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94http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/04/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---04_27_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 04_27_2012
04/26/2012 08:19 AM Posted by:

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
April 27, 2012

 

                We hear a lot about power these days: military power; corporate power; political power. We don’t hear much about personal power. But, in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, we learn about the potential for personal power. In Leviticus 19, we read, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” It might seem that “to be holy like God” might require awesome power, but it doesn’t. Our rabbis taught that the goal is to be humanly holy. I think they tried to say that we didn’t have to possess Godly power to be holy; rather, we need only to live above the fray. And, by living above it, they meant the brand of humanity described in Torah.

                Our covenant with God is predicated on our participation in a set of rules that elevates us beyond even our own expectations. That’s why Leviticus 19 begins, “You shall be holy for I, the Lord, your God am holy” instead of, “You shall not be holy, for only I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The covenant demands that we become more with Torah, rather than less without it.

                For example, Leviticus 19:9 describes a human ethic that separates us from our baser instincts by aiming our efforts towards a higher good. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest…you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” Most of us understand the meaning of this ethical teaching, but its meaning escapes even the brightest and most powerful among us. As urbanites in 2012, we don’t know much about farming, but we do know about reaping benefits and harvesting returns. Shouldn’t we also know something about leaving a portion of our earnings for the poor and the stranger? To do less than what we’ve learned to be right and good is to demean the image in which we are all created.

                To live above the fray can be spiritually enriching. It can lift us out of helplessness and set us on a path of hopefulness. Aiming for higher human expectations can give purpose to our work and our relationships. Responding to our base instincts feeds only our basic human wants and needs. But, consider what those base instincts are and what they can mean when we rise above the fray. Food is a necessity of life. When we live above the fray we see it as nutritious fuel and not as a triumph. “All you can eat” is a perfect example of feeding our baser instincts. Perhaps “All you need” is a better way of approaching the buffet. Sex is also a God-given urge. Exploiting it or corrupting it is part of the oldest profession on earth. Living above the fray can mean a loving relationship with expectations for satisfying that urge in mutually respectful ways.

                Obviously, living above the fray isn’t new to us. But, being holy is. It just sounds so foreign. Don’t let it be. God is holy. We get that. But, Torah teaches us, “Be holy, too.” Aim high. In Leviticus 19:18, we read, “Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord, your God.” This appears to be the high point along the way. Here we have aimed high enough that our human holiness is reflected in what we’ve made of ourselves and extended to others. Mutual respect and love is an apex of holiness.

                As Shabbat begins, pause to reflect, to give thanks, and to look for ways to aim high. You, too, are commanded to be holy, humanly holy.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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