole selves to the conversation of Holiness. It is my belief that we will only be holy as a collective when each of us are given the room to be whole.

Work Life Balance

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we read,

God spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before God, and they died. And God said to Moses: Speak to Aaron, your brother- he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary, within the Curtain, in front of the Curtain, in front of the Cover that is upon the Ark, so that he should not die; for in a cloud will I appear upon the Ark- cover. (Leviticus 16:1-3)

It seems logical to read this as an explanation for the death of Aaron’s sons. Nadav and Avihu  must have approached the special space at the wrong time. Or does it mean something else?

Seeing that Adina and I are coming up to our 10th wedding anniversary it must have been a decade since my mother gave me the per-wedding-advice talk. One thing I remember clearly is her suggestion that we should never go to sleep angry. In light of this wisdom I might offer another interpretation of this section of our Torah portion. I imagine that Moses was giving Aaron advice on how to do his job. Do not try to do your work , which is representing the people in their relating to God, when you are angry at God.

It is hard to just let things go or to actually deal with the issues when we are tired.  And worse than either of these options is to make-believe that there are no issues. We cannot just sleep these issues away. If Aaron was angry at God for the death of his sons ( which he should have been) then he should not try just to work through the pain. That is just unhealthy.

This is a challenge to many of  our lives. It is hard having a professional life separate from one’s personal life. If one is passionate about his/her work there is always a part of this work that is personal. This runs the risk of leading to a lot of drama at work. The answer for many people is to make a clear line between their personal and professional lives.  I think we can learn from Aaron that this is not always possible. To achieve deep satisfaction in our places of work we have to be open to the risk of being hurt personally. What is the other choice? If we live our lives with purpose we might even find a deep encounter with God in our places of work.

But maybe this is an over statement.  I realize that we all need balance. As much as I love my work, I also know that I get my love at home.  That seems healthy.

 

Limit the Search for Meaning

In this week’s portion, Achrei Mot- Kedoshim, we read, “God spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before God, and they died” (Leviticus 16:1). It immediately goes on to the discussion on the ritual sacrifices for the Day of Atonement. Aaron will take two he-goats that are exactly the same. There will be a lottery to determine which one will be for God as a sin offering and which one will be sent to Azazel providing atonement. Why is this ritual lottery introduced by recapping the death of Aaron’s sons?

On the surface, Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu were killed because they brought a strange fire (Leviticus 10). One reason might have been because they were drunk. Another alternative was that they did nothing wrong; death was just a consequence for their getting close to God.  We will never know what their motives were, let alone if the two brothers shared the same motive. All we know is that they both died.

To this end, it is interesting to frame the ritual death of the two he-goats by the deaths of Aaron’s two sons. The idea of a lottery determining the ends of your life is inherently unsettling. Can there be any meaning in two identical goats having different roles? Can there be any meaning in the death of your children? We seek to find meaning in our existence, which is betrayed by the very notion of luck.

This past Friday was the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting. It is hard to think about that tragedy without recalling how the media kept sharing the shooter’s “manifesto”. At that time we were desperate to understand his motives.  It is disgusting to realize that this sort of publicity creates a marketplace of fame that encourages deranged people to do horrible acts. We must be very mindful in our search for meaning that we do not make anyone the scapegoat. Sometimes things are better left unexplained.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,321 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: