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Parshat Kedoshim - Words of Torah from Alabama

05/08/2022 12:53:14 PM


Rabbi Marc

I never imagined that if Covid finally got me, I would be stuck in Alabama of all places!  Actually, I feel so grateful to be the recipient of classic, loving, generous Southern hospitality in my quarantine in a beautiful guest house in Birmingham, after an intense week with an interfaith clergy group in Montgomery, witnessing the horrors of history in the legacy of slavery, lynching, segregation and mass incarceration.  Reminders once again of the dark depths to which humanity can fall in dehumanization of the other, in a week where we read the Torah’s instructions to love your neighbor as yourself and not to oppress the stranger.

I am sad to miss this Shabbat as we mark the end of our Bonai Shalom school year and all the achievements of our students under challenging circumstances and to see and hear our young people leading parts of our service today.  I know you will have all done a great job.  We also honor our incredible teachers who have inspired and enriched our children with a kind and loving, heartful Torah.  Thank you!

So, what is kedushah, holiness?  And what does it mean for us, humans, to be kaddosh, holy?  These questions are at the heart of this week's parsha, which is at the heart of the Torah itself; it charges us “Kedoshim t’hiyu ki kaddosh ani hashem - Be holy, because I the Eternal your God am holy.” Holiness is not leaving our bodies behind in an ecstatic, spiritual trance.  Holiness is not transcending, nor dismissing the physical world.  Holiness is so much more than that.  Yes, it is our connection to Shabbat as an exalted day of deepening and opening, expanding our bodies and our souls; yes, it is about having a rich inner life of prayer and practice, contemplation and study.  And holiness, is also how we show up for one another in the intricacies of human relationships; how we speak to and about each other; how we support one another through struggles; how we honor the ones who gave us life; how we give feedback to those we love; how we help those in need; how we welcome the stranger, treat workers fairly, deal honestly in business and so much more.  Living a life that is ethical and just is a holy life, even if a person does not consider themselves to be spiritual.  Leviticus 19 helps us walk in the world with moral guidance and meticulous sensitivity to our environment. 

Verse 16 in the first section we read today, says “lo ta’amod al dam re’echa.” Literally translated, this means “do not stand on the blood of your fellow.”  The JPS translation says “do not profit by the blood of your fellow,” and Rashi’s commentary suggests not standing by while someone is dying.  Both apply deeply to our world.  The more I learn about the history of slavery, the more I see how much wealth and profit was made on the blood and tears and broken bodies of Black men and women and children, and that legacy still exists today.  We have all stood by as literal or figurative blood has been spilt without acting to make a difference and there are so many places in the world, causes, issues that need our attention and our action. It is overwhelming how much there is to do and where to place our energy and it will be different for each of us.  As pirkei avot, whose teachings we study at this time of year says, “lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibateil mimena - it is not on you to complete the task, but you are not free to desist from it.”

Keddoshim invites us to be better humans in our societal and Divine relationships, scrupulous, honest, compassionate, kind and present.  

The constant work of Jewish life is the integration of the physical and spiritual, our relationship with society and our relationship with God. This Shabbat is the last day of the third week of counting the Omer, day 21.  It is Malchut sh’b’tiferet, manifestation of beauty/harmony/balance/integration.  So on this Shabbat where we are instructed to live holy lives, may we find that holiness in our human and Divine relationships, integrating the work we do in the world and the work we do in the temples that we cultivate in our hearts.

Mazal tov to all of our students, to Cecily Cooper for her aliyah here after a Covid Bat Mitzvah in Maine last summer, to our incredible teachers, to Morah Esther our tireless School Director and Mara Hausler, VP of education.  May all of our learning and our teaching be from a Torat Hesed, a Torah of lovingkindess that helps us be the best mensches we can be.

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, March 25 2023 3 Nisan 5783